First Installment: Introduction and Some Street Theory
My goal is to write up a series of reports from this past weekend in which I watched a great deal of bike racing: The Gateway Cup and the first day of the Tour of Missouri. As with my Birkie Report, the aim is to grapple with the feel of the racing, rather than the clinical facts of who won.
So Scraps, why do we race?
After the Pro-1-2’s race, day three of the four-day Gateway Cup, I saw something that I believe will go far in answering this question.
After the podium girls left the area, after the officials had posted results, only a few riders were around talking with friends and family, and I noticed that the course was still closed to traffic still. The street crews were probably tackling the back side of the course first. I also noticed that two girls were riding their bikes near the finish line. They were about 9 or 10 and I watched them for a few seconds and noticed that they were highly skilled riders. I walked to the barricades and watched them ride back and forth. Riding their 20” girl bmx bikes (Raleigh Cup Cake perhaps), they exhibited riding skills that informed me that the universe was not a bad place after all. I think that they were showing off for a lucky parent somewhere, or maybe just to practice their moves. First they would gain some speed with a few smart pedal strokes, then they would take their feet off the pedals and make circles in the air with their feet. The next pass, they kneeled on their seats. On the next pass, they crouched, feet on the seat. As I said: highly skilled. When they tried to stand up on their seats, I could hear a fatherly voice call to them: “girls!” And they would sit down obediently.
But the next few passes were even more astounding.
They would pedal a few strokes to gain momentum and then let go of the bars, arms outstretched wide, hands open, head tilted slightly back, and here is the kicker: their eyes were closed. And thusly, they would glide across the finish line, coasting.
It seemed to me that these girls had reached a state of grace in their biking. More than that (and what could be better than grace?), more than that, they were demonstrating what glory looks like. Not the glory of winning, but the glory of crossing the line—even when there is no race.
Why do we race? We race for moments of glory and grace…just like these two girls.
Sure, you may say that you race for money, for fitness, for your ego. True, true, and true. But you would be wrong in a larger, more theoretical sense. Remember, life is both real and theoretical at the same time. Example? Electricity and gravity are real, but you cannot see them. We create theoretical models of how they work, and for anybody who has fallen down, gravity sure does work. We negotiate the physical world and the world of ideas as they combine and tangle.
So, as I write about this race-packed weekend in St. Louis, keep this image in mind. This guy below may know what this feels like more than most. Cav won the first stage of the Tour of Missouri, but he did not have his eyes closed. But I am getting ahead of myself.
I think that Pantani has something to offer us as we investigate the idea of grace and glory. But surely was not on the mind of the young girls (unless their mom or dad is a cycling fanatic who continually watches 1997-1999 grand tour dvds). Yet I was struck by the similarity of the cool pose.
I might even read Matt Rendell’s book about Pantani to see if I can learn something. Worth a try.
Bike riders and bike racers know so much about biking. But we don’t know it all. Sometimes we don’t know very much.
Tomorrow: Saturday’s final race: St. Louis Hills