When I went to registration at Chris Thater yesterday to pick up my race numbers, the man at the table looked down at his registration list and said,”Oh, your team name is blank. Do you want me to fill that in?”
I teared up immediately because, duh, I cry over everything.
“No,” I squeaked. “I’m unattached.”
He didn’t flinch, but I did for what was probably the hundredth time in the past few weeks, since everything went to shit and I bought my new unattached cycling license.
It’s hard to tell the story of how things unfolded this season without saying too much. Team Colavita has been my home for the past two seasons; my friends, my family on the road, my sole concern in races. I went from being a lone mercenary rider in 2012 hunting for results to being a part of a team plan and I loved the role. But I didn’t like some things I witnessed and experienced this season within the team. There came a point where I had to choose to keep my head down and accept a reality that felt wrong, or stand up and risk the consequences.
I stood up. Results matter, but people matter more. While I’m the first to acknowledge that professional cycling is a business, this sport is too wonderful and insufficiently lucrative to justify being an asshole. So I objected to the things that felt wrong and tried to stop them. On a few occasions, I acted rashly out of hurt or anger and I regret those times, but on the whole, I would not change a damn thing.
As the season progressed, it became clear that if I wanted to race my bike and disassociate from the negativity, I was going to have to go it alone. Okay. That was hard to swallow, but I figured I’d do it and then start fresh next year when the bad had been cut away like you’d expect one would do with any flesh-eating bacteria. Then I found out that the future was not going to be what I expected and that was the end. I was done with Team Colavita and Team Colavita was done with me.
Ain’t that some shit? Two years, and to show for it I have a lot of 48th place finishes and more olive oil than Italy.
But I also got a best friend out of the team that I’ll love no matter where life takes us, as well as several other dear friends. I learned how to race my bike, how to give everything so somebody else can win, how to live on the road with a bunch of people in tight quarters, and how to love this wild career. And I also got this badass Shimano hat that I’ll probably never take off (which may become complicated when it comes time to shower).
Yesterday was the first time I raced unattached and against my former teammates. I started to freak out a little (and yes, cry) as Andrew and I drove up to New York. The moment when I acknowledged the situation out loud at registration stung, and it was a punch in the gut to see Team Colavita rolling around the course. I felt like a sad bird that had fallen out of the nest. But everybody else at the race stepped in to fill the void; the other women were so supportive and warm that I made it to the start with minimal histrionics and raced my damn bike. Ripped of that bandaid and went on with life.
The race went well enough. It was hard to figure out what to do with myself because I’m so used to having teamwork responsibilities. Sit in? Huh? I tried a few moves but realized quickly that I wasn’t getting away with that group. It came down to a bunch sprint and I managed 8th; not what I’d wanted, but not bad considering the newness of the experience.
Today was even better. The weather was gorgeous – perfect for another 43 laps around the same course – and the racing was active but friendly. It felt like a high-stakes version of my favorite group ride. Around 20 laps to go, I got away with six other riders and we quickly put 20-30 seconds on the field. It was a strong group with too many good sprinters, so I knew my only shot at winning was to attack at the right moment and get away. I threw it down with 2 laps remaining and came through at 1 to go with a gap, but it wasn’t enough. I got caught with less than half a lap left and was too gassed to sprint with the break, ending up 7th. SHITBALLS. But I raced my bike, had such a good time doing it, and played my hand as best as possible. Sometimes the gamble doesn’t pay off, but it’s better than not gambling at all.
I also realized that when you’re racing amongst friends, it’s all good-natured and everybody is happy about everybody else’s success. That camaraderie and class make racing totally worth the effort, even if you don’t get the win.
Now I’m in the car heading home and so excited to get back on the road this Thursday for the Gateway Cup races. (Andrew, the designated driver, is slightly less thrilled.) This weekend was a hard step forward, but in taking it, I found that there are so many wonderful people by my side. Despite what my license says, I am anything but unattached.