Whenever I come home, my dad asks me if I’ll join him on his morning ride. The Morning Ride. Every day, at 5:45 AM, 10-40 middle aged doctor types saddle up for ~48 minutes of testosterone driven riding.
As we pulled up to the guys this morning (on a tandem, mind you), it seemed like any other training group. Like any other training group, but with fancier gear and a higher propensity for sandbagging. The first ten minutes were filled with small talk about golf games, sore hamstrings and tight hips. Some guys hadn’t ridden on a while, others were tired from weekends at the lake, and it sounded like Tempo Tandem Tuesday might lack the tempo.
Then we started riding.
As the pace picked up and my legs began to load, the golf conversation continued, to show, you know, that we still hadn’t really gotten going (albeit, words were gapped by slightly heavy breathing). As we dove into a descent, quickening our strides (or whatever bikers call it) and gaining speed, it became painfully evident that these old dudes were there to compete, despite the aching hips, joints and long weekends.
Luckily, I was on a tandem. Being on a tandem is kind of like being on a spin bike but with a view. You don’t have to steer, or shift, and there is significantly less wind from where you sit. You just create power for your teammate, stop spinning when he says so and dig at his word. You trust him and he trusts you. You are a team.
As I was contemplating my lucky lot, two fancy bikes passed us on our left. “Hey,” I thought, noting that the back and front wheels of the two were nearly touching, “they’re riding like they’re on a tandem.”
You know, sometimes, it takes years to understand major tenets of athletics. (Think ‘forward hips’ or ‘weight shift,’ whatever those are.) It was in that instant that it all came together for me. Oh, I thought, drafting.
But more than that. This group of middle aged but altogether athletically driven men knew more than just how to draft off each other, more than to use each other, but to work with each other. They are extraordinarily competitive, but they all get to the top of the hill. They challenge each other and sprint and play games, but also acknowledge that they will not succeed without the presence of the men they are out-sprinting.
They are competitive, but also codependent.
When I was a junior, Pete Vordenberg (who recently wrote on the idea of togetherness in sport) asked us to break apart the word “competitive” and tell him what it meant. Well, I was kind of a big deal in my latin roots class, so I immediately burst out, “COM means together!” I got the gold star for the day, and went along with training, never completely grasping what Pete was trying to teach us.
Drafting, working together, is not using each other. It is depending on each other, trusting each other, making each other better. Every morning at 5:45 AM, a group of guys of varying ages, fitness levels and cycling experience gets together and rides their bikes until sunrise. Some guys drop, others lead, but everyone finishes.
Sometimes, to go as fast as you can you have to trust your competitors. You have to surrender control to the person in front of you, and work with them to gain ground.
There is some risk involved (re: 35 seconds into the video below my dad, aka the guy I was trusting to lead me, proves that), but better to take a risk to gain a greater victory than play it safe do ok. If everyone works together, that greater victory will in some part belong to each rider. You know, kind of like a tandem.
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