Sometimes I dream, that he is me - you've got to see that's how I dream to be I dream I move, I dream I groove like Jens...if I could ride like Jens I wanna ride, I wanna ride like Jens oh, if I could ride like Jens.
Forgive me if you aren't a 20-30something who has fond memories of circa 1992 Gatorade commercials, but that particular one minute ad spot epitomized not only the peddling of neon-colored high fructose corn syrup to impressionable youths, but for a generation of aspiring athletes it became something of a theme song. The song also represents something more, it articulates the admiration one feels for a master at work.
One such master is Jens Voight. Although he'll never win le Tour seven times, he is one of the greatest racing cyclists of recent years. He is the master instigator of the long breakaway whose talent, style and sheer audacity are admired by fans and fellow racers alike. That, friends, is why I wanna ride like Jens.
Today was an unseasonably cold late January day in Carolina, heavy clouds threatened to burst at any time, and a stiff wind cut through my sweater as I loaded up my bike and packed my car for the drive to the race. It's always the same, and by now almost routine. Nearly every weekend from January through August, and the odd Tuesday night. I still get butterflies, it's my third race season, and I'm more passionate, more obsessed than ever. On cold winter mornings I ride until I can't feel my hands, feet, face, and other body parts best left unnamed. I write down everything I eat, and dwell on the minutiae that is recorded from my power meter. It's a losing proposition. I'm too tall and too heavy, my parents bequeathed unto me the gift of asthma, and I've had more knee operations than a retired wide receiver. In spite of, and more to the point – because of all of that I can't, and don't want to stop racing.
At the race I was reunited with the usual suspects. There is a pool of perhaps one hundred guys that I'll regularly race against, and the early season races renew these acquaintances. The familiar faces, bikes (admittedly I remember bikes better than faces half the time), handshakes, “how've you beens” and “have you lost weights?” echoed throughout registration area. Once on the bike to warm up, my time for socializing was over. As I rolled around the track before my first race of the day (Category 3 and 4) the same old thoughts rolled through my head. I'd planned my strategy the night before – but the best laid plans of mice and men go often astray. I never want to wait for the field sprint. I wanna be like Jens. Could I be? I was sure as hell going to give it a shot. Or ten.
With the crackle of a peloton full of pedals we were off. As soon as the race began, the attacks began. It's always a crap shoot, and after waiting for the first ill fated breakaways to be reeled back in I began to respond to attacks. If there is a textbook way to breakaway, or bridge up to a breakaway it goes something like this: “Start your attack several riders back from the front, and swing well away from the side, so as you pass the front you're going substantially faster than the other riders, leaving them unable to utilize your draft – continue your acceleration at maximal effort until you've attained sufficient distance on the field, then settle in to a pace you can hold to get away, or lap the field.” Time and again I did just that, and was brought back again and again. After twenty minutes I saw my opening. The peloton had just caught a break, but at the same time there were three riders up the road more than one hundred meters, and gaining distance. I jumped, swung wide, and tried to rip the crankarms off my bike. I caught the break, rode past – got on the front and hit it, hard. The four of us worked well together, and in a few short minutes had lapped the peloton. A previous group of four had accomplished the same feat, so if we could keep things together it would be an eight man race. Everyone else would be out for a training ride. As we wound up for the sprint, I was sitting comfortably in sixth wheel – with 200, 100, 50 meters left I pulled out of a marked rider's draft to execute a masterful sprint. Only it wasn't masterful. The sprint was on a left hand, banked turn, and I sprinted to the outside, costing me valuable distance. I ended up in sixth place. Sixth place is my fate, it's the mode average of my race results. I'm Mr. Sixth Place. Always a bridesmade...
Nothing ventured, nothing gained! Allez, allez, allez! Venga, venga, venga! First or last baby! Aut Vincere Aut Mori! Fahrt schnell Jens! With a notably smaller field than the category 3 / 4 race the 1/2/3 race was off, and so was I. My legs just worked, and by the time I looked back I'd opened a big gap, in three quarters of a lap. Attacking from the gun is almost always futile, but looking back I saw two guys coming up – guys I recognized as just tough enough, and just dumb enough to jump on a suicidal move like mine. What kind of idiot category 3 does that in a 1/2/3 race? Me. Why? Because I wanna be like Jens. The three of us began to work. I squared up on my drops, and told my legs to stop their infernal whining, they could complain later. We were soon joined by two more strong riders, and in short order lapped the rest of the field. We were followed closely by another three man group – and again – it was an eight man race. The attacks came harder and faster in this race, and fatigue began to set in, I was working to cover dangerous moves – working too much. I managed to stay with the lead group, but some shattering accelerations left me with the tank firmly on “E” for the sprint, and I rolled across last among those who had managed to get a lap up on the field. Eighth. I felt sort of like a car salesman might when a customer walks out just before signing the lease. Still, I think Jens would approve of the suicidal attack that began the race.
So that's both the beginning, and the end of my early 2008 race season. I go in for knee surgery on the 29th of January, and while I may be able to race briefly in April, I'm still staring down the barrel of what I hope to be my final knee surgery in May – and that will put me out of racing for a minimum of twelve weeks. Maybe I'll be back on form by September. Maybe not. Whatever the timeline, I'll be back. Early mornings, bad coffee, sore legs and all. After all, I wanna be like Jens.