A look back at the art of suffering through the eyes of the rider.
UNGODLY is the hour you will wake up, you will pour coffee blacker than barge oil down your neck and progress on to the morning favourite, your not quite cooked, not quite cool enough to eat porridge. You will kiss your loved one/s goodbye. You will look in the mirror, shake your head, swear, grab your bag and roll out the drive.
Car banter is moderate, talk floats from Paralympian grading classifications thanks to Shaun’s hands on knowledge (what the hell is a C5?) to ‘what’s the latest you ever turned up for a race?‘ (Gordon, naturally, winning this with 1 min passed official race start, whole race waiting while he pins on his number) There is no mention of what is about to happen. What happens happens, and it happens the only way it can, hard, fast and very painfully! Everyone knows this so really no point dwelling on the obvious.
You will go fast, wind/hail/snow or tectonic plate shift will not slow this race down… sorry I lie, crashes. If you crash be prepared to fly further and faster than you ever have before, like a baby sparrow grappling with gravity, the lessons shall be brutal. Your fellow competitors will stop, but then they will walk over you, your bike, or anything thats looks set to open THAT gap any bigger, after all, YOU are now the reason they will be gritting their teeth so expect zero sympathy.
So as I was saying, with a road barely wide enough to squeeze six riders abreast you may have the displeasure of witnessing one of theses little ‘helpers’ move up the right hand side, in the gutter, coughing up stones and soil and blaring its horn as your own Garmin bends into the never never zone of 80kph! Then of course for some inexplicable reason afore mentioned team car will slam to a halt behind a stranded rider as behind him 160 riders fight tooth and nail for that little strip of hallowed clear tarmac that the car isn’t occupying! Talk about stressful, its no party in the peloton!
‘Scrambling’ is probably the best way to describe French hill climbing, riders chuck bikes around as if its a race to the top and the prize is a sports car and a summer holiday in Cannes, in reality the prize is a cross wind and an exposed flat with a break of 15 riders unbelievably tearing themselves off the front of this barreling fury and a peleton hell bent on bringing them back. Miraculously we don’t pull them back, how?!
But the pace has claimed some victims. Our own Aussie monster Roy has slipped through somewhere nearer the back and Dulwich riders have been getting spat out the peloton like raindrops exiting a storm cloud. Gordon grits his teeth and looks off along the team cars to the echelons that are mashing across the French countryside ‘This is hell’ his sage-like wisdom tainted with jealousy.
Nail biting, if my own hands weren’t now molded to the handlebars I’d have nibbled those suckers right off, my second heart attack comes as I hit the most mis placed patch of gravel on a 70kph left hander, feel my front wheel slide and in the lunacy of that moment and feeling I just escaped a fight with the armco, I smile, I’m getting into this ‘Holy shit Gav, Gav‘ ‘Did you see that guy‘ ‘No I just slipped on some gravel‘ ‘HAHAHAHA‘ Clearly we are now racing.
Here I must digress, a moan, development squads. Now I’m all for nursing the next crop of Boonens and De Volders but lets face it, 1 in 10 of these guys is going to hack it, so lets spend a little less time fluffing their pillows and get back to the basics, if you can’t take a bottle from the side of the road, carry two! If however you insist on handing bottles lets try do it where the pace isn’t 55kph and the feeble attempt to move a half kilo projectile from 0 to 55 in 0 seconds using the equivalent of a willow branch will end in so many tears I will personally stamp on you Cosmics and set fire to your team bus, FLANDERS stop doing it, you do it in the UK you do it in France for the sake and safety of the riders dodging your multitude of fallen bottles and swinging arms STOP!!!
Enough bleating, action Spies action!
At 70km you start entertaining the thought that this is just like any other road race and you can do things like; pedal up through the pack; chat to a team mate; pedal through someones high velocity spit EEEEW! But of course there is a lull before every storm and a vacuum before every explosion, and this one is the Le Boobies A-bomb climb (Le Boubers) with its 90deg left into a 16% rear mech destroyer.
At no point should Le Boubers be done at anything less than 110 cadence and with the 25 tooth engaged, spin spin spin, bob and weave like a flyweight facing Tyson, you make it over, mercifully with 15 odd up the road and this climb featuring twice in this years race the gauntlet is not laid down as per last year as you summit, dare I say it some self preservation from everyone ensues, wow!
Martin moves up next to me ‘One down eh Mart’ ‘*wry chuckle*’ Martin moves across a Juniors front wheel as if to reciprocate the little upstarts switching of me seconds earlier, this all happens silently, battles are fought every mile, every metre, you must concentrate and you must be nonchalantly confident.
Dulwich still has some riders, Kev Knox from Viscious is still there plus his team mate, Mark Perry and we suddenly have a moment of unbridled UK team cohesion (albeit for about two seconds) as we all telepathically work together when Mark shoots off to join a split, the bunch is having none of it, they drag, they counter, its like murder leap frog, jump-kill-bang, jump-kill-bang. I see Ian’s wheel, as ever a good one to follow, the caffiene must be working as I feel nothing but the pressure on the chain as it ratchets up, I move up the outside on Ian’s wheel, for some strange reason we are given some undue respect, riders glance over and make their own way to the left to try gain some advantage from the pace change, there’s a massive lull suddenly at the front and some riders have popped off clear. Ian reaches the front of the bunch and I make my bid to catch the groupetto, oh man thats a bad move, yer all alone between a 6 rider strong ‘attack’ and a patient pit bull biding its time, its all over too quickly Le Boubers again!
Thunder, thunder the mass drills it over, back in saddle, settle, breathe we’ve made the 100km mark and Ian’s back at the front, this time I’m nowhere near him, he decides to keep the gap ‘respectable’ between what is now a 30-40 rider strong peloton that we are in and the two groups up the road. Ian is there for an age, has the man gone mad? Gavin comments after the race that he was less than enthused by Ian dishing out his own special brew up front as just getting to that point had almost killed him! I’m seeing my own warning lights, I need a confirmation, the Garmin is lying, Ian’s finaly back with us ‘How much further mate’ I gasp, ‘Mmm about 6 or 7 k’ comes the calm answer. I’m gonna frikkin make it, right bitches, lets party (it all went a bit Mad Max).
Thank you so much France, thank you so much mates!!