You may not know this, but I intended to retire from the sport of bike racing at the end of the 2009 season.
2009 was my most successful season to date, but I could see that, without quitting graduate school, I had reached my peak. There was simply no way to improve my performance as a racing cyclist without leaving the laboratory and training like a real athlete. If you read my blog posts from September 2009, it should be easy to sense the air of finality. It was with a heavy heart that I prepared myself for the inevitable, mid-graduate school departure from high-level cycling.
This winter, I committed to my retirement: I bought a mountain bike, stopped riding my road bike, and clipped the zip-ties that held my heart rate monitor to my stem. I told a few people that I intended to quit; most were supportive, but some acted as if they didn’t believe me.
This evening, I counted the number of days (from November 1 to January 1) that I rode my MTB, rode my road bike, or didn’t ride at all. The tally? 17 days on the mountain bike, 16 days on the road bike, and 28 days without riding at all. While that’s still a lot of riding by most people’s standards, it certainly felt like retirement to me.
And then, for whatever reason, I found myself stripping the magenta bartape from my poor old Ridley on Saturday night.
I found myself Bike Lusting the frame, lubing the chain and cables, and replacing the ghetto Bontrager Select tires. Like clockwork, my kit was laundered and packed into my race bag, my water bottles filled, and my alarm clock set. It was eerily robotic.
On Sunday morning, I found myself drawn to the smelly southern extremities of the Bay, to a depressing business park just off Highway 84 in Fremont. I found myself at the Early Bird Criterium.
The above photograph (from Kenneth Yu) depicts me attacking an Early Bird Criterium on January 10, 2010. So much for retirement.
You see, what I had not realized was that I was dependent on bike racing for my happiness. Brutally competitive bike racing has been a part of my life for almost ten years, and I have no idea how to step away from it. Until yesterday afternoon, roughly at the time the previous photograph was taken, I had convinced myself that I might really be through with bike racing; however, as soon as I felt the wind rushing past my face, heard the sound of the peloton’s swishing tires disappear behind me, and felt the familar burn of an all-or-nothing breakaway attempt coursing through my legs, I knew I couldn’t quit. Everything was so comforting: the friends, the competition, the excitement, the laughter, the tactics and the endorphins.
I may not race much, I may not enter a single road race, and I may not get results in the crits I do enter, but Sunday’s experience convinced me that I can’t leave the sport completely. Yet.