The Wing Man

Generally speaking, our cycling life informs our daily life. The lessons we internalize on endurance, on building strength, how to recover, set goals, act with grace and even digest disappointment have probably transformed most of our lives. But lessons from daily life rarely work in cycling.

Balancing a budget will keep you from digging deep to see what hidden reserves you might possess. Three squares teaches you nothing about topping off the tank whenever possible during a long road race.

Our romantic lives have provided us with one important guide to survival, however. Just as the buddy system works for a night out on the town, it serves us out on the road. We knew the value of the wingman even before we had a name for him (or her—women know not to travel alone, too).

Think of all they do. You’re never without a drink. You can lose your wallet and your wingman has your next round covered. It’s the same way with food. If you’re running low, your wingman has a hot dog stand, late night burger joint or donut shop wired.

He knows the course, too. It’s not enough to show up at a bar, you have to be at the right bar.

When you feel flat, he’s the guy who takes time to stop with you while you fix yourself up. He won’t leave you alone.

In the pack, your wingman can lead you to the front of the crowd, giving you a clear path to the dance floor. And if things get too rowdy or if the object of your interest blows you down like a stiff wind, your wingman has the exit covered. Concerned that the guy coming up fast is an ex-boyfriend? Your wingman can box him in and give you time to make a move.

Feeling a bit rough? No one will tell you you’re money as convincingly as your wingman. He knows your strengths and has seen you through finishes both good and bad. If anyone can conjure a good ride from you with a positive word, he’s the guy.

Let’s be honest, there were nights when you were too drunk to handle the drive home. He took over, guiding you out the door and making each turn as easy as rolling downhill. His line was so good you didn’t have to think.

As much as we value him when the chips are down, his greatest value is when you need the extra nudge to get the win. He chats up her friend while you make the breakaway. And if he realizes there’s no separating the two he provides the leadout, offering a barbecue at his place guaranteed to charm one and all.

And what of the crushing loss? He’s the guy there to pick you up, dust you off, take you outside and put you on the bike to remind you just how good you have it.


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  2. randomactsofcycling

    It’s interesting how when you dig deep, the guy that gives you a little push back into the paceline is also a guy you can trust and rely on when you are off the bike. Some people just get it, and they get you, too.
    I have to admit that over the years I have given very few people that little push. I don’t trust easily. But as I mature I find myself being a little more flexible and dare I say it, forgiving. The push comes a little easier now (I say that like I do it all the time….not! most of the time I am on the rivet just keeping up!).
    I have been riding for 10 years this Summer. Suffering on a bike has absolutely taught me a lot about myself and the character of others.

  3. J

    That little push back into the paceline, the give of the wheel in front of you to a stranger can be reaped tenfold later on.

    We must not forget the most of us race against the same faces week-in, week-out and that our reputations will precede us. The fellow that shared his water with me during a 30 mile breakaway, though he lost the sprint won the day. The fellow who sought fit to hit me during a race will certainly find difficulty garnering favors from the pack.

    The wingman to one’s self is valuable, the wingman to the pack is irreplaceable.

    Aesop’s fable about the Wind and Sun could no more be true than within racing.

    Kindness effects more than severity.

  4. cbaehr

    My day was off to a depressing start until i read this post. Thanks for the food for thought it gives me something positive to think about this morning. I just recently became a wing man for a dear friend of mine that live a few streets over from myself. It has brought new life to my riding and training in the last few months but the last few weeks I have been riding solo and some of my rides have lost their luster without him. Also your comparison is dead-on, this guy has always been my “Cougar and Merlin” for nights out on the town, my wing man on and off the bike.

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