When I started this bike racing journey, I never expected to race road, nor have the actual desire to. I certainly never planned on taking my novice ass down to Athens, GA for Twilight to commemorate one whole year on the bike. Crit #4 was going to be big and scary, even if it wasn’t actually “Twilight”, and the only word that comes to mind when I look back at yesterday is…DEMORALIZING.
I did everything right on Friday night. I had a great dinner, stretched, and went to bed at a decent hour. I was a big ball of nerves, but managed to sleep well. I got up early, ate breakfast, and rode my bike to the course. It had been raining through the night, and was actually STILL raining during my warm-up. I had never raced on wet pavement before. My stomach flopped like a fish out of water. Time to put on my big girl pants.
I remembered J-man saying something about getting a good place on the line, so I watched the other chicks carefully. I saw one of them headed in that direction, so I followed and placed myself right up front. The officials stalled out our start time another 15 minutes or so, and my warm-up faded away a memory. At least everyone was in the same boat, though. We were all cold and wet. I could feel my heart beating through my chest wall. “On the whistle, ladies”.
I got a great start, perhaps a bit too fast, and managed to be the first girl through turn 1. Then, as if someone was pulling me backwards, I watched as people passed me from both sides. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…I kept falling back. I finally latched on to a wheel and followed the girls around to the start/finish. My left leg was already blowing up. This has been going on, noticeably, since NCCX in Charlotte. It only hurts during races, and I’m pretty sure it has a lot to do with a length discrepancy. At any rate, I was sitting middle of the field after the first lap. And then they got faster.
On the second turn, during my second lap, I got swept into the curb. Being the non-roadie, ‘cross and mountain rider that I am, I instinctively unclipped my left foot and put it out to push off the curb. I managed to use my brakes and my foot to keep my face off the pavement, and pedaled on. The pack was long gone by this point. I worked my ass off to bridge, but my leg exploded into a million tiny pieces. I pedaled up the hill, only to feel my leg cramp up to the point where it almost made me cry. I watched the pack slip away into the first turn. And then I experienced it…for the first time in my entire life…
I quit. It was quite possibly the worst feeling I’ve ever had. Just reflecting on it now fills my eyes up with tears. I got off my bike and couldn’t straighten my leg. As I limped over to the grass, a guy asked if he could hold my bike for me, so I let him. The overwhelming feelings of pain, disappointment, and failure took over, and I fell to the ground in a heap of tears.
That poor dude didn’t know what to do. Sorry, bro. Females are bat shit crazy.
I kept saying “I can’t believe I quit”, over and over. In a pile of tears. While a random dude held my bike. After a few minutes of this, I decided to get up and hobble my pity party to the other side of the course, because I was sure everyone thought I wrecked. Some of the AYC kids came up and asked me if I was ok. I tried to compose myself for the few minutes it took to assure them I was ok, and continued to walk towards the start/finish.
At this point, I was an inconsolable mess, and I ran into J-man. He asked if I crashed, and I could barely get the words out. “I quit! I pulled myself. I can’t believe I quit!”. He grabbed my bike as I wiped away my flooding tears with my skin suit. I was practically hyperventilating at this point, but he was calm and just kept telling me “you’re ok”.
“It’s part of it, Megan. You’re gonna have bad races and you’re gonna get pulled and you’re gonna get faster. It’s ok. I promise you’re gonna do better. This is part of bike racing. It’s hard. You’re ok. It’s all part of.” Jordan is wise beyond his years. This kid knows what’s up. But I kept crying.
I found Autumn, got the car keys, and decided to soft pedal to the car to change clothes. I cried the ENTIRE WAY. Some guy rode up to me and asked, “Are you from New England?” I’m assuming he was referring to my team kit. I started talking in my redneck, durty south accent, politely telling him I was on the grassroots team. I think he realized I was bawling my eyes out, so he patted me on the shoulder and told me to have a better day. I continued on the Trail of Tears to the parking garage…
I couldn’t even get dressed. I managed to wrap myself in a towel and take off my skin suit. Just as I was about to take off my shoes, Justin Bristol rolled up and asked how my race went. And the rain came down. I attempted to explain, but kept getting choked on my tears. So he hugged me.
I was standing in a beach towel, in a parking garage, still in my Mavics, crying my eyes out while being consoled by a dude in an oversized skin suit and full-fingered gloves. It makes me laugh now. I’m such a dork. Approximately 45 minutes after I quit my race, I stopped crying.
I met up with my Asheville buddies and watched some bike racing. I decided it was time to enjoy my first Twilight. I had the pleasure of watching Jordan Lewis qualify for the amateur finals, and have a few laughs with a great group of people. Sometimes it’s not always about the bike. Lance was actually right about that…
Taco Stand. Tofu tacos. Margaritas. Amateur finals. Women’s and men’s pro races. Aggressive flip-flops. The joy on Autumn’s face as her very proud kid won his first prime in front of thousands of people. Twilight was amazing.
I’m fortunate to have the life that I have, and overwhelmed with the love and support from old friends and new ones. I’m lucky to be able to line up in Athens, even though 8 am is stupid and the Cat 4 lifestyle isn’t glamorous. I’m lucky to be part of a wacky group of people who I get to call “my team”. I’m lucky to have the health to pedal my bike. I’m lucky that I am able to feel emotions, good and bad. I’m lucky to know what it means to love something, whole-heartedly, even though everything inside of me wants to hate it.
“It’s just stupid bike racing, but it means everything.” And it does.