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Waiting to Win

September 10, 2011

Grand Prix Cycliste Québec Montréal 2011 logo

“A race like this is all about waiting,” said Leopard Trek sports director Kim Andersen, who commented on Fabian Wegmann’s fourth place finish after the 2011 edition of the Grand Prix Cycliste Québec. “You wait and wait and wait — and then you wait some more.”

During one of the later 2011 Vuelta a Espana stages, Todd Gogulski said, “Patience is very important in bike racing.”

Waiting and patience seem antithetical to the speed involved in winning a bike race. These two actions – or inactions – also exist in opposition to American culture, which teaches that success arrives when a person is a “go-getter,” not a waiter and certainly not a hesitator. “He who hesitates is lost”.

But in fact as Andersen and Gogulski say, waiting and patience are not antithetical to bike racing. Track racing, a discipline that didn’t attract my attention until I saw last Thursday’s Grand Prix Cycliste Challenge Sprint, is a more obvious example of how cyclists use these two tactics. Just after the turn in the out-and-back Challenge Sprint course, with 500 meters to go to the finish line, most groups of three or four competitors slowed to a crawl, some close to track-stands, to watch each other. And wait.

Wouter Mol, Vacansoleil-­‐DCM in track stand at GPCQM Challenge Sprints (Don & Dana McEwan)

No one wanted to take-off first – funny, to finish first, don’t be first in the sprint, another kind of oddity in bike racing. Suspense built in these moments while the riders watched and waited. Who would go first? Who could wait the longest? When the first guy went suspense drained away quickly; it was a rush. Personally I began to wonder how long each rider could wait until he said to himself, “Ah, I can’t stand this anymore, the hell with it, I’m going.”

It can feel excruciatingly painful to wait. It’s uncomfortable. To the rescue comes another cliché: “All good things come to those who wait.” Almost all, if not all, pro-cyclists lose many times before they win. The cycle of racing, and racing, and racing some more is akin to waiting. Waiting becomes a trait our culture admires: perseverance.

Ryder Hesjedal knows about waiting. In an article about Ryder published in The Walrus, “The Pain Principle,” he said, “You have to not be able to do it a hundred times to be able to do it a few times.” Meaning, you won’t come in first until after you’ve lost a hundred times.

Will Ryder cash in his hundred tomorrow in Montréal?

[you can watch video of the Challenge Sprint here]

[my preview of the Grand Prix Cycliste Montréal, here]

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