I won another race on Monday night. Kind of. It was the UVU Crit. Except that for a variety of reasons, it was not an “official” race. But we still raced. And afterwards I got the impression certain people thought I did it wrong. It’s not like I’m the Brazil World Cup team, and it’s not enough to win—you have to win beautifully.
There are lots of ways to win a race. And while some may claim certain tactics are more aesthetic or may even describe others as pathetic, you pick the one that you think gives you the best shot and hope you’re right. And if you’re right, you’re the winner. More often than not you’re not right, because either someone else executed your tactic better than you did, or else someone else used a different tactic that was more effective than yours.
Here’s how it went down. Two guys, each of whom had teammates in the race (I didn’t), did a lot of work on the front and shook the field up to where we were down to six racers by the last three laps. With three to go, the pace slowed and the cat and mouse game started. I took a little dig, but it didn’t produce a gap, so I sat back up. Each of the guys who’d done most of the work launched a last lap attack that I covered, then I came around at the end to take the win.
It’s easy to criticize someone for “not doing any work” when he wins a bunch sprint without having spent meaningful time on the front. This criticism may come from people who don’t realize that winning a bunch sprint requires a lot of work, it’s just all concentrated into one brief effort. It always involves pain, and sometimes a bit of vomiting. Moreover, it’s rare to just be delivered to the final 200 meters with fresh legs so all you have to do is sprint. Inevitably there are attacks to cover throughout the race and especially in the last kilometer, such that you may be at your limit already when it’s time to kick. Starting a sprint when your legs and lungs are already burning is not pleasant.
Besides, nobody is making the guys on the front ride on the front. It’s a tactical decision on their part, usually because they think by riding hard on the front, they will wear out the rest of the field and improve either their own or a teammate’s chances of winning. I don’t mind being on the front, but when I am, unless I’m chasing a break or setting up a teammate, I often soft pedal because I don’t care if it takes us longer to finish, and I don’t care if we go to the line with a big group.
I’d love to win with a solo breakaway, especially if it involved a big climb. If you’re by yourself with 200 meters to go, you’ve got nothing left to worry about. In a sprint, your worries are just beginning at that point. But that’s not the kind of racer I am. I’ve helplessly watched as guys ride away from me in a break I’ll never catch, but I’ve also ridden past these same guys in a sprint finish. That’s what makes racing exciting—people with different strengths trying to play to those in order to gain an advantage. If we all did the same things well, races would be boring.
It’s this nuance that makes racing exciting for cycling fans. Is this a stage for the sprinters? Will the leadout train set up their man, or will somebody poach it? Will the break stay away? What will happen on the climb? Will it come back together on the descent? So many questions, so much suspense, it makes for great entertainment.
Unfortunately, to most Americans, it’s just a bunch of skinny guys in garish lycra riding as fast as they can the whole time. Boring. Which is why the 15 second segment on the local news about yesterday’s Tour of Utah prologue was actually a big deal, even though at least one local cyclist didn’t realize that.
He lamented that “one of the biggest races in the country with tour de france level talent gets 15 seconds of coverage while the flippin U of U scrimmage gets 3 minutes and an interview.” And he wanted to know, “does anyone have any idea why the news coverage is so far falling short?”
For starters, it was the prologue, which, aside from the difficulty explaining to an American audience what that even is, is pretty much a throwaway stage. Besides, the Tour de France gets about 15 seconds of coverage, and even then only on the last day, unless a local guy wins yellow, which has happened all of once. Cycling will never be as popular as basketball in this country—its practitioners are just too weird. But we should be glad that it’s got enough support that we get a big-time race in our own backyard, and that this local race garners enough attention to be on the front page.