Be careful what you ask for, you just may get it. Last year my son and I watched the TD Mayor’s Cup bicycle race at Government Center. “Dad,” he asked, “could you keep up with them? I mean just for a few laps?” “I don’t know,” I replied. “Maybe.”
The next day I asked Mark, the manager of my local bike shop, the same question. “Some of those guys didn’t look so fast,” I said. “Think I could keep up with them for a few laps?” Mark smiled but shook his head no. “I don’t think so,” he said. “Then they should have a race for amateurs like me,” I told him. “That would be great.”
Through a combination of good luck and, yes, connections, I was invited to bike with Boloco Burritos’ team in this year’s Corporate Challenge. Gulp.
I called John Pepper, Boloco’s CEO and my team leader, to check in before the race. “Did you train?” I ask. “No,” John says. “Is there a team strategy?” “No,” John said and then laughed. “We’ll be last, but that’s okay. We’re doing this because we want Boston to be a bike friendly city. That’s why we sponsor Bike Fridays and Hub On Wheels.”
A few days before the race I tell my Swiss-born wife, “we should get a cowbell. That’s what people bring to cheer riders on.” My wife smiles. “I have a real one from when I was a kid in Geneva.”
On Sunday, the same day as the TD Mayor’s Cup, I got up early to watch Hub On Wheels, the family friendly ride through Boston. On this warm and sunny morning thousands of bikers of all ages and abilities pedaled along a Storrow Drive closed to cars. Some were serious and rode in a paceline. Others meandered, the streamers on their handlebars fluttering in the wind.
Seven hours later, just before the start of the Mayor’s Cup, I stood at Government Center, chatting with my team-mates. Nicole Freedman, the director of Boston’s bicycle programs, smiled and offered me a set of streamers for my handlebars. “No thanks,” I replied. She had no idea how seriously I was taking this race. “I don’t want anything to slow me down,” I added.
The men’s and women’s pro race is a criterium where everyone bikes together in a big pack, inches away from one another at speeds of well over 30mph. A twitch of the wheel can mean a nasty crash. Fortunately we would be doing a relay race in which each rider would bike three laps around City Hall. I was relieved: fewer riders meant fewer opportunities to crash.
I heard my wife and son before I saw them: that Swiss cowbell has a distinctive timber different from the 1,000 other cowbells I heard as I biked around City Hall. I couldn’t smile at them, I was too busy pedaling and breathing. Still, my first lap went well.
Somehow I managed to keep up a decent pace for the next two laps. By the time I got to the end of my leg of the race I was spent but happy: we were in second place. Still, it was all I could do to stay upright as I leaned against a fence.
John Pepper’s prediction was wrong. We ended up finishing second, not last, according to the announcer, but unofficially I think the team from Harvard passed us at the end. In a sense, though, John was right: it did not matter how we fared. I was just happy to have had the privilege of being along for the ride on what is one of the best days on the calendar for cycling in Boston.
Next year maybe I’ll take Nicole up on those handlebar streamers.
Jonathan Simmons is a Brookline psychologist and avid cyclist.