When I was younger and a swimmer, I always set out to beat my own best time. My competitors provided extra motivation, but to “compete with myself” felt more acceptable, even in that competitive environment. As much as I wanted to win, I wanted to be liked.
When I first decided to give cycling a real shot, a mentor said to me before the first crit of the season: When you’re on the start line, take a look at the other racers and think to yourself, THESE B*****S ARE CORPSES.
Shaking my head, I laughed and rolled to the start. I surveyed my competitors thinking those words, stunned by how good it felt to allow my inner competitor to stretch her legs so brazenly, even in my own head. Here--racing bikes--I could freely embrace this very real part of who I am, even celebrate it.
Competition is not a zero-sum game. Competitors bring out the best in each other, providing that impetus to dig beyond former limits. Win or lose, my competitors teach me how to be better. In that sense, every competitor is my ally. And when I show up to the start line and unleash my inner competitor, I get to be that ally for others.
In pro cycling, competition is everything, and I’ve spent my career obsessing over details that can make or break a result. I know there’s an equation of torque and tensile modulus in every corner. I notice millimeters and nuances of carbon fiber construction.
But sometimes I need to shrug off the quantitatives of that world and return to the purity of competing with no purpose other than to come alive.
In the hills above the Pacific, morning fog softens the light and our voices, as my friends and I fall into the rhythm of the road, embarking on a day without aim. We find dirt connectors and secret roads among redwoods. On these bikes with these friends, no terrain is off limits, no turn unexplored. We surge over rollers and startle cows and shout jokes as we descend. Tearing through the wind on the coast, I attack not to prove anything, but to seek that furthest edge of striving—unmeasured and immeasurable. It is as cutthroat as it is playful and honest and congenial.
Even when I seek respite from the intensity of my job, I find it on the bike, out here with friends, thriving in a crucible of effort. We race for the town line or the skyline or no line. No numbers. No points. No prizes. No mercy.