Updated: May 11
I was riding my bike for fun and only reading about racing in magazines. Amazed by the photos, I became inspired to try it out. I wanted a new kit and found a white long-sleeved GT Bicycles jersey. I loved the way it looked and I bought it for my first race. I hardly noticed the rainbow stripes below it (more on this later).
I worked at a bike shop at the time with my buddy Brett. We decided to go together to Sanford, NC to race. Brett was strong. He rode all the time and was a natural athlete. Even though Brett wasn’t that great of a cyclist yet, he could suffer so I knew he had potential. Brett wanted to arrive at the race way early so he could pre-ride the course. Mistakenly, I also pre rode and tried to keep up with him pushing myself a little too hard. This error was compounded as we rode in different race classes and my race started before his. It became even further compounded as my race would start just after our pre-ride lap. Also, I forgot to eat breakfast that morning.
It was the beginning of a brutal day on all levels.
Our shop owner always spoke of sponsoring/helping ($$$) us out at races, but his promises never came true. To protest the shop never helping, Brett wore an old white undershirt. Not a t-shirt - an undershirt! Even worse, Brett raced a completely rigid bike with no suspension fork. He practically looked homeless on the start line. Still, he won by 3 minutes that day. Gotta love cycling. He had to have inspired the race day phrase... “never underestimate a man in a t-shirt".
I headed directly to the starting line…rainbow, I mean “GT" Jersey on and with my Camelback for hydration. It’s right at this time that my stomach was aching and in knots. I even felt a little dizzy. My head cleared, but stomach cramps had set in. Then it hit me - I had orange juice in my Camelback - not smart. I drank it every morning, but I don’t why I thought it would be a good summer race fuel…? Pain.
Just when I saw where to go I heard a gun go off. Yep, that’s my race class. I started to sprint. Rounded a bend and went through the line with a clean start (mainly because no one was there). The group was well ahead but bottlenecked just before the woods. They all slowed down to sort it out. I was flying up from behind and picked a super tight line on the right. I knifed past 20+ racers, and suddenly I was back in it. The trail then took a sharp left - I couldn't hold it. I hit the earth hard and was suddenly right back where I started - literally. I got up, back on the bike and attacked. Pissed by the sharp pain in my stomach I picked off racers once again. At this time I felt the back of my right leg start to stick together as I pedaled and my sock felt incredibly wet. Then I figured it - my Camelback was 1st Gen. I mean like the first one ever - pre-military contracts. My model was a water (or orange juice) sleeve wrapped in neoprene with a hose. Super simple without the fancy bite valve. My valve came off during the crash; leaving the hose wide open. OJ had run down my right side. Now my stomach really hurt, but I pressed on, dry-mouthed in all my blood and stickiness. I didn’t think it was possible, but it got worse from there. I raced into the next section of woods and managed to attract a gang of bees. (I wish I were making this up). Imagine a unicorn in tight clothes pedaling a bike at race speed and at the same time swatting one leg. Yeah, many heads were turning that afternoon...
DAMN!! How did I get here to Sanford anyway?
Next was just Black Rage. I came through the start/finish as hard as I could with 1 lap to go. Possessed - with BEES in tow. I still remember the look on Brett’s face as he shouted for me. I seem to remember all of the faces actually! It seemed I had the entire venue’s attention and they were cheering as news of my late start and comeback through the field was getting around.
Inspired by the support, I fought hard to pick off two more racers at the finish line, and took 11th place. Awards stopped at 10th - Ow!
It wasn’t until later that I learned more on the history of the Rainbow Jersey in cycling and why it was such a big deal. Usually, this jersey was only to be worn by the winner of the one-day World Championships Race. That definitely wasn't me!
But, the noise was crazy and I had never felt so much support. The crowd seems to be divided into groups:
25% happy as I was the only brother in the race
25% sympathetic because I had the nerve to wear the Rainbow World Championship Stripes - yet race Beginner Class
25% tempted as I was wearing a rainbow jersey (proudly) some thought I was gay
25% proud that I finished ahead of the BEES - just
After processing the entire event, I thought 1% of me would never repeat anything like this - EVER!
But 99% of me was certain I wanted it all again.
So it began.
Yep, Sanford North Carolina - home of the World Championships.