Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Nicest Thing Said To Me On A Bike

You would think that the nicest thing said to me on a bike would something about being fast, or strong, or looking good in my lycra, or after I won a race, or something like that, right? But that is not what sticks out for me as being the nicest thing said to me on a bike. And, in fact, the nicest thing that I remember being said to me was not really meant to be nice.

Here is the scene. A group of twenty riders and about 20 miles out of town with a long way to go to get home. Far enough along that we were all warmed up, all breathing hard and hearts pumping. We came to the bottom of a longish and steep climb and the group started to split up. First it was a couple of clumps with little separation, but then the lead group spit out a few and the hind groups splintered into ones and twos as the impetus went from "stay with the group!" to "survive the hill!"

I drifted farther and farther back, so that I was in danger of being trailed off the ride completely alone as the leaders on the road were pushing farther and farther away. I wasn't the only one moving much slower than the front of the ride, but I was getting to be in the company of fewer people and quickly in danger of becoming the last one on the road.

As I came along another rider, he said, "I was looking for you. I know that all I have to do is stay close to you. 'Cause I know one of your teammates will make sure you get back in the group."

It was said in a slightly derisive/slightly amused tone and it wasn't intended as a compliment. In fact, it may have even been a veiled put-down, since the clear statement was that I was the weakest guy on the team; that someone "had" to look out for me. And is absolutely true that I am the weakest link in the chain. I mean "someone" has to be the weakest guy, right? And what's the downside to having stronger teammates, really?

Anyway, it struck me at the moment as funny, as well as true. He was just thinking about self-preservation, but even if it wasn't meant as such, I took it as a compliment.

When you watch pro racing, there are times that domestiques are called by the team director to fall back and protect a leader, or to pull a potential winner back into the group after a tire or bike change. That is a sign of respect for the leader and, frankly, it is just doing the job for the non-leaders. That is definitely not what was happening here. This would be more like a leader/rouleur falling back to help an aging and out-of-shape teammate back into the peloton who shouldn't have been on the road in the first place. In other words, that just doesn't happen in pro racing. And it wouldn't happen in any race I was in either.

But this was a group ride and the astute fellow who spoke to me knew that almost "no matter what," that I had some teammates who were not just teammates, but also friends, who would notice I wasn't there at the top of a climb (not surprising anyone) and they would take some action to make sure I wasn't left behind. It might be as simple as saying, "hey, let's wait up while everyone gets on" or it might be drifting off the back of the group as it rolled along flatter roads to offer me some shelter on their wheel and a pull back to the group. But, no matter how it was done, they would look out for me. And that, my friends, is a nice feeling.

And no matter how it was meant from the rider who was similarly dragged back by gravity that day, I took it as a great compliment.

He may have seen it as weakness in me or in my teammates, but I have to admit it was also observant. I hadn't really thought about the fact that those guys would come back and get me no matter what. I guess I knew that, but I hadn't thought about it in those terms or realized what he had realized as we were huffing and puffing up that hill. But after he said what he did, it made me guess that I had been a good enough friend to my teammates that I was a good enough friend to them that it was worth taking care of me. Even as slow moving as I was that day. And what nicer thing could you say to a guy than that?

So, to Rider One and Two, who were there for me that day and lots of other days, I say, "Thanks!" It is always good to be on a ride with you guys and I look forward to it many more times. Right up until the point you get tired of hauling me back to the group.
Rider Three

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