The Race is Over — I Won!

Certainly not my best side — but a nice illustration of what life on the podium would be like if I ran the world — sakes alive that was a great cup of coffee!

And so we raced! Things seemed to come together beautifully for the, finally here, 10th edition of the GFNY World Championship NYC. The carnival atmosphere of the Fort Lee, NJ expo area was building early as my teammates on the Gruppo Sportivo-GFNY graduated a new class of amazing group riders just before Mother’s Day, and the building began in earnest. Watching it unfold in Facebook Live videos, and photos had me seething with FOMO as I kept my focus on my work and planning what would be ahead of me the week after the race. A confluence of personal, professional, and race commitments was creating a perfect storm of the “oh shit” variety that almost always results in disappointment on one front or another. And so I struggled. Not with training, not with race planning — somehow, it would be what it would be. I have had no lack of training and preparation this year, I probably could have predicted my race time down to the minute if I really thought about it. There was empirical evidence that I would have been a solid 6:45–7:15 without putting a foot down, and using my 4-bottle strategy. I don’t doubt it and so I set out for race week with the thought that, time and worrying about the clock would be the first thing to go.

My First Day at the Circus

I have always wanted to join the circus, I have written about it in this space a number of times. Being a part of the GFNY organization has always helped provide that feeling. Joining a group of professional travelers to put on an experience that people will talk about for weeks and months ahead — that’s what it really means to join the circus. And so I was back at the circus, first thing Friday morning. Easy, social, group rides to take riders through the early and late parts of the course and show them the ropes. “My name is Mac, and the ride leaders are here for your safety. Please pass on climbs with authority, stay single file in tight areas, and maintain a safe but draftable distance from the rider in front of you, protecting your front wheel at all times”. Cue the drinks cart.

But seriously, this is where the meaning of it all begins to unfold. In leading two rides on Friday before the race (the morning ride and the new Business on Bikes ride), it was an opportunity to see new reactions to the course, and answer questions, that while new to others are like knowledge-oxygen to me, and pay forward everything I have learned being part of GFNY these last few years. Riders that I knew could outride me any day of the week (and literally twice this coming Sunday), hanging out upfront, telling me their stories, telling me what drove them to GFNY, what motivates them as cyclists and as athletes, and reminding me of why I got into this in the first place.

The Business on Bikes crew post-ride! They all crushed it!

Who’s the Commanding Officer Here? AIN’T YOU?

Saturday’s ride would feature a number of GFNY dignitaries out for recce as well as just out to ride socially. Former (and aspiring) GFNY Champions, Olympic Medalist Nelson Vails, GFNY ambassadors from all over the World, my mentor, teammate, and friend Don Vito Valentini, and many friends that were graduates of our weekly group rides. But as the clock hands got closer to O-Nine-Hundred, a swell of people and bikes began to appear out of nowhere. It was beginning to look, shall we say, “untenable” to keep this group together. Fortunately, I knew that so many in that group would find their way home, so I decided to focus on what I could control. Set expectations and get out in front of it, lead by example. Use clear hand signals, and get everyone to the first obstacle within the River Road park area. But I really didn’t understand the magnitude of it until we stopped for the first time. As I explained what was ahead on the course, and what to expect the next day during the race, I remembered that my teammate Don Hector Vinasco had translated for the group on Friday. I was lucky to be able to find another Spanish-speaking volunteer to help communicate with over half of the group, so we could properly set expectations. The group was ginormous. We would lose most of the group at the top of Alpine, but they all showed up to race the next day — so let’s just call it mission accomplished.

Damn this traffic jam — stretched from the Great Wall all the way back to the descent from under the GWB. By my count at least 140 people, maybe more.

With a horse voice from screaming, we proceeded to get up the great wall and over Alpine. By the top of State Line, Don Vito and I realized we were returning with 8 riders. Many took the descent down the Great Wall to get a feel for the end of the race, many returning to Fort Lee from the top of Alpine, but we still managed to have a great ride back.

Making Choices

It has often been said, and very often by me, that when everything is a priority — nothing is a priority. The perfect storm was striking by Friday. Trying to manage expectations for everything personal, professional, athletic and on top of that — oh yeah, the pressure of the race. With a flight out to Seattle on Sunday night, it suddenly dawned on me that my time in the race meant much more to me than the usual body blows to my ego, or dopamine hits of success would usually portend. I couldn’t miss this flight. One flat tire, one dropped chain, one fall down and go boom, and I blow my whole margin of error for getting home, getting to the airport, and getting to work on time on Monday. Lucky people have family and friends that help them with good decisions, and I had mine. “Take the pressure off, just do the Bear 50”. A previously unimaginable blow to my ego suddenly seemed to be the right idea. Add to that my participation in bringing the lead car to the race, which made it that much more attractive for finishing the 50, getting back to Fort Lee, getting in the car (conveniently parked right on the finish line), and driving away. I would miss the festivities that I have come to value so much, the bonding time with friends so much of what the race is about in my own mind. But this was the best balance for getting it all in. As I had stopped at the bagel shop on Saturday on the way to the group ride, exhausted from a number of sources, I realized, that in the next 24 hours, I would only be “more tired” there was no relief in sight. So what was once an option, now became the only choice.

It’s Not the Race (Well Not All of It) — It’s the Experience

Mind made up, ready to go, back to the house at 9:30 PM on Saturday night from a family event, I was actually now dealing with a surplus of time to get my bike ready, and to establish my routine for Sunday morning. This would be a new and amazing experience. Loving as I do the inside stories of how the event is produced, I was really looking forward to driving with Jurgen the regular GFNY lead car driver onto the George Washington Bridge, over the pylons, and 150% breaking the law in a sanctioned way as the Port Authority Police wished me a great day and told me to “just put it over there”. Well alright! Here we are. On the bridge. Not cold because, well, let me just sit here in the driver seat and finish my oatmeal and that really nice cup of coffee I made for myself. The crowds were starting to build in the corrals. I broke protocol by helping two poor souls with their tire changes and then proceeded to chase away anyone else that approached the car. (Except the photographers but that’s another story. <facepalm>.

This was shaping into a great day. The weather would be perfect for moving and grooving to Bear Mountain and if I wanted to I could save it all up and then press it up to the top of Bear. (I didn’t). As the race got started the usual flurry of racers trying to get out of their corrals and into the front groups began. I chose a line that I thought was a good one and proceeded to take my time entering the park. (Although one guy thought it was a good idea to go around me on the right — <facepalm>, I think he found his way into the “Caution Bikes on Road” sign. You might not be Belgian if you can’t make that move. Also — if you are that good — isn’t there a race happening in Italy you should be in?

So, here’s the magic. As I left the expo area on Saturday, just worrying about everything ahead, a gent I passed by yelled to me “excuse me sir can you help me”. Thinking this was one of the more practical questions I am accustomed to getting at the expo, I stopped and said “how can I help?”. “My friend,” he stated, “I am from Venezuela — I follow you on Facebook, can I please have a picture with you?”. I wish I had a copy of the photo because I can just imagine how thrilled I looked/felt while I was busy contemplating my own navel to have someone from thousands of miles away make this ask. It made my day and immediately put everything into focus. I love to race, I love to push myself, and I love to achieve, but for a second, I realized, I didn’t need to race tomorrow, I just needed to be there and it would be enough.

With the pressure off, I made a couple of stops along River Road, once to provide a cartridge to someone in need and several times to wait for friends and see who was out there. I got more hellos from people I knew, and people I didn’t know than I could count. There was no way I would not be smiling from the park to Bear after that.

Gruppo Sportivo Tom Foolery on the Bridge (including GFNY OG Bruce Armenante). (Full pose Noel — so get off me #BeatenByChrisGFNY). Uli in the Mazda getting ready to roll. Brother Ethan Cruz in the clock car just ahead. It was finally happening.

To Bear with Smoking Mikey B

Catching my teammate Mike B at the top of Fourth Street in Nyack, put the whole thing into a neat new picture. Would now have a buddy to share the rest of the ride with and off we went. Laughing and chatting almost the entire way until we separated for a bit on Bear. Regrouping and collecting the reward for the 50 at the top, we were off to the busses to get back to Fort Lee. Mission accomplished. Many of our teammates were still out there, either making their way to the top of Bear or way out ahead, climbing the challenges in Pomona to the South and making the return trip by bike. Whatever it was, everyone rode their race.

For all the disappointment that a former (and maybe not as good version of myself), would have suffered at not doing the full monty, I got home, got packed, and got on that plane. I made the family event in PA (congrats Dan!) the day before. I drove my car across the double-yellow on the GWB — eat that aspiring getaway car drivers — I would say as experiences go I didn’t do the full monty race, but I did do the full monty GFNY.

Some contraband to add to the training station. Starboard engine on flight 714.

Special Hall of Fame Shout Out!

Don Vito Valentini — Maestro

A special shout out to my friend, mentor, and the driving force of my continued participation and ambassadorship in GFNY Vito Valentini. I will put it simply that there are debts to this man that I could never repay. So I choose to be grateful and pay them forward every day! Thank you, Vito!

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Chris Geiser

Chris Geiser

A family guy, tech-pro, and cycling enthusiast.