The other day I compared the infernal Circle of Pulmonology to bicycle racing, and intentionally communicated one thing — pulmonologists, take care of your immortal souls!, or something like that — and realized I’d also let slip another: I was not a particularly *good* cyclist. But I liked it. And so, as with most things I like, I managed to get myself firmly into the middle of the pack by sheer enthusiasm and willpower.
I was so reliably middle-of-the-pack on the road bike that you could literally count the size of the women’s field for the day’s race, divide by two, and know what place I’d come in. I placed 6th overall one year in the NC-SC State Championship Road Race because 12 women entered. I medaled — bronze — for SC, because of the field of 12, six were from SC. It always, always worked that way. Except one time.
The one time was a criterium in downtown Greenville. In a crit, you go round and round a short circuit for a lot of laps. A typical ladies’ crit would take about half an hour, max, and because the course is short, in a small field of women at a local race, the pack tends to stay tight. All of us average riders would just hang on and suck wheel, and the better ladies would pull us long grudgingly because they couldn’t quite breakaway. The race would be won at the sprint.
So this course in Greenville was unusually hilly, and the last corner was nuts, as road cyclists see it. You descended fast, took a sharp left, and then sprinted back up hill again. The finish line was right at the top as you came out of that corner. Without the corner, the sprint would have begun at the top of the downhill — pick up as much momentum as possible, to get you back up that last hill and over the line.
But because of that corner, you could only go as fast on the downhill as you were willing to move through that corner. The course was clean enough — no debris or gravel or anything — but too much speed and you’d wipe out on that last turn. And if you don’t make the turn, the faster you’re going, the worse the crash is going to be.
So Jon and a friend and I rode the course together before the race. Big question: How fast can you take that turn? Pretty fast, as it happens. I mountain biked before I road biked, so my bike handling skills were good. Rock climbing + rugby + scary exposed gravely mountain biking with nutso turns . . . these things prepare you for a crit. Which is something of a combination of all three, accelerated.
And thus a strategy emerged: Sit in the pack for the race, and see how the other ladies take that corner. And if they’re slow . . . go wide and get ahead of the pack on that final downhill, scream through that turn, and be back up the hill again.
But you can’t waffle. Once you go wide, you’re committed. The only way out is through that corner. Period.
This is what faith is. Sticking that corner. You know how it’s supposed to go. Everything up until this point in your life has given you reason to believe it’s going to work. Maybe it’s a stretch, or maybe you’ve got good solid evidence. But you won’t really know until it’s done. Until you’ve turned that corner, you haven’t turned that corner.
So we got into the bell lap. I hung in the pack, but worked my way forward a bit. When we got to the top of the last downhill, I went wide and picked up speed. No one else followed. You feel a lot crazy when you do something that *should* be the obvious strategy, and no one else follows.
By the time I reached the bottom of the hill with the sharp left, I was all by myself. No one was on my wheel. No one was even close.
The only way out is through that corner. Or else through the crowd + signs + buildings. Nice big crowd down there, because everyone always gathers where the crash is going to be.
What do you do? You stick that corner.
Do it like you mean it, and find out if you were right.
So that’s what I did.
And I’m not dead or anything, so it worked.
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