Canadian Cycling Magazine

The Race Team You Need

With the right squad, every event will be great, no matter how you finish

- by Bart Egnal

As winter turns to spring, Canadian bike racers look forward to the end of e-racing and the trainer and to the upcoming race season. You may be planning a diverse season of road racing, track racing, criteriums, XC mountain bike races, long-distance gravel smashers or any other manner of event. It may be your first year in the bunch and you’re hoping to finish a crit with the field, or you may be a grizzled veteran targeting that big win that has long eluded you. But whatever your year will look like, let me give you one piece of advice: build your personal race team and you’ll have more fun during your season.

When I say race team, I’m not describing an actual team, complete with team leaders, people you train with and well-defined roles you’ll all play to achieve maximum output. No, I’m talking about the friends who will make every race worth doing, no matter what result you get.

Racing is stressful. It involves risk, financial outlay and time cost. If you’re in a relationsh­ip or have kids, there are constant explanatio­ns of why spending an entire day to drive two hours to race in a circle for an hour while risking life and limb, and then to drive the two hours back home is a wonderful use of time, which your partner should support with fullness of soul.

That’s why win or lose (and even the best lose most of the time), what is really memorable are the relationsh­ips you have. I once asked a retired Canadian Forces officer I know if he missed the Forces. His reply: “I don’t miss the circus, but I miss the performers.”

There’s something special about the people you race with. On the long drives to races, you get to know one another. During the endless waiting for starts, you help each other calm nerves in anticipati­on of the action. In post-race debriefs, you support each other. If it’s a gravel event, there are beers afterward.

A recent report by University of Kansas professor Jeffrey Hall found that it takes 50 hours together to make a casual friend, and then 90 more to become a close friend. By my calculatio­n, that means it takes one season of bike racing to be casual friends and then one or two more to develop deep ties.

You really learn things about people in bike racing. You learn who is gracious in supporting you when your teammate’s day sucked. You learn who will wait around for you happily when the rider dropped out on Lap 2. You learn who will give you a spare gel mid-race when your teammate might need it later on. You learn who will lead you out just because your friend wants you to do well.

I am fortunate to have made some lifelong friends through bike racing. They – not the events – are now the draw. Late last year I hadn’t done a race, tending to my new six-monthold soigneur, my two older kids and my stressed out DS (read: partner). Then I got a message that five of my friends were doing the Scrappy Badger gravel race east of the city. Undertrain­ed, overweight and totally unprepared, I neverthele­ss secured the support of the DS to register. I had an amazing day, driving to and from the event with a friend and hanging with the crew. Although our grand plans to ride a team time trial were undone 10 km in by my inability to hold the wheel, the post-event party was well worth it.

So this year, get your race buddies on speed dial. Co-ordinate your calendars. Drive each other to the events. Always stay for their appearance­s on the podium. The races may fade but the friendship­s never will.

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