Preparation is key.
The Whistler Fondo would be my last road ‘race’, so I would be taking my pre race prep very seriously and leaving nothing to the last minute.
That’s why, at 10 p.m. on the eve of our race that started at 7 a.m. the following morning, paraffin chain wax was melting on the kitchen stove while Brendan was pumping his tire next to me on the patio where I was tackling my unshaven legs with my electric razor. His tire exploded once it reached 100 psi, and my razor fell to the patio stones when I reflexively covered my ears and rolled away.
We yelled at each other as we held our ears. All we could hear were muffled exclamations and laughs. The ringing in our ears continued when we went to bed.
Brendan and I, who typically compete against each other not to be the last placed rider on our team, were confident. We were both calling this our last race and wanted to make a statement.
We raced to the fondo start, through a steady flow of cyclists in the dimly lit Vancouver streets. Riders cascaded from every side street and the great migration made its way into Stanley Park. There were thousands of riders. We wanted to be the fastest.
I felt light as we made our way across the Lions Gate Bridge. My legs told me that I would have a good day and when the flag dropped, I would test them on the steep climb up Taylor Way. I’d see who followed and if anyone cared to, I’d break away with them. The previous two years had been ballistic for the first 10 km after Taylor Way, so I assumed that people would be keen.
When I went up the right side of the road, I floated. My legs were light and I was fit. Two riders followed and I rode them off my wheel. I was now in a solo break at the very start of the race. I figured that a few strong riders would bridge up to me and that if I was off the front, my teammates could rest while others chased, so they’d be fresh when I was caught.
I spent the next 75 km alone on the Sea to Sky Highway. I fought till the bitter end and was eventually caught. Brendan and I exchanged some jokes as I rejoined the peloton, both in high spirits. He was fresh.
Soon after, Brendan broke away with two others. He dropped them and won. Solo.
Three years ago, Brendan put his hand on my back while I was getting dropped in the provincial criterium championships. He pushed me in front of him to give me the wheel he was drafting, and said ‘Come on Oli!’. We weren’t teammates, but he knew what I was going through. This was my first ride in three months, after I quit for the first time due to my struggling mental health.
This encouragement kept in the race, and kept me in the sport. Last year, I hated everything about bike racing, but remembered Brendan’s sportsmanship and thought that Red Truck might help me enjoy the sport again. I liked the idea of being on a team with a kindhearted attitude like Brendan’s.
It can be hard to watch your friend win. While you’re happy for them, there’s often some envy. I would have loved for my last race to land me on the top step. Our team won the overall team classification as well, which was the goal, but I couldn’t help but feel a little empty handed.
I was so fit and this was my last chance to win a race. It was very bittersweet.
We drove home in the rain the following day. I was quiet and contemplative as we drove. Being so fit—the fittest I’ve been all year—for my last race, made quitting again seem an odd decision. I was full of questions about potential and why I’m always so keen to sacrifice my result for that of team mate’s? Why I can’t just be thoroughly happy for Brendan? What if I had won? Why the hell did I care again?
The Sea to Sky went by as I looked through the blurry, rain-streaked windscreen. I realized then that I had had this gorgeous highway, this gorgeous view, all to myself. For two hours, I rode without a car or peloton to worry about, an entire lane of highway to apex each turn and I was alone with my thoughts and my legs.
I was free.
I meditated on the pain in my legs as I rode. Memories of nine years in the sport came and went. I was absolutely content on my own, in a breakaway, which is how I always used to race when I was fit and driven. I loved every single second.
I remembered that push Brendan gave me three years ago.
What a last ride to have. One of the best rides of my life. After some thought, I wouldn’t trade it for a win. Brendan and I had the exact rides we needed and deserved. I love that guy. And I’m so happy for him!