I’ve been through it so many times, during course pre-ride, in the parking lot while warm-up spinning on the trainer and listening to my pre-race soundtrack in the headphones. I try my best to focus my attention on the task at hand, but I always mentally drift. I size up the competition. Who is the competition today? I recognize some faces and know how they ride. Some faces are new. I try to get a read on them. Do they look relaxed or tired? Are they nervous or “casually deliberate?” Are they sporting the crisp tan lines and toned muscles of an athlete that’s spent a significant amount of time training all season or pale and overweight from an “extended” offseason? Are they wearing a well-fitting kit and have shaved legs?
I can do all the analysis I want, but I know my toughest opponent. He arrives early to make sure there’s ample time to examine the course. He attempts to figure the best lines through the turns and possible passing locations. The bike is clean and well maintained. He’s not on the latest and greatest machine, but the best he can afford. It’s built and customized by a man that takes as much pride in the machine as he does the crisp tan lines and shaved legs he’s not afraid to, if not proud to show off.
He competes and has some skills. A little rough at times but he’s no stranger to this. He’s clawed and maneuvered through the pack to go from dead last to the top 10 or 5 more than once. Last weekend, he took the hole-shot and led the first lap, was looking at a podium spot for the first half of the race… Then we began to battle.
A pedal strike and into the weeds. Over-cook a turn and slide across the course. Then finally the true battle climaxes. One racer is spinning hard at the verge of exhaustion. The other beginning to ease up, figuring that the heart of the race is over. He’s blown up. Shut down. The first would be pulling away if it weren’t for the fact that they’re the same guy. My mortal enemy. That part of me that says I’m done, cooked. He’s able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Some days he’s loud and I give up and listen. Other days I can push him away just long enough to get the job done.
I race in hopes that I can kick his ass. To standup on the podium and tell him I beat him today. It was a good battle, but I won this one. I really wish though that he would just oversleep and miss the race next time.