The alarm goes off before the sun comes up. Your body protests the early hour, but somewhere in the back of your mind you know it’s race day. So, you roll over and grab your sweatpants, sweatshirt and beanie. The point is to raise the core temperature and get your blood flowing. Rubbing the sleep out of your eyes, you move slowly down the stairs and head straight to the coffee pot. Because, coffee is the lifeblood that fuels the hearts of champions. Sometimes your teammates are there, sometimes they aren’t. And breakfast usually consists of some kind of whole grain cereal, some peanut butter and maybe some turkey.
It’s time to head to the race. You grab your kit, towel, change of clothes, cleats, water bottles, sun glasses, and bike. Pile in the car and head to the site. After you find a place to park you watch as other teams roll in. Some with huge trailers and others just come in carpool style. You pop in the headphones as the tension starts to build. You become completely aware of every muscle in your legs and the rhythm of your own heart. You can hear it pounding and it feels like it’s in your throat. Your stomach turns in knots and you wonder if the next guy is feeling the same thing. With the iPod bumpin’, you grab your kit and start to suit up, checking tire pressure and filling water bottles. All the while, you turn farther and farther inward as the nervousness starts to mount. If you’re lucky, it’s warm and sunny. But, on a normal day in early spring, it’s raining and cold. Which only helps to intensify the nervousness you already feel. You check and recheck, tighten your cleats and it’s time to go. You run a few warm up laps and then line up for the mass start.
The word is given and the familiar “clunk clunk” of cleats engaging registers somewhere in the back of your mind. Time to roll out. And for the next two and half hours you battle for position. Pulling. Drafting. Sitting in. The attacks come early and often. Two, three, four guys get up the road. The first break of the day is gone. The pace starts to pick up. The early break is spotted up the road. They are swallowed by the peloton. Another attack. He’s not strong enough to hold it. My turn to pull.
The race is coming to its last miles. The pace is relentless now. Pedals turning over and over. Handle bars knocking hips. Five miles left. The group is nervous. Is it time? Not yet. Faster and faster. Now! I attack on the uphill. The group splits in half as guys can’t fight the drop any longer. Three miles to go. I can’t get off the front. Wheel suckers. I push harder. The finish is just around the next corner. Still can’t get off the front. Fine. I’ll make it hurt. My legs are screaming. My body says stop but my mind says faster. All of a sudden breathing, the one thing we do instinctively on a daily basis, becomes a struggle. Where is the oxygen? I can see the finish. Push, push, push. It’s going to be a sprint. Then the sound of bodies hitting the pavement and bikes becoming twisted metal and the sound of cracking carbon is heard over the shoulder. Someone went down. Grunts and moans. GO! I’ve been pulling for to long. The guy behind me jumps off my wheel in the last two hundred meters. Nips me at the line. I hang my head in defeat as I watch him throw his arms in celebration. It’s over. My legs feel like jelly and my breath comes in long, painful rasps. My mind is a wreck. All the nervousness and anxiety has left me exhausted. Slowly rolling back to the car, I replay the race over and over in my mind. What happened? How? Why? Just let me sit down. And there, leaning against the car, sitting on the ground, the smile comes. The thrill of the race. The burn in my legs. It’s all a reminder of leaving it all on the road. Holding nothing back. And all I can think about is how much I want to be Monday here so I can get back to work. Sprinting. Climbing. Cornering. I just want to get back to work.
Call me crazy. Call me strange. Call me a fanatic. Because to those who don’t understand, I am those things. You see, it’s not about me. It will never be about me. I endure pain because he endured pain. I suffer because he suffered. I leave it all on the road because he left it all on the cross. I ride for the one who gave me legs in the first place. Every mile is an offering.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
So many people find strength in anger. What more power can be found in Joy?
It’s for the joy I ride. See you on the road.
Besides, the guy who nipped me at the line is going to feel my wrath next week.