Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Story - You Call This A Race?

On the forums a guy asked what sort of tactics were acceptable. It's hard trying to figure that out because it differs from one area to the next. In the US it's perfectly acceptable to dive to the inside of another racer if you have room. In Belgium, I got screamed at for doing the same thing, and these guys had a good 2 or 3 feet of clear road to their inside.

To them, I was riding dirty.

When I was contesting races weekly (instead of a couple times a year), I'd try and yell to clear a path. For example, if there was a struggling guy in front of me halfway through a one hour race and an almost-rideable gap to his right, I'd say, "On your right", figuring that the guy would let me through since he's tired and there's plenty of time left in the race.

In NY, saying such things would almost always result in the racer moving to his right - to block the guy saying "On your right." I figured out the sort of hyper jerky type racers would move to block, the smoother guys would let me by. So I adjusted my calls. I'd still say "On your right" when behind a reasonable acting racer, but when behind a hyper jerky type racer, I'd yell, "On your left" and he'd obligingly move to his left.

And I'd blast by his right side.

When I went to Michigan, the races were super tight, hotly contested, and the guys cornered so fast they were simply sliding out. At first I thought maybe these guys were rolling tires or touching brakes but it wasn't that. They'd be smoothly following the insanely fast field through a turn and suddenly they're doing the thing you see in the in-car NASCAR cams - where the guy slowly falls over, starts tumbling, goes from being in front of you to beside you, bike and pieces flying everywhere, until he disappears from view.

Riding too aggressively gets others mad and makes them want to beat you. It's apparently the reason why football coaches and the like always praise the team they just demolished because they don't want to give motivation to that team for the next game. They praise their opponent's running game, comment they got a few lucky breaks, and the opponent was a strong team and they were honored to beat them 49-3. Or something like that.

I ran into a situation like that one year.

One racer, an Olympic alternate to an earlier US Olympic road team, totally annihilated the field in an "open" (i.e. non-licensed) race the first time I ever did it. On the podium interview, he made some disparaging remarks about the other racers. Mind you, this guy was a Cat 1 and won numerous state championships (and beat me by 11 minutes in a 25 mi TT), he was a fixture on the national circuit, and he really has nothing to prove, especially in a dinky unofficial race. Yet he averaged about 27 or 28 mph for the 20 mile hilly route, soloing within a few hundred meters of the start. Strong mofo but socially not 100% so he comes across poorly.

Anyway, he didn't play the game after the race. You know the "game", where you say what you're supposed to say? It's like when you see someone you really don't want to see and yet you still smile and say, "Hi, it's nice to see you."

It keeps things smooth and happy and lubricated, like the aforementioned football coach - "I want to thank the sponsors, including the bagel place for the great bagels they gave everyone after the race, the promoter for putting on such a nice race, and all the racers for making the day challenging for me. I had to work really hard to earn this win."

Instead he cracked jokes on how it was easier than a training ride, "you call this a race?", etc. That pissed me off as well as all of the guys who were chasing like mad the whole time, most of them Cat 3s and 4s. We collectively vowed to teach this guy some manners.

The next year I brought a lot of Cat 3s and 4s teammates and one Cat 2 ringer type guy to the race. We worked together, set up the Cat 2 for the win, and he won in a three up sprint. Mr You Call This A Race got second and a Cat 4 teammate got third. Very satisfying. During the race, Mr You Call This A Race got belligerent, calling us names, telling us doing this event was illegal (it was, since we had USCF licenses, but then again, so did he), etc etc.

Cat 2 winner played the game - "this is a great race, great course, really nice people, and a lot of nice sponsors" etc etc. My strategy was immediately apparent as we had perhaps 15 guys at the race but we raced clean, just used team tactics as best we could. Since the course is very hilly there was some level of individual strength required. We bluffed the guy until he gave up. He made the first 15 minutes living hell for us but after that the race was ok.

The following year, the Cat 2 showed up with his own full time semi-pro friends (there was a lot of money for top 3 and he figured they could win most of it), and they got first, second (barely), fourth, and something else. Mr You Call This A Race pulled off the course 20 or 30 meters short of the line - he officially DNFed. Whatever the reason, he earned a reputation for being a sore loser.

During the race, I didn't have the same type of "shock and awe" team as the prior year. But guys who were still steamed about the way Mr You Call This A Race disparaged their efforts from two years prior came up to me and asked me how they could help me out, even though they were on rival teams. They just wanted to help beat the guy that dissed them.

This is why you never refer to an opponent in a disparagingly manner.

Anyway, the moral of the story is that I pull the cheap shots only when I'm dealing with someone who already pulled the cheap shots. I don't want to go around antagonizing everyone I race against because it's a small community and word spreads quickly. If someone does antagonize me, okay, then I need to fight back. But if I race so cleanly and so smoothly that the others don't even know I'm taking them to the cleaners, well, hey now.

The best way to race is to race clean against the cheap shot racers and beat them. It's like beating a doper - they cheated and they still couldn't beat you.

Leave the cheap shots to the cheap shotters, take the high road, and you never have to doubt your results.

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