Just after the Columbia Triathlon on Sunday, I was trying to get back into the transition area to retrieve my bike. One of the benefits of having an elite license is that the race organizers will usually let you get away with stuff that they won't let everyone do. As I was waiting to get waved in, a woman asked me: "Are you that 19 year-old that did so well today?" As flattered as I was to be mistaken for a) 19 years old and b) Andrew Yoder, who absolutely killed it in every way on Sunday and came in 2nd to a blazing Chris Lieto, I am neither of those things.
"No," I said. "I had a pretty bad day. My seatpost bolt came undone and I spent the whole bike ride falling off my saddle."
"Oh. Wow," she said. "I didn't think that that kind of thing happened to you guys."
"It does," I said. "It happens. There's nothing you can do about it—just happens some time."
"Sorry to hear that," she finished. "I hope you'll still come back next year."
I thanked her and picked up my bike and bag and walked it out to the car, where I sat for a while under a sky that was getting darker by the minute. My training partner had locked the car, so I had some time to sit on the ground under a tree.
PROs do look invincible, as if they don't ever have anything befall them during training and racing, but actually they're just as vulnerable to setbacks and doubts as any age grouper. Just watch David Millar, in the final kilometer of a Giro stage last week:
I didn't toss my bike over the barrier when my saddle started its fatal see-saw (there weren't any barriers nearby, anyway), but mentally I pulled a Bjarne on my ride (Millar, for all his theatrics, was only copying Riis' exciting bike toss of more than a decade earlier). My teammate, Janda, passed me easily only 8-10 miles into the bike, saying later: "You didn't look very good."
I pretty much spun the bike in, and then headed out on the run, mostly figuring to just get a good brick workout at this point. I ran with the womens' race winner, Rebecca Wassner, for about 3 miles, and then called it a day and jogged to the finish. I certainly didn't want to DNF, so I cruised home for a pretty brutal 20th place overall.
It happens. You get ready for a race, train, travel, prepare, eat right, and then a small hex-bolt takes the day away from you. It's as much a part of being a pro as it is an amateur, and both need to remember to get over it quickly. When I played soccer back in college, giving up a goal (it was individual sports for me, even when part of a team) ate at me for days. Around 7-10 years later, failures still get to me, but leaving them behind are easier. Maybe it's the footsteps of 30, maybe it's because I teach kids, who are both unusually susceptible and resilient to setbacks. Anyway, it happens, and all I can do is look down the road to Eagleman (or the Hartford Crit this weekend! Back to bike racing!) and get ready for it as best I can.
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