Legendary baseball manager Leo Durocher is remembered for saying, “Nice guys finish last.”
Cambridge cyclist and all around nice guy Peter Bell begs to differ.
Peter, who races for MetLife’s cycling team, has had a great season so far: a first place finish and several second and third place results in local races. He hopes to cap off his successful season of racing with a strong finish at this Sunday’s TD Bank Mayor’s Cup bicycle race, after the morning's annual Hub On Wheels event in Boston.
I wonder what Leo would have to say about that.
Peter is a Category 1 racer (the equivalent of playing Triple A baseball) and one of the stronger riders around Boston. Peter began riding in high school but did not start racing until 2004. He joined the MetLife team in 2007 while still in college.
A year later, Peter graduated from Middlebury. That’s when he merged his sports life with his work life by taking a full-time job at MetLife.
Competing at the top level of New England cycling is tough. Balancing the riding with the working is even tougher. For Peter, “The job comes first, but I have to balance things. My hiring manager saw my racing as a strength. It showed that I was dedicated personally, like I’m dedicated to the company.”
As the team’s co-director, Peter is responsible for making sure all of the logistics are in place. “We [Peter and his co-director, Andrew Gardner] book plane travel, register the riders, talk to race organizers, and make sure the sponsors are happy…I also help the other riders with their time and their work-life balance.”
Peter’s leadership duties don’t stop once the starter’s pistol is fired. Cycling at the elite level is a team sport, even though each rider pedals his or her own bike. During the race, Peter continues to ride and coach his team-mates (think of Peter as a Dave Cowens, only a little bit shorter and without the red hair). “I assign team tactics during the race and make sure the riders know what breakaways they should be in and how to manage their energy.”
From March until October, Peter will typically enter 40-50 races. In the off season he’ll ride 10-18 hours a week, which includes two long (five to six hour) weekend rides, plus hours of work (think boring but hard) on the indoor trainer.
The intensity ratchets up once the season begins. Peter will typically race on both Saturday and Sunday, and then take Monday off to recover. After his day of rest, Peter will often ride the Tuesday night world championships in Newton, a weekly ride whose motto is: Go fast. Then go faster.
For most cyclists a day off after the Tuesday night ride is in order. Not for Peter: on Wednesday he often rides from Boston to the Wednesday night Wompatuck State park race. On Thursday Peter will ride “only” two to three hours and then rest on Friday.
On Saturday he repeats the cycle all over again.
For Peter, none of this is work. He described bicycle racing as a thrill: “It gets my competitive juices flowing and it’s an outlet for my energy. I’m a competitive person, but I also love the community of fellow cyclists. I’m passionate about bikes and I’d still ride even if I didn’t compete.”
One of Peter’s biggest challenges is accepting the fact that, “You win some of the time and you lose most of the time. You have to balance the disappointment of losing with the love of the sport. There will always be someone faster and better.”
Racing is hard work, it doesn’t pay well (if at all), and it stretches the work-life balance. For Peter none of that matters: “Racing is a labor of love. It’s not about making money or the glamour. Riding my bike gives me a feeling of freedom and catharsis. I do it because I love it.”
Peter proves that nice guys win, no matter where they finish the race.
Jonathan Simmons is a Brookline psychologist and avid cyclist. His book, “Here For the Ride” will be published next spring by Cadence Press.
You can cheer Peter and the other racers on Sunday afternoon starting at 1:30pm.
So you’re not a racer but you still want to ride? No worries: it’s not too late to sign up for the 7th annual Hub On Wheels ride, Boston’s celebration of all things two wheeled.
It’s fine to head out solo, but there are also plenty of teams to choose from should you prefer to be part of a peloton. “Avec Fromage” sounds inviting (I’ve always thought that brie and bikes are a perfect fit), though “Geeks on Wheels,” “Fat kids love cake,” and “jersey pride” [who knew?] sound pretty cool, too.
One team that you might consider joining is Lorenz Finison’s group, Cycling Through History. They plan on meeting at the corner of Cambridge and Irving St., right near the start of Hub On Wheels, at 7:30 on the morning of the ride. Lorenz and his team chose this spot because it happens to be where Kittie Knox, a seamstress and cycling aficionado, lived in 1895.
According to Lorenz, “Kittie Knox was a bi-racial cyclist of the 1890’s who challenged the rule of the League of American Wheelmen, who passed in 1894 a color bar prohibiting anyone but white cyclists from taking part in the League.”
Kittie had joined the League before they had prohibited people of color from joining. Kittie attended the League’s national meet in the summer of 1895 in Asbury Park, NJ in protest against their color bar. According to Lorenz, “It’s not clear whether or not she was allowed to participate, but she was welcomed with open arms when she returned to Massachusetts.”
It’s that legacy that Lorenz and his fellow riders hope to honor during Hub On Wheels.
Cycling Through History is dedicated to “Furthering knowledge about African-American and related history in Massachusetts, and opportunities for increased physical activity, wellness, adventure and local community involvement through bicycling.” To learn more, check out their web site.