During a recent banter with a few buddies, we were mocking a common friend (to his face, as per the mandatory rules) about his recent mishap: he cracked a collarbone. We determined he had not yet entered the super roadie club for doing so—I’ll get there in a minute—and that made me wonder: What constitutes a road rider, or a road racer? Does he/she have to be skinny? Short? Fat? Tall? Is a cool bike mandatory? And what is a real roadie, anyway? Shave your legs, pin a number and show up: basically those are the essential pre-requisites to participate at a road event, be it a USAC-sanctioned training race, a local crit, or a road race. Depending on where you live and the obnoxiousness level of the local cliques, the entry bar into road racing may vary. But in general terms a good show of skills will grant you a green light, no matter where you come from or are going to. So after a few (or many) years in the sport, some of the stridency regarding norms will be relaxed; after all, folks already know you, and it’s normal that at some point the conversation steers to the much darker, maligned, and sworn off topic of crashes. As a disclaimer, the “c” word will only be mentioned this one time; our sport carries enough bad juju as it is, so compare notes and carry on wisely, prudently and politely.
My account started a long time ago. We had (still have) this circuit race every Labor Day, when the mornings are chilly, the wind unpredictable and the peloton itching to go. At the start line the sub-18 category smelled of camphor, with hints of popcorn and sugary cinnamon from the street vendors and cigarette smoke from the spectators. Flag goes down, the first few laps were done at heart-in-throat speed. The boys were as nervous as they were fast, the attacks came from the gun, the constant shuffle and re-shuffle would, of course, determine what would stick. The main guy from the local team opened hostilities, and I knew this was it. It was one of those days when my legs and system were inordinately frisky and I was trying to get in any sort of break, seeking redemption from the previous week’s colossal screw up (missed the winning move). Not that time.
The course was flat and the wind buffeted from hard to harder; the streets perpendicular to the circuit fed the main drag with intermittent gusts, threatening to throw the juniors off the bike every 100 meters or so. Head down, the aggressor looked behind to check the damage, and in that micro-second the wind side-punched him by surprise. What happened next was a messy blur. His left side brushed a tree branch, he overcompensated, hit the curb with his pedal and somersaulted at close to 50km/h. The result was a pile of moaning, crackly-voiced teenagers, some in bad shape, others worse so, with me somewhere in the middle. My account was opened; no broken bones but I was “walking funny” for a few days. Plus the rashes. That was my first set of freshly de-scabbed scars, that when branded by the sun would turn into semi-permanent trophies, and I wore them with pride.
In retrospect, this is all so silly. But what is the difference between, say, 20 years ago and now? Aside from multiple fractured limbs during races, zero. My super light (but super whippy) Vitus 979 is long gone; so is the kit and some of the sun stains. The only remainders are memories and bravado, as well as the nonsense prattle about who belongs in what category. I suppose the meriting issue is the accumulated feats that come burdened with physical hurt. The sport is enveloped by heavy doses of suffering: political pain from the wife, financial pain from the new wheels (they’re carbon, man), and stomach-churning, sour-mouth and chills from painful efforts. It’s just obnoxious to measure the caliber of a roadie by the amount of broken bones he or she has sustained. If we were to adopt such metrics, messengers (not hipsters) would be World Tour racers, Triathletes would get VIP treatment from Phil Ligget*, and Jackie Chan would put Merckx to shame.
Our friend broke his collarbone at a cross race, some mis-timed move, or fumble, or what-have-you. Not a road race, so he’s not in the club yet. Or is he? He most certainly is, he has definitely accrued all sorts of hurt points, in all categories possible. And as a matter of fact he has been crowned King of Pavement in 2011, much to the chagrin of his lady. And though our scores are level, we’ll never touch him in this category: folks at Tegaderm know him by his first name.
You can’t beat that.
- I know Phil Ligget commentates on Triathlons, so drop it – you know what I mean.