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Racing in the rain: Evan Cooper details his cycling in New York

Published: Friday, March 19, 2010

Updated: Friday, March 19, 2010 02:03

cycling

Courtesy Cole Archambault

Aspiring professional cyclist Evan Cooper will race under any conditions, even when it puts his well-being at stake.

Editor's Note: Evan Cooper is a sophomore, a sports editor for the Daily and an aspiring professional cyclist. He races for the Tufts cycling team and for the elite amateur squad Team Ora presented by Independent Fabrication. This series will chronicle his season as he tries to make racing into more than just a hobby.

"One day it started raining, and it didn't quit for four months. We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin' rain ... and big ol' fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways. And sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath."

I couldn't have said it better myself, so I'll just thank Forrest Gump for describing so accurately what last weekend was like for all of us in the Northeast. And for a decidedly obsessed cyclist set on getting his training and racing in no matter what Mother Nature has to say about it, those few days of apocalyptic weather were nothing short of torture. But before getting into any specifics, there is something I think you need to know about bike racers (or cyclists as I will refer to us from now on): We will stop at almost nothing to race our bikes. It could be pouring rain, gusting wind or even hailing, and a bike race still would not be cancelled. The only exceptions to the rule are lightning and sometimes snow, with an extreme emphasis on the sometimes.

Needless to say, cyclists are just a bit stupid.

So when the monsoon-like weather descended upon New York City last weekend, where there was a bike race scheduled that the rest of the Tufts cycling team and I happened to be attending, there were cyclists aplenty toeing the line to take on each other and the elements.

Have I told you that I'm stupid?

The Tufts cycling team is a member of the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference (ECCC), a collection of schools ranging from the University of Vermont in the north down to Delaware in the south and encompassing just about everything in between. The ECCC is one of the most densely peopled collegiate cycling conferences in the country, and despite the disadvantages of the low altitude and often cruel weather as compared to other conferences, it is one of the strongest. Last year, at Collegiate Nationals in Fort Collins, Colo., the ECCC claimed three of the four mass-start events, and many of its graduates are currently among the professional ranks. Clearly there are some talented cyclists amongst these ranks, but the men and women of the ECCC are also slightly stupid.

Do you see a theme here?

Last weekend was the second weekend of racing on the ECCC calendar, and the teams of our conference were gathered on Saturday to race around Grant's Tomb in New York City. From the early morning on, the weather was anything but hospitable for bike racing. Temperatures hovered in the low 40s, winds gusted off of the Hudson at 40-plus miles per hour — and then there was the rain. Suffice it to say that kayaks and jet skis would have been better-suited to the conditions than bikes precariously balanced on centimeter-wide tires. But still, we insisted on racing.

The original course was shortened to a track-style event, with two long straight-aways linked by a 180-degree turn-around at either end. On the uphill stretch, the wind blew at our backs. On the downhill stretch, it was in our faces. The wind was so strong, in fact, that going uphill proved faster than going down. Then, in the turns, the wind whipped our skinny cyclists' bodies — or at least mine — so hard that steering our bikes became little more than a desperate attempt at survival. It was a mess. And still, the racing continued.

As the day wore on, conditions did not improve. In fact, by the time the Men's A race, the final collegiate race of the day and the race in which I was entered, was set to go off at around 2:30 p.m., the weather was worse than ever. The rain came down harder, the bitter cold increased and the wind most definitely blew harder. In fact, as I reluctantly climbed out of the safe and hot car to ride my bike up to staging, I was knocked against the rear of the vehicle, unable to remove myself from the trunk port without risking being knocked to the ground for the second time that day. (The story behind the first time is immeasurably more embarrassing.)

But still, every race on the schedule took off on time and lasted for the full duration it was planned for, even with the shortened course. It just meant everyone had to ride a lot more laps. Our race was no different.

I won't lie: It was just too much for me to handle. These 133 pounds don't provide a whole lot of warmth. When I decided to steer off course and get my idiotic self back to the car to get naked and warm as soon as possible — the only sane decision I made that day — I realized I wasn't alone. A lot of people did not finish that race.

Normally, a race report would give the details of a race and all that played out on the road. There would be a winner's name and probably a picture of his victory salute as he crossed the line first. But this year's edition of Grant's Tomb was unlike any other race. Every single racer — whether in the Intro categories, the Women's C or the Men's A — who was brave enough to clip-in at the line and give it their all was a winner that day, as corny as that sounds. Many of us did not finish our races, succumbing to the absolutely brutal conditions before time was up. But on that day, possibly more so than ever, winning was about more than crossing the line first.

In a sport that is all about pain, a sport that rewards those who can best accept and embrace their suffering, one thing is essential above all else in order to succeed: love. If you don't love what you are doing, there is just no way to endure that much pain. It was pretty clear on Saturday, though, that everyone standing out there, shivering in their spandex and quaking in their cleats (and I am not kidding because that's what I was doing), loves this sport. And that's what I'm in it for: love.

Next time you hear from me, though, I hope I'll be telling you about how the sport loved me back.

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