Tulsa isn’t a big town. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot bigger than some microscopic towns I’ve ridden through whereby your mere presence increases the population 10%. But in comparison to most metropolitan areas, it has far more land than people.
For all that, it does have a decently sized cycling population. But again, you’re talking maybe thousands of cyclists out of almost a million people in almost 1,000 sq. miles. And out of those thousands of cyclists, maybe a few hundred racers.
Why do I bring all this up? Because I wanted to show that we’re a rare breed. Just as a cyclist, you’re already in rarefied territory. So when it’s race time, guess what? The majority of your competition is going to be made up of not only people you know, but people you probably ride with on a normal basis.
In larger metros like LA, NYC, etc., there’s hundreds of teams and thousands of racers. You could ride for weeks if not months without needing to ride with a competitor. In the Midwest, it’s more like dozens of teams and hundreds of racers, and you see your competition every other ride.
This is not a bad thing.
Now admittedly, there are disadvantages to racing against people that you ride with all the time. Firstly, if you see the same hammerheads show up race after race, chances are you will think, “Ugh, they’re gonna win again.” And yeah, some people are just naturally gifted or dedicate themselves entirely to this sport – can’t fault them for that. But remember, no two races ever unfold the same way. Maybe they get caught behind some slower riders and can’t find an opening. Maybe they get a flat. Maybe they just have an off day. Or maybe the dice fall your way. Don’t give up on the race before you even started just because of what’s happened in the past.
Second: the competition knows you, and you know them. That means if you’re a climber, they’ll expect an attack on the hills. If you’re a sprinter, they’re going to watch you like a hawk towards the end of the race. And if you’re me? They won’t really care, because I’m usually hanging on for dear life anyway. Though your competition knows you and your abilities, that doesn’t mean you can’t win. It means you have to work harder, and in turn, you’ll be better for it.
But beyond these things, we have to remember why we race. We don’t race just to win. If that were the case very few of us would like racing, since on any given day only a handful of people out of hundreds will see a podium. No, we race because we love the camaraderie of racing. We savor the challenge together. We relish reliving the tales of how Cranksmasher decimated the field sprint, or how Billygoat disappeared on that final climb.
We race because we want to push ourselves and others to do our very best. It doesn’t matter if the guy next to me is wearing the same jersey as I am. I want him to be safe. I want him to have fun. And I want him to look out for me the way I’m gonna look out for him.
Because when all’s said and done, and the race tents are packed away, the team kits thrown in the wash, the Zipp wheels bagged until the next event, you’ll roll out to your weekly group rides and there you’ll see those same people.
The same friends who you ride with day in and day out. And your jersey’s won’t have sponsors on them. They won’t have the rips and bloodstains of battle. They’ll be Primal Wear, and Pearl Izumi, and Champion, and Castelli. They’ll be Beer-30, and Xrays, cranks and chains, and patterns and colors of all kinds.
So when you next step up to the line, remember that yeah, the person next to you might be from a different race team. But we’re all part of a larger team: we’re all cyclists.