It was a stinging rain and it came in waves - at times just cold and unpleasant and at still other times oppressive. Water pooled in the corners of .97 mile crit course, a narrow loop in the heart of Fitchburg, Massachusetts overlooking the Nashua River. While few riders celebrate rain as ideal but in late June, the cold unrelenting feel felt jarring and the race unfolded like a boxing match, beginning with attacks and ending just prior to the finish with an actual fist fight. Tensions run high in the face of discomfort. Across the finish line, the faces were familiar, save the winner. At twenty years old, Kai Wiggins hadn’t won a professional race but given his low key nature, few people might have been better equipped to navigate the ugliness of the day. Riding for the longtime New England-based CCB program, he kicked past more experience riders and raised his hands.
photo: Gerard Powers
A season later still rising the ranks and having been offered a contract for a more established professional team, Kai stopped racing. His entire career lasted four years. “A lot of stuff happened. Some of it was pretty dreadful, stressful, deflating, but the rest of it was a damn good time. I’ll have to write it all down someday, I’d rather not forget it.” There’s a singularity that’s required to be a pro cyclist. Despite the countless imitators, the costumes and the droves chasing after pro-ness, actually being a professional athlete is singular. There’s strength in that: to find out exactly what one is capable of, to reach to the depths, or the end is something that can serve to build balance over time, but its also fraught. Away from race course barriers and podium ceremonies, a cyclist is most often found prone in a hotel room.
“I love riding my bike, and I love racing, too,” Kai explained. “Shades of ambivalence have always been in the sport for me. It came down to a consideration of intent, of living with deep attention to what I am doing, how I am doing it, and why. The pursuit of fitness, of results...it’s really gratifying. It felt good to be fast, to know I was fast, and that others knew it too. Furthermore, and as I said above, I had fallen in love with the lifestyle, of traveling, living on the road with my team—all that good, super-saturated, sometimes fraught, most-often entertaining kinda stuff. But it always felt like something was missing. So I decided to go look for it.” If you’ve ridden with Kai, then you’ve noticed that his style on the bike is similar to his views. He has a deliberate cadence, a touch slower than typical riders his speed and age but there’s similarly little ambivalence in how Kai turns the pedals. Were you to reduce his pedaling style to a single word, it would be certain. He left racing, but held onto cycling.
“I am living in Washington, DC now. You would be surprised by how extensive the cycling community is down here, and there’s good riding to boot! I do at least two group rides a week with 40 people or more. It’s pretty rad, and made all the better by the sorts of multifaceted, engaged, all-around enthusiastic cyclists this city attracts. I still ride every day—as much as I can, really. I’m content with how I’m doing things.”