Somewhat recently a teammate posed a question to our race team: why do you race? I hadn't thought about it in a while. Considering the dangers, expense, time commitment, and strenuous training, I think it's a valid question. Here's why I race:
A CHALLENGE (ie A SENSE OF SATISFACTION).
Racing tests the basic measure of strength of a cyclist: SPEED. Even fast group rides with racers can't replicate the speed and aggression of a race - everyone is rested, well nourished, and out to win. It's quite rare that I do a race that doesn't hurt.
A TEST OF ABILITY.
Bike racing is the only way to test how fast you are compared to other cyclists. Going faster than others in group rides is fine, but doesn't mean too much (though that has changed a bit with Strava segments). Bike racing is public record - those you bested and those who bested you is official. For that reason, I have respect for anyone who toes the start line - they are putting it all out there for the world to see, whether that's the win, or the loss.
Sure, racing is hard and dangerous, but it is also fun. You get to catch up with other racers, see who's fit and going fast, and who's been eating a little too much. You get to check out the latest gear and new racing bikes. It's just a fun scene.
IT MAKES ME FEEL ALIVE.
"Hot and overcast. I take my gear out of the car and put my bike together. Tourists and locals are watching from the sidewalk cafes. Non-racers. The emptiness of those lives shocks me." - Tim Krabbe, The Rider. Racing feels like life in saturated HD. It's possible that feeling comes from heightened senses due to adrenaline and stress. It's possible that it's because the sun suddenly is shining like a spotlight on your specific peloton, making it the most important peloton in the world, and the speeds and the attacks and the heroics and the defeat and pain are suddenly an all encompassing, sweeping story that's unfolding and that you are a part of.
I think that's the part of bike racing that's the most difficult to explain to non-racers. I also think it's the most beautiful part of the whole thing.