Unvarnished Tales of a Professional: In Yellow
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In two hours and four minutes, I’m starting the final event of the Chico Stage Race, the downtown criterium. This isn’t anything new; I’ve started dozens of crits. But this time, I’m in the yellow jersey, defending a general classification lead of two seconds with the help of six teammates. We also have a strong lead in the sprint competition. If all goes well, we’ll end this weekend with both jerseys.
Holy shitballs, I’m in shock.
Lindsay Bayer / Image: Paul Higley
Not because I doubt my team. My teammates are strong, talented riders. But I’ve never been in a yellow jersey before, and certainly not while representing the team we built from scratch. It’s such a weird feeling that I’m hardly even nervous.
RELATED: Read Lindsay’s last column – The Winter Low.
Things did not start out ideally this weekend. When I got to Chico on Thursday after a 9-hour drive, all I felt like doing was going for a recovery spin and eating, but it was time to be Team Manager. That means chats about plans and equipment, a school visit, a long meeting with my business partner and Team Director, Jono Coulter and dinner with the riders. By the time everything was sorted and settled, it was 8pm and I ended up spinning on a trainer alone.
When the race started on Friday afternoon, my legs were the farthest thing from mind after a morning swamped with work and team business. This is what it’s like to run a team – just as Jono and I answer one question, another arises. As soon as rosters and logistics are sorted for one event, it’s time to think about the next race. We confront each other with personal lists of action items every day and plow through them. The lists don’t end; they just keep scrolling downward as the season progresses. Even the smallest thing makes it on the list. A rider crashes a bike? A sponsor requests specific media content? The team car needs maintenance? Put it on the list.
If I did not have Jono, I would be smothered under the lists and run screaming. If we didn’t have a brilliant team mechanic, Jono and I would smother each other with our lists. Somehow together the three of us keep the whole train rolling. Nobody gets smothered. Alcohol helps.
But when I go to start my first stage race of the season and I’m tired and stressed and distracted, it feels shitty. Why work so hard on the bike only to squander it by tossing the last minute details aside? Is this worth it? Can I do both well enough?
I needn’t have worried. The team showed up in force and dominated stage 1, winning all of the interim sprints and the race finish. Because Starla Teddergreen won both the green and yellow jerseys, I ended up on the podium for the sprint jersey after finishing second in that competition. Ivy Audrain rounded out the stage podium in 3rd. I couldn’t have asked for a stronger start – each of our riders did her job flawlessly. Their efforts were the perfect reminder of why I’m willing to put in the non-stop time and effort to run a team. These people are worth it.
The following day, I spent 75 miles in a break with four other riders. It hurt like hell, but I couldn’t let the team down and fought hard to take 2nd on the stage and move into 2nd on the GC. By Sunday morning’s time trial, it didn’t matter that I was tired and nervous and sick – I put everything I had into the TT and took the yellow jersey by 2 seconds. I’ve never ridden so hard, drooled so much, or been so proud to represent my team.
With one stage to go, I was called up to the start of the crit in the yellow jersey.
Maybe you’ve won a big race before. Maybe your closet is full of yellow jerseys. Maybe you don’t give a single crap about racing. Maybe you’ve had a moment just like this before, when everything you’ve worked for on and off the bike comes together and you get to hear your name and team name and “yellow jersey” in the same sentence over a loudspeaker. I nearly cried. Every single late night trainer spin and stressed-out phone call was worth it to find myself there, representing the baby Jono and I raised.
In the end, it wasn’t to be. The team raced beautifully and swept the sprint competition, locking down the green jersey. Ivy and Starla sprinted to 3rd and 4th, respectively. Claire Rose from Visit Dallas DNA K4 leaped out of the final corner to take 2nd…and enough bonus seconds to win the overall by 4 seconds.
But that is bike racing. It was disappointing, but I can respect an excellent competitor and the beauty of the sport enough to graciously lose. It matters more now to just remember the feeling of putting on the yellow jersey for the team we created. If I looked better in yellow, I’d wear it to dinner every day.
Sometimes Jono and I joke that we should have started a competitive ping pong team, or should just take our budget and flee the country. Sometimes we have to make tough choices like fixing a cracked team car windshield or replacing the tires because our budget won’t allow for both. But we always come back to the sheer joy of racing bikes and remember without a doubt that this is the greatest thing we’ve ever done and worth every bit of effort.
You can follow Lindsay and the entire Hagens Berman | Supermint team at @supermintusa.