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At the Back was a column in every VeloNews magazine for decades. It was a place where riders and staff writers would share personal stories. This year, we are running an At the Back every week for members to enjoy. In this piece from the Fall 2021 issue, Betsy Welch tells us about her love/hate relationship with racing, and how sharing the experience with friends is the best part.
For days after finishing the LeadBoat Challenge I could not, for the life of me, write about it. I wanted to blame it on a post-ride hangover — 250 miles and 22,000 feet of high elevation climbing can leave you feeling very depleted. But as I drove home from Steamboat Springs after the weekend of back-to-back bike races, I noticed I still wanted to ride.
My relationship with bikes is sound, but my relationship with racing is more complicated. I don’t train or do workouts or set specific goals, but I ride a lot, and — obviously — I work for this magazine. So, in a way, bike racing was thrust upon me. At events, I’m not confident enough for the business in the front, but I’m a little too fast to just party in the back. Consequently, participating in bike races often has a strange and not-that-enjoyable effect on me.
If I had a bike therapist, it’d go like this: I’m just so sick of hearing my own sob story! And then said bike therapist would say to me, “Then definitely don’t do the LeadBoat Challenge.”
And fair enough, of all bike races for someone with bike race “issues” to tackle, the Leadville 100 MTB and SBT GRVL back-to-back would probably not be recommended. But deep down I knew that I would love this event; turns out that the mental shift was all I needed.
Instead of comparing myself to the pros at the start, I delighted in the fact that I got to line up beside them. They dropped me, of course, but I caught a few, and spent a few moments riding alongside an Olympic gold medalist.
Instead of poo-poo’ing the nutrition strategies and obsessive tendencies of “real racers” I embraced them. I jettisoned bottles and kept on riding when normally I would have lingered.
Because I wanted to do well at Leadville and not feel miserable the next day in Steamboat, that meant no post-race beers or socializing. I even drank a powdered recovery beverage in lieu of an IPA.
And I also wore jean shorts — both days — because it was fun, and silly things are a good conversation starter. I chatted with friends and introduced myself to strangers because meeting people and sharing the experience has always been my favorite thing about bike races.
The jewel on the crown was rolling into Steamboat Springs with Ali Tetrick and Amity Rockwell, two former queens of Kanza. A few miles from the finish, in a momentary lapse into negative bike race self-talk, I asked them if they were about to drop me. “Are you nuts? That isn’t how this works,” they said.
We crossed the line together.
It took the imaginary bike therapist to point it out to me: You had a great time at LeadBoat — sounds like that’s the story.