Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Of Team Work and Bike Racing

A disclaimer. I am a puddin'. I have never toed the start line in a road bike race. I have dabbled in cyclocross, mountain bike races, and time trials, but I have never raced on the road. I am, however, a huge fan of road bike racing. I love to read about it on the net and to watch it when it comes on TV.

This blog started as a cyclist's blog. A place for me to reflect on my life as a cyclist. Obviously that is not how things developed. But my life always seems to work out such that the experiences that lead up to any given point prepare me well for the next big challenge. For example, what I have learned about bike racing has really prepared me for the challenges I face in fighting cancer. If you have an understanding of road racing skip the next two paragraphs, if you think that road racing is an individual sport and have no idea that it is truly a team sport, read on.

The first thing that you have to understand to grasp cycling as a team sport is drafting. In order to go fast on a bike one must overcome the resistance of the air that one is moving through. The faster you go the more effort it takes to speed up or maintain speed. However, if you ride right behind another rider the wind resistance is decreased by 15 -20% and if you ride behind a group of riders it is like being pulled along by some magic strings that make flats seem like downhills and uphills seem like flats. Hence the term, to pull; which means ride at the front of the group and do the difficult work of setting the pace and breaking the wind.

Next bear in mind that bike racing is about endurance. It is one thing to race for 10 or 15 minutes and then see who has the speed and power to get across the line first. That is really too easy. Most pro bike races are upwards of 100 miles. The idea is to wear the riders down, cut into their reserves, make them suffer, and then see who has been able to manage their bodies and their attitudes well enough to get across the line first. Usually before the start of a race the team decides who has the best chance of winning today and that rider becomes the "protected rider" for the race. Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France is a good example of a protected rider. He got this honor because he was most likely to be the strongest rider at the moments of the race that would decide the outcome of the 2,000 plus mile sufferfest. As a protected rider his teammates would look after his many needs during the race. They allow him to ride in the best spot in the peloton. Certain members of the team are given the role of domestique which means they bring the protected rider food, water and clothing as needed in addition to pulling as needed. Domestiques can also serve as enforcers. Bike races are not friendly rides through the park. They are often more like a street fight at 20- 30 miles per hour. Having a tough, fearless rider at your side can be a good way to keep out of unwanted trouble.

So the teammates of Lance Armstrong hardly ever become household names and the mainstream hardly ever knows that riders like Lance can never get the fame and fortune without a team that is completely dedicated, who commit complete self sacrifice to their captain's success. . Also, each team member supports the protected rider in the way that they are best suited to do so. A big heavy sprinter is no good for helping a protected rider get over a climb. But he can usually pull though flat sections of road for miles and miles. The domestiques are truly the unsung hero's of the race.

I've said it before in this blog and I will say it again; I have an awesome team. I doubt I could get through this without the help of so many people. First and foremost is the chickenhawk who is putting so much aside to help me, but also lots of other folks. I will keep writing about specific members my support group but today I wanted to write about my feelings toward the team.

It is great to me that everyone that is stepping up is able to contribute in a way that feels meaningful to them and best suits their skills. I have massage therapists, moms who make meals, guys who come over and install hot tubs, or do other "blue jobs." Many just come over to stay close to me, help me through moments of pain, bring me food and water and give encouragement by listening and talking about life. Others take me to doctors appointments. I have also received some awesome art from the kids in the community. I also have a financial committee forming who will help with fundraising and planning for bridging the gap in our financial situation.

I have often listened to, or read, the post-race winners' interviews. It is not uncommon for a winner to say that he put in the final winning effort out of a desire to deliver a win for the team after they have given so much support during the race. These are the riders that I think have true panache. I am really starting to understand that sentiment. I have been given so much support by so many people that I have an overwhelming desire to do my very best, to reach deep into my suitcase of courage and deliver nothing short of a win.


Anonymous said...

Spencer, I love reading your blog. Thanks for being so prolific. I never realized we would miss Coloma so much, but the community we have there is irreplaceable in other locales. Or else you just gotta have heaps of years somewhere, and then maybe you find it....

I want to know what stage of cancer you are in, and what the prognosis is? I did a bunch of reading on the MM website, and didn't leave there encouraged. But, after talking to Heather, she told me otherwise. How bout an update on the hard cold facts for those that love you from afar???

Love, Bessie

Anonymous said...

Spencer, I workout to beat the beatdown. It's a drug, the best one there is. I've needed so much of it for so much of my life, just to function, that I drove my body into the ground. Can't do what I used to now, thanks to injuries, but am so glad to still be able to get out, and go hard. I love you Spencer, and know you'll get better soon. I'll even train up on a bike so I can go out for a ride with you. Bessie