Monday, 30 September 2013

Some words written, lost and then found on my time spent racing in Luigiana.

The lads had been riding all day. Keeping the day’s break within reach, the long turns they pull are testament to their belief and dedication. Occasionally they drop back down through the bunch, passing me with a nod, returning with a jersey full of bottles. I return instructions, barter with other teams, watch the chalk-board time gaps and ponder our next move. 

The entire race is watching us, I can feel it. The need to have a presence at all times, taxing as it may be, is vital. I have to be in control because today I am not just another rider in the bunch. From kilometre zero two Russians attack, carrying a smattering of other riders along in their wake. The local riders with it all to win, or indeed lose, seem prepared to do nothing. The rest of the bunch, national teams we race week in week out, all follow suit. So we must take on sole responsibility.

I make a silent pledge amongst the whir of the bunch; we will make them pay later on.

Sat just inside the arrowhead of the peloton, watching the kilometres count down, I wait. There is little time for nerves amongst the melee of the bunch. The constant need to hold position or avoid an obstacle in the road demands utter concentration. And yet, every now and then I drift off to somewhere just beyond the horizon - the final climb. The hard work of my teammates filling these thoughts with confidence. And whilst our actions may herald pressure, I mostly find myself simply contemplating the whole scenario, calculating constantly. Every little move planned, every bit of power saved, the final climb weighs heavy on my mind.

The last lap is quickly upon us. We pass our hotel for the week with about thirty kilometres to go and momentarily I wonder a little. Watching the staff stood in the carpark, the spectacle of the race flying by their darting eyes, do they spare a thought for us Brits? I doubt it. Then I look down at my numbers. Soon the pace will lift a little more again, the shit hitting the fan even harder, and so it’s time to move. I may be in the sponsor-littered-leaders jersey, but the gaps don't open any easier. Holding position all day is a constant game. Slip back and it is like the death zone, the time ticking, the risk ever increasing, before it eventually all comes crashing down. So I hip sling a rider to my left and draw level with Matt’s rear wheel. A Dane I have raced with all season lets me into the gap and suddenly it is all happening a little more. Here I am, sat in the hotseat, three lads drilling their chances of a result away infront of me. Three amazing guys pulling me closer and closer to the heights of the summit finish, to whatever our opposition may throw at us.

It's a special feeling, my teammates utterly sacrificing themselves. Earlier in the stage, sat in the bunch, I had promised myself to never let this feel normal. Other riders laying aside their personal ambitions on my behalf, it is something I can never take for granted. I realise how damn cool it is. Having seen first-hand other teams ride like this before, on the television many times more, I appreciate how special it is to execute something like this. I contemplate how much such a show of strength, this absolute unity, scares the other riders. How it sends their minds wandering to that final climb…

And then, with the break all but caught I am right back into the race. We turn to the right and a switch in my head flicks on. It is a perfect scenario. The roundabout up ahead marginally quicker through the left, the wind buffering from the right - little details noticed over the last few laps immediately fall into place. I scream to the lads, currently dead centre on the road, and we hit the gutter in unison. Space enough that I can avoid the glass and gravel of the tarmac edge, but no more. Those behind can enjoy that tightrope walk between the road and the end of their race, today we will dictate. 

All of a sudden the years of trips over to Belgium have paid off, albeit in the most unfamiliar of terrains. It is my first time racing in Italy, but really it’s much of the same. For a moment I imagine the chaos being inflicted behind. A frenzied image springs readily to mind, drawn from my fair share of time spent ducking and diving. However within seconds I have no need for imagination.

There is something thrilling and frightening in equal parts about the crunch of carbon. You have avoided the crash, however nervousness of the bunch instantly goes sky high, the risk increasing ever more. That sound of wheels snapping and frames cracking hits the riders like the first in a long line of dominos, each toppling and ready to fall at any moment. The touch paper has been lit. And yet we continue onward, this crazy race wont stop for anyone. We take a scalp wherever and whenever we can, it's a cutthroat world. Flick or get flicked.

Before I know it we are about to hit the climb, the pace similar to the line up for a bunch kick. I remember the cafĂ© on the left, the red plastic deckchairs, the Coca-Cola sunshades. I don't even think, I no it is time to go. Lawless does his final big turn, coming to near a stop as he swings off and then it’s left to us. It is time for Sid and I to shine.

At first it is a bit of a scrabble but we avoid the touches of wheels. I love the shitfight of it all. It gives me as much thrill to guide Chris through the chaos on a sprint day as it does to battle for a win myself. But the quiet of the hills, when it is all in a line, your thoughts as much a battle as the gradient, when the pain really really hurts, that's when I feel truly on. That is when I start to notice my breathing, become more wary of my cadence, of the positioning of my hands on the bars. Loss of momentum on the early ramps, surroundings coming into focus for the first time in hours. I see features of the fans by the side of the road, sense the movement of the riders around me settling in to the pain ahead, and then I focus in on the wheel infront. The climb has started…

3 comments:

  1. That's great bit of writing, thanks.
    Good luck for the season, if there's any left, and for next year.

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  2. If you can ride as well as you write, you're gonna do great.

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  3. A fantastic, well written account. Nice one Tao

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