What time is it? It’s pitch black outside and way below freezing, as it has been every morning this winter. It has been the worst in terms of frigid misery in my 13 years in the US of A. The roads get consistently pummeled with meters of snow, that turn to ice, that turn to a deadly mix of dogshit/cigarette butts/squirrel carcasses, all sealed in a temporary amber of arctic nastiness. It’s long before sunrise, my watch says. I scowl back and drag my carcass out of bed, pee, change to cycling clothes and hit the trainer for my 60-80 minutes of predawn punishment. The whole process is automated: dimmer goes up ever so lightly, don’t want to offend the eyes or the dream-addled senses that are half working. Bottle is filled the night before, same holds true for carefully choosing the correct DVD, straightening the Lion of Flanders flag, and prepping the bike. A routine that is down pat, mechanical in its process but pious in its devotion.
In 10 minutes I’m almost awake but already on the designated warm up phase of the workout. Paul Sherwen’s voice becomes the soundtrack of a rather uncomfortable spin, and as the first beads of sweat accumulate on my arm, it’s on. Suddenly I’m vigorously chasing some thick-legged classics rider and totally in the race. Twice, sometimes three times a week, I follow the same drill, mental willingness prevailing over the obvious common sense that would suggest I stay in bed, save energy for work, home duties… nonsense. It’s on, and I’m ready.
Is this familiar to you? Do you finish your workout and discover that it’s still dark outside, the silent household greeting you back in? Then welcome to the Joe Racer category, the world’s largest and unspoken order of riders. And what is this, you ask? Joe Racer (or Giuseppe Corridore, Jean Coureur, Zé Corredor) is the general racer, the aficionado who refuses to settle, to give in, to be a bystander. He is the king of middle categories, buys most of his equipment, dreams of sunny weather training camps, and fills the pack of your local training race or USCF event. He has a long-term, complex, and at times irrational relationship with the sport.
Don’t get me wrong, Joe Racer is fast enough. He may come out of nowhere and smoke you. Drop you. Make you hurt. The short workouts paying off in the form of quick accelerations, a well-timed attack or just faking fitness on a jour sans, craftily surfing the field, eagerly waiting for the good sensations to kick in, for squares to turn to circles, for the no to turn into go.
Finally spring time comes. Well, it just did. Form is budding, I can feel the green shoots, the pre go-fast feelings, yet it lags in comparison to years past, when complexities hadn’t quite littered Joe Racer’s road to smooth, predictable fitness. Predictability is out the window now. Like navigating the first few km’s of a Gran Fondo, we’ll scramble with our form all the way to the front, find our group and put the hammer down. The outdoor discomfort manifests itself in all sorts of yet-to-be-really-warmed-up pains. We welcome it, see it as the key to shed the winter flubber, unzip the fat suit and emerge brown, ripped and tight.
Watch Joe Racer fly by, where has he been?
“Hey man, nice to see you. How’s it going – you’re looking good”. As we re-enter the scene, old friends come by to greet, always nice to see familiar faces, the gregarious chatter on the spins before the race starts. We exchange pleasantries, swear “this has been my 6th ride outside” and proceed to engage in more silly talk. The penultimate race of the day has just ended, we’re called to the line, we’re next. Everyone’s here. Everyone’s always here. Nods, smiles, jokes, high fives, hugs, then the race starts. This is the Joe Racer event, and now it really doesn’t matter how little you rode, how long so-and-so spent riding in warm places, or how uncomfortable the first few minutes feel. For as soon as the beads of sweat form on your brow, Paul Sherwen’s voice is back in your head, the adrenalin hits, and it’s on.
Because, for Joe Racer, it has always been on.