The day before the race I started getting nervous. I questioned my fitness and motives. I was also deeply concerned that midway through the race I might get that “I don’t want to play this game” feeling and just quit - kind of like one might do after losing hand after hand of cards, or that hit me midway through Gravel Worlds last year (2014). But, as you can see from this picture, I won the race, but the win is not the triumph celebrated. Instead it is the validation that the joy is in the process.
The place racing has in my experience of cycling now is quite different now than it was. In the past, it was more to prove that I could do it - prove to myself that I did have the toughness, perseverance, and talent to be successful and success was defined by the podium.
In contrast, cycling for me these days is about polishing my craft, or as I’ve phrased it recently, be a “practicing cyclist” or perhaps more accurately now that I’m pinning on numbers, “a practicing racer.” For me, this captures the focus on the experience of bike racing, of attentiveness to form and detail of training one’s body for the love of the process and a pursuit of mastery rather than a myopic focus on wins. Of course, there tends to be a correlation between mastery and wins, but only to a point.
I arrived at this when I realized that a large part of my frustration and disappointment with cycling on my attempts to return to it, and especially racing, was a comparative impulse - the first thing that I often warn other others about. The difference was that I was not comparing myself to anyone else, but rather comparing current self with past self. Once I turned my attention solely on the improvement of my current self, the pleasure found in riding, training, and racing returned in full force.