Marblehead...22 years later
Sunday is the New England road cycling season opener... CCB International's Michael Schott memorial race. Homecoming day.
I remember Mike Schott like it was yesterday. He was what you'd call a 'gentleman' - a guy with an atypical manner for a bike racer - a notoriously self-centered breed.
I started riding with Mike and the Cape Ann Wheelmen contingent in the mid seventies. Mike was one of the older guys in the club. He was a guy with a job and a family. I was just a 16-year-old kid who noticed and respected how Mike fit his cycling in around his suit-and-tie-professional and family priorities. Like all of us, he really loved the sport. He always treated me, and everyone else he met with respect and impeccable manners. I remember particularly that he would always take sincere interest in the stories of others, while being very modest and self-effacing about his own riding. He was a good friend, and good company.
I used to envy the fact that Mike's bike and kit were always neat and pro-clean, even after an effort. I was a guy who always finished every ride looking like death (Emil Zatopek had nothing on me). Mike on the other hand, always looked like he'd just come in from riding to the corner for a newspaper.
If I close my eyes, I can still see Mike in his black and blue Jones Cyclewear custom skinsuit, wearing a white Brancale hardshell helmet - wailing up to the Mill road finish line on his way to recording a top times in the Wednesday night Ispwich time trials. I also can see Mike fighting to some good results in Cat 3 and Vets races in New England. One year - 1980 I think it was - he was in the top 3 at Lake Sunapee stage race in his class.
As a racer, Mike was the 'quiet fighter' type.. a stylish rouleur. No bravado, just character. While neither a puncher, nor one for carve-em-up final lap sprints, Mike was a guy who knew how to quietly wring the most out of himself, for the pure and simple pleasure of honoring the sport. This is how I'll always remember Mike - a clean, stylistically perfect cyclist, and the quintessential gentleman amateur.
This Sunday, after a 22 year gap, I'm going back to try to race in Marblehead. Back between '80 and '88 I was almost always in the top 5. Now pushing 50, I'll just be happy to finish in the bunch. They're predicting cold with temps in the 30's. My kind of weather, perfect for New England's version of a seaside a West-Flanders De-Panne-style battle. Can't wait.
Maybe somewhere, Mike will get a kick out of the fact that I'm still trying to race with the young fast dudes.
I likely won't be the same elbows-out guy I was in the photo on the left at 27, winning the field sprint for 3rd.
But when the pace heats up and I'm struggling to hold the wheels, I'll try to think of Mike and hope it will give me the grinta to hang on just that little bit longer.