Last Friday was the first day of the Intelligentsia Cup Series. As I drove up to Waukegan I focused on my goals for the race – manage my fear of crits (i.e. crashing hard), practice taking optimal lines through corners and practice holding a good wheel near the front. Those goals were ringing in my head as I parked my car and hopped on my bike to find Registration. As a police officer directed me to the Genesse Theater a loud voice behind me proclaimed, “you aren’t going to race in those clothes are you? Those clothes do not meet the regulations.” I looked down at my cargo shorts, t-shirt and running shoes and decided that indeed, my clothes did not meet USAC regs and certainly they weren’t a good choice for a bike ride. That’s why I had my kit back in my car.
I entered the Theater and proceeded through the day-of registration process. The voice followed me into the Theater. “Do you have the right clothes to wear for this race? You are not going to be allowed to race! Do you know what you are doing?!” I turned around to see who was heckling me (Rob Curtis was nowhere in sight) and saw a young man who was probably in his late teens or early 20’s in a solid blue jersey and solid black shorts. I told him that the officials would probably give me a pass and let me ride in my current attire and then continued through the registration process.
As I started to leave the Theater the young man walked up to me and asked if I had ridden the race before, if I was fast, if I was planning to try to win and if I was going to change my clothes. It suddenly hit me that this enthusiastic and excited young man had some sort of developmental disability. I stopped and answered his questions and asked him what his goals were for the race. He told me that he used to worry about winning but he had a bad crash that resulted in many injuries. Now he didn’t worry about winning, he worried about staying safe. I told him that I never worry about winning or losing and that I always think about staying safe. He then proceeded to tell me and another guy all about his crash injuries. A woman (his Mom) suddenly stepped forward and said, “Yeah, it was pretty bad. He had to get two plates and a bunch of pins put in after that crash.” The young man then proceeded to show me and everyone else in the area the parts of his body that had been beaten up in the crash. I wished him well and headed back to my car to change into my kit.
Warm up laps convinced me that I could find a good line through the corners. My other goals would have to wait for the race itself. We lined up for the start. I was bummed to see that I had no teammates in the race. I was on my own. As the USAC official called out our numbers to his colleague I heard a voice behind me shout, “Hey, you changed your clothes. You have a uniform! What team is that?” Everyone around me turned to see the young man excitedly begin to grill me with a series of questions. The guys on either side of me began to make a series of sarcastic comments about the young man. I softly said, “I think he has a developmental disability and . . . ” and then the USAC official began his pre-race lecture which cut me off – an opportunity lost.
My new friend continued to fire questions at me and everyone else in front of him. One official blew his whistle as another tried to give us starting directions – and with that the race was on. Before I knew it, the race was over. I had taken good lines on many (but not all corners), I had a lot of success holding good wheels near the front (until the last turn when somehow I went from the front to the middle/back in a split second) and I managed to choke down my fear long enough to get through the race upright.
I was just about to finish my first cool down lap when I heard a race official screaming at someone to slow down. My new friend was flying toward the finish and was weaving in and out of the field of riders who were sitting up and cooling down. Apparently, he realized that he had been lapped and wanted to go hard for as many laps as the rest of the field. Oblivious to the screaming official he raced to the line, crossed under the finish banner and pumped his fist in a victory salute. The guys around me all laughed and commented on a “lapped rider victory salute.” I didn’t say anything. Another opportunity lost.
During my second cool down lap I heard a familiar voice ride up behind me. “Hey! How’d you do? Was it fun? Did you win? Are you going to do this race again?” Rather than answering his questions I turned the tables on him and asked him how his race went. “I didn’t crash, it was great!” Then I asked what he had learned. He replied, “it is more important to be safe, finish the race without crashing and to have fun than it is to win.” Liking his answers I asked another question – “will you continue to race?” His answer was emphatic, “I’m not on a team. I want to join a team so I can race with other people. I definitely want to do more races.” He had a big smile on his face during this entire conversation. I congratulated him on a great race and pedaled toward my car. As I passed the start/finish I saw his Mom standing next to the barrier. She smiled broadly as she watched her son ride up the finishing straight with a big smile on his face.
While pedaling to my car I thought about the pissing and moaning my colleagues (i.e. those who did not win) and I had done during the cool down laps. We talked about riders who took bad lines, riders who were erratic, riders who didn’t know when to get out of the wind, the #(*$*& Wisconsin riders who come down here and win our races and all of the other complaints that Cat 5 racers seem to come up with at every race. Then I thought about my new friend – smiling, happy and ready for his next ride. He’s out there for the sheer love of the ride – opportunity found!
Post Script: I headed up to Lake Bluff on Saturday. Same goals as on Friday. The field was almost twice the size of Friday’s event. I moved to one side to start with a group of teammates who were lined up near the front. As I settled into my spot I looked back at the rest of the field. My new friend was there. Dressed in a red jersey and a big smile!