Challenges Present Opportunities

Well 2013 is officially in the books for VQ. We had our last Group Event in Tucson, Arizona at the world-famous El Tour de Tucson. This was a race/adventure that I will never forget. Why, you say? For many reasons actually… First and foremost it was the first time in El Tour history that it rained on race day. It not only rained on race day, but also the day before and the day before that, leaving the entire course drenched in water. Tucson does not have a sewer system to accommodate rain and snow like we have in Chicago. Instead, they have giant run-off trenches, called washes, that cyclists cross on two occasions during the event. The roads had standing water and both washes were flowing nicely by the time the race got going. Almost all of the VQers attending the event took the start–in itself, a massive show of fortitude and grit! Just starting this 5- to 9-hour journey in the cold rain is something that over 50% of the El Tour participants decided to forgo. That’s right: over half of the participants bagged the entire event because of the conditions! The start was hectic, wet, cold and dangerous, but the VQers persevered. The rain never let up and the temperature never got over 48 degrees for the entire event. VQ had a combined total of 33 flats with many a VQer finishing on flat tires, plus several other mechanicals and 4 cases of hypothermia. We also had 4 VQers attempting their very first centuries–what a first 100-mile-adventure to have!

One of my all-time favorite quotes is from Bruce Lee and it applied to this event for many: “A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves as something to aim at”.

I have done this race many times: Always with a bit of a competitive spirit; Always in a position near the end of the race to compete in the first group on the road; Never really experiencing it from a different perspective. So I was sad when I flatted out of the first group, but was remotivated after I saw several of the VQers pass me, seeing them rolling along the rainy Tucson roads. I spent the last half of the race bouncing from group to group, riding with a bunch of VQers and finally seeing the race from a different perspective. I watched the dynamics of people working together to make platinum, watched couples riding together and friends riding in groups despite their different abilities because they wanted to finish together. This new perspective provided me with a really unique, neat experience.

After another flat and a uniform change (from a sleek VQ kit with craft base layer to a cotton hoodie and a poncho), I took to the course again, this time with a whole new cast of VQ characters to interact with (some of whom thought I was a cycling novice riding with a poncho that captured the wind like a spinnaker sail at the America’s Cup!). That poncho was actually choking me at every direction change as the hood filled with air and yanked my head violently, leaving me gasping for air and making a nice red line across my throat!

There were many different levels of cyclists comprising this group. Some riders were very strong, having found their way into this group via mechanicals, crashes or other mishaps. Some riders in this group were from the 70-mile event that started at a different location. Some riders were those that survived unscathed for the first 75 miles and ended up here. So many different abilities made this group less cohesive than the other groups I’d experienced throughout the day. And at day’s end I considered myself lucky to have the opportunity to ride with so many different athletes and learn more about the different tribes that form during these events. I tried to get them all to ride more effectively together, but I learned some things too. One interesting thing that I saw firsthand was as the ride wore on and the athletes became more tired, the differential in the fitness levels started to become more apparent and the ability to work together became more difficult. At the end, tensions were rising while common sense and good decision-making were decreasing significantly for most. We know it is important to remain strong mentally with physical fatigue. It takes training and experience to make this happen. I certainly had my own opportunities to work on my mindset as I encountered my various setbacks along the way. As a rider somewhat obsessed with aerodynamics, riding with that poncho was a much tougher experience than I could have imagined it to be! I had to continually adjust my mindset to be as positive as possible given the circumstances I encountered. Mental toughness and a strong positive attitude make a difference in these moments.

A true example of a great mindset is a 74-year-old, retired brain surgeon named Francisco Gutierrez. He finished his first century at El Tour. He has been with VQ for almost two years and has come a long way. He gained the most from this experience because he not only learned to ride in the rain, pace himself, work with others, dress and keep warm, ride through water, draft and eat properly, he also gained something way more important: the confidence that at 74 he can do amazing things both physically and mentally! Way to go, Francisco!!!

And so with that, I’d like to close the year by thanking you for the opportunity to support as well as learn from you each and every day. You are my gift and it is my wish to inspire you even a fraction of how much you inspire me. Happy Holidays to All!

Ciao~

Robbie

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