We all have bad days on the bike. They shouldn't destroy us every time, shouldn't make us ask any questions, shouldn't make us uncertain about the training we've been doing, the food we've been eating, the rest we've been getting. Bad days on the bike should just be written off as bad days and forgotten, because the memory of bad days is always accompanied by doubt. And doubt, so useful in the cut and thrust of social discourse, has no place on the bike. To do well in this game you have to have the utmost in self-confidence - self-confidence that cannot be dented, no matter what the setback, what the loss. No matter how bad the day.
I did well yesterday at the Metro track champs, as well as I expected, but no better. I'd never ridden a real pursuit before, and yesterday morning did two, coming home with the bronze - second to a VIS athlete and a state pursuit champ. No shame there, but my qualifying time (5.01) was about five seconds slower than I'd hoped. And I brought home a silver in the kilo in the afternoon, but my tired legs were still unable to break that 1.10 mark that has been mocking me for over a year now. This being said, I was happy with how I was feeling - aside from those tired legs, I totally nailed my food intake, and the rest of my body was exactly where it should've been.
Today was a bit different. I skipped the sprints and arrived early for the scratch. Exactly how early quickly became apparent, and it slowly dawned on me that I didn't have quite enough food. Still, I watched Sean the Man - with the directions for the Grafton to Inverell 280 kilometre road race still taped to his stem - take a second in the sprints, then warmed up on the rollers. Then warmed up some more. Then warmed up some more. It wasn't the best preparation. The day was dragging on. A headache was coming. Casey texted me to ask where I was. When eventually our race started I was pretty much cooked. The pursuits yesterday had taken it out of me. I wasn't feeling great, and I felt even less great when I felt my rear tyre go all squishy. Five laps out for a mechanical. Still, I got back on without too much trouble, and even managed to pull a turn or two.
Before the race there had been a lot of discussion about how to beat the two VIS kids who had lined up with us. We had our man who we thought could win, and all we had to do was ensure that he did as little work as possible until the decisive moment. It was my job to mark one of these VIS kids, famed for making early escapes that somehow succeed. So this is what I did for the next ten laps. Every time he jumped, I jumped with him. If he moved up the track, I moved up the track. I followed him so closely I think I got some of his sweat on me. Eventually our man made his move and took a hundred metres or so. I held up the kid for a little more, but eventually he took off and I couldn't go with him. He joined our man at the front, I sat up, and was, a few more kilometres further in, pulled from the race.
Which was kind of cool, because it meant that I got to watch the finish. Our man was pulling the softest turns imaginable, knowing that the only people remaining in the race were the VIS kid, who was burning like a diesel engine at the front of the race, swearing at our man and getting angrier by the minute, and one other friend, whose initial job had been to lead our man out with four laps to go. That friend raced on his own for a good fifteen laps and held out for third. With two laps to go our man jumped and the VIS kid, perhaps tired from straining to stay away, never managed to get on to the wheel. It was good watching, and good racing.
I'm still unable to shake the feeling that I had a shitty day. But writing it out here helps. It takes that doubt and makes it reasonable, factual, typed out in black and white. Writing it out helps you reckonize the errors and localize them, keeping them small, not allowing the doubt to magnify them. In the past half hour I've gone from thinking, "Everything sucks," to just thinking, "Well, my food intake sure sucked. If I'd had more to eat I probably could've held on and finished the race." And in another half an hour I'll be thinking about races to come. I couldn't have done that if I'd kept lying here in the dark listening to Gillian Welch.