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Dear Frank : When your number is up.

Dear Frank Race Numbers 02
Frank Strack
4 Apr 2016

In a dog-eat-dog world, your race number is the connection to your inner wolf. Or something like that

Dear Frank

What is the maximum amount of time allowed between finishing a race/sportive and removing your race number from the bike?

Stuart, by email

Dear Stuart

As a species, humans have been promoted outside the food chain. That’s ignoring the unfortunate few each year who actually get eaten by another animal when, for instance, they decide to go live with grizzly bears in Alaska. Which, by the way, is a better way to go than to wind up on some distracted driver’s bumper. I’d rather get demoted back into the food chain than die in the idiot chain, given the choice.

Having achieved this amazing status in the animal kingdom, where we are the only species who hasn’t the need to avoid a carnivorous predator while sipping a cappuccino on the way to the office, we have arrived at a state of existence where we stage an entire range of competitions in order to bring out the inherent survival instinct that lurks somewhere within each of us.

Never trust a Cyclist columnist on matters of history, but I am given to understand that ‘sport’ started more or less with the Greeks in Athens, who liked to have their winners live and their losers die. Later, in Rome, this same model generally held true, except the competitions often involved warriors fighting tigers and lions. In a way those particular competitions saw humans reintroduced into the food chain. This was still better than whatever awaited them outside the Roman Empire, which, from what I’ve read, really sucked hard.

That was the trick to these early empires – life sucked so hard that all they had to do was suck a little less than everything else and there was no limit to what they could make people do on their behalf. That’s how they built the aqueducts. Genius.

I’m not saying there isn’t any hardship today. I am, however, trying to provide a little bit of perspective. We have no natural predator and have thus invented our own world of stress to allow us to nurture the inner fire that stokes any species’ survival.

In modern sport, we have a tendency to use words like ‘battle’, even though we don’t have to face some gold-plated, sword-wielding maniac. In that sense, cycling isn’t really that hard. But it feels that hard when we do it right, although it definitely doesn’t have the same consequences, assuming that distracted driver doesn’t come calling.

Cycling is a tough sport – the toughest, I might say. Racing is the hardest kind of cycling there is, and every one of us who does so should be proud that we voluntarily subject ourselves to such suffering when there is no evolutionary or social justification to do so. We do it for our own enjoyment. In a world of luxury, where we’ve evolved out of the food chain and into the rat race, I tip my hat to anyone who not only swings a leg over a top tube, but who ventures into the darkness of the pain cave and drops the flashlight not for the sake of their survival, but for the sake of their character. 

And when it comes to character, there is no need for affirmation. The will comes from within. That race number is a memento to you and your effort, and it should be cherished. It is not there to tell others of what you have achieved, but to remind yourself of what you have accomplished. Keep that number close, where it will remind you of your strength when you need it most.

How long should you wait before removing the number from your bike? This, I cannot tell you. But I can tell you this: the number will lose its meaning with every ride you go on. Stow it away, keep it safe. It is for you alone.

Frank Strack is the creator and curator of The Rules. For further illumination see velominati.com and find a copy of his book The Rules (Sceptre) in all good book shops. Email your questions to him at cyclist@dennis.co.uk

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