What is it we want for ourselves? Maslow says its autonomy, feeling like we are masters of our own universe, but then we only aim for that once we have covered all those other needs: food, shelter, love, etc. How we bring ourselves into being, what qualifies, varies like varieties of flower. Forget being president—of a country, a large organization; hell, pick a noun—I don’t even share many of the same ambitions with fellow cyclists. Winning a race, whether a grand tour or Joe’s Industrial Park Crit isn’t something I desire for myself.
We like to say we become more set in our ways as we age. I’ve never really known what that means. How does one become more of oneself? That never added up for me, until maybe just now. When I considered myself a racer, I was much more comfortable playing the role of the dependable domestique. If you needed someone to mount the chase, or to disrupt it, I was your guy. If you needed someone to sacrifice themselves not on the final lap, but with three laps to go, I was happy to do it. With added distance, I see now that I really enjoy riding in service of others.
I think I was in my 20s the first time I kidded that my father was a tow-truck.
My first big event of the season is this coming weekend. On Saturday, I plan to set aside any personal ambitions in favor of riding for others. It’s not that I think I’m too slow to better previous performances; my feeling is anything but. I believe I can still set new PRs on certain descents, and even climbs, that I can lower my finishing time, and maybe I’ll take another stab at that in the future. However, this weekend, what I most want to do play tow truck, to give my draft to others, rather than to seek it, to set a pace just high enough to allow others to ride faster than they would otherwise.
I love taking a long tempo pull that allows reasonably strong riders remora for miles in my wake. I dig looking over my shoulder and seeing a line of riders streamer in my wake. But for that to work, it depends on me taking a steady pull and for the riders to have enough experience to draft close and conserve their effort.
Last summer I tried to play tow truck to a friend at a big event. I attempted to set a pace low enough to be bearable, but also just high enough that we wouldn’t be out there all day. I failed. Twenty miles in she told me to leave her, that she—gasp—couldn’t really hope to—gasp—maintain that pace all day. I told her I could slow down and then soft pedaled to the top of a hill and waited for her. When five minutes went by and I hadn’t seen her, I concluded that she’d pulled over to convince me to roll on. It was, I have to say, an effective way to settle the conversation. But I was bummed, not because she had pulled over, but because I couldn’t figure out a pace that worked for her.
What I aim to do this season is to help riders who are still learning how to draft lower their finish times. How much can we shave off? An hour? More? I’m not sure. I’m not sure what that pace looks like just yet. And I’ve seen how sustaining a pace right at someone’s threshold can shatter them. That’s not the thing to do.
What I know is this: rolling into the finish of a hard event an hour sooner than expected will give anyone a memorable day. Because it helps someone redefine their limits, to reset their expectations of what’s possible, it’s a textbook example of one of Maslow’s peak experiences. And right now, the peak experience I want most is to help others have those peak experiences.
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