If only this were true about cycling. It’s a team sport but only one of the team can win, unless it’s the World team time-trial championships. For many riders, the best they can hope for is being on the winning team, taking satisfaction from doing their job and helping a team-mate to win. Actually, the more you know about cycling the more you realise how few riders win races. Even those that are prolific winners, like Alejandro Valverde, lose more races than they win. I guess it’s what keeps the riders humble.
I derive enormous pleasure from watching friends race, it certainly adds a further dimension to my enjoyment and nothing, nothing beats seeing them win! The past week or so I’ve been thrilled to see one of the young American riders I know win two races. I have this theory that victories are like buses, they come along in twos and threes. I say that because, once you’ve got that first-ever win in the bag, the monkey’s off your back.
Witness, after the Tour de France starts this week-end, how much better teams ride once they’ve achieved their goal. Obviously, some of those goals may seem quite modest but a Tour de France stage win or just a day in one of its treasured jerseys is a BIG DEAL for any rider and any team. As a fan there’s nothing better than seeing a rider take their first ever professional victory and I consider myself privileged to have seen friends take their first WorldTour victory. A win moreover which has often set them on a long and successful career path as a professional cyclist on a WorldTour team.
I particularly enjoyed seeing my young American friend win as he’s had a testing time thus far in his short career and at one point last year even thought it might be over. Fortunately it wasn’t, thanks to his own self-belief, the rock-solid support of his family and friends, and a new team. His victory was incredibly popular, not just among the fans but also among his peers who were happy to show their delight for him on social media.
After spending a month at altitude to prepare specially for this race, one of his favourites, Larry targeted this particular stage, which started in the historic city of Bern and traveled initially across flat terrain to a summit finish in Villars-sur-Ollon. He had gotten in the day’s break with three other riders shortly after the start and the quartet had worked well together to build an advantage of over seven minutes.
With the gap rapidly coming down, Larry dropped his break-mates on the final ascent and rode off, cutting a determined, focused figure as he battled pain and a fast-advancing peloton. His advantage was under a minute as he rode under the flamme rouge to the encouragement of the crowd and gave it his all to solo across the line, arms aloft. Thereafter, he collapsed exhausted allowing the realisation of what he’d just achieved to sink in. His first ever professional victory, moreover in a WorldTour event and his new team’s maiden win.
Goodness knows what my neighbours thought as I cheered Larry every step – or should that be pedal-stroke? – of the way. I knew he couldn’t hear me but I was willing him onto victory and I wasn’t the only one. As the enormity of his achievement sunk in, Larry gave in to tears of joy and relief and we all joined in. THIS is why I follow the sport. It gladdens the heart and lifts the soul to see wins like these from riders like Larry.
Larry’s moment of glory wasn’t over. Disappointed with his performance in the US elite men’s time-trial (fifth), he got into another break in the road race with two other riders and, while he may not have been the strongest rider on the day, he was most definitely the smartest as he left them trailing in his wake to seal gold in Knoxville, Tennessee with his very proud family watching on.
Post-race, Larry declared:
I’m in disbelief. I think this has been the best two weeks of my life. I had a really great race in Suisse a week ago. Yesterday, I felt pretty bad in the time trial, I was a bit disappointed, and I told some friends ‘I guess I work well with disappointment, so hopefully tomorrow will be good’. Honestly I didn’t feel good the whole day. At the start I was suffering – actually I was suffering the whole time. I don’t think I was the strongest today but I think I was the smartest. I can’t believe it, I’m so happy.
I cannot stress that this is such a heartwarming story. Goodness knows how many congratulatory tweets and emails Larry must have received but I bet he’s responded to each and every one of them.
If you want to know more about this charming young racer, who’ll be 27 tomorrow, head over to VeloVoices to read my recent interview with him.