Monday, 20 May 2013

(HTF) up and down

Before i start this i want to draw attention to the fact that i am now in the  business of selling Hosiery for charity. The slogan may be one you have heard before. If you'd like a pair and you'd like to support the Pascua Yaqui cycling project (to which all proceeds go) drop $15 in the donation link on the right and message me your size preference. And now onto our feature for this evening. 

Literally and metaphorically bike racing really does have its ups and downs. One minute you're in a mountain meadow and the chain barely touches the cogs as it clicks into a smaller cog and the combination of hypoxia, solitude and scenery sends you into a meditative trance where nothing else seems to matter. The next day you're sitting in your car trying to put on legwarmers without exposing any flesh to the pounding rain outside and wondering if being the tallest bloke in the bunch makes you likely to bear the brunt of the fantastic electric storm which is taking place directly above the first KOM. 

This weekend has been illustrative of both. On Sunday some administrative nonesense involving UCI points, parochial race organizers and prize money minimums meant i couldn't race despite the protests of the organizer AND the other teams. I tried to train, but it wasn't happening after 90 mins i turned back to my car and angrily threw my bike in the back. I din't bother stopping my GPS or wiping my chain or putting my license away or emptying out my jersey pockets. I threw everything into a bag and drove home. I threw my wet bike into the corner and opened a beer. Sometimes it all seems futile. 

The next day i drank three cups of coffee to get myself out of the door. I languished the first 10km at tourist pace. I began aimlessly poking up the first climb near my house without much intention. A croissant at the top , maybe a chocolate one, I didn't feel much like caring about race weight. I saw a rider up ahead and pressed on the pedals a bit. I didn't feel like racing but i didn't feel like looking like a poser either. As i passed he hopped on my wheel, i picked it up a bit, 300w he laughed. 400w he panted. 400w and i panted. 420 and he went off the back. i backed off, and he came back to my wheel, with a faint hum. Yup the little wanker was motorized. His motor must've been spot on 400w because time and again i would gap him and he'd get back on. At the top of the climb it made an almighty racket, he came around me and, just as he went to celebrate i kicked past him. Stopping to pull on a jacket i gave him some choice words to block out the motor noise. 

What moped man didn't realize is that he turned my whole day, even my whole week around. once the endorphins from the effort hit my bloodstream i was flying down the other side of the collserolla. I know what i need to do when i get like this. I need to stop training and just ride my bike. I dodged the showers and always took the smaller road where i had a choice. I rode and rode, past castles and churches until i found myself in a tiny village in the mountains between here and Girona. 31/2 deep, 110km from home and running extremely low on jaffa cakes. 

 I decided to engage in one of my favourite pastimes, i walked into the smokiest bar in the village square and loudly asked how one might return to Barcelona. I know they SAY the Spanish civil war occured due to irreconcilable political divisions and a flawed republican constitution but I think it MAY have been related in some way to someone asking for directions. Soon enough a gentleman with a walking stick was using its built in compass (it also had a whistle and torch [or flashlight if you're that way inclined]) to suggest i should go one way* meanwhile another was suggesting that the short distance of the proposed route was more than offset by the curvaceous nature of  his alternative. The bartender had a smartphone, the bar conisdered it's output to be far from smart. As normally happens in these situations i polished off and payed for a cafe amb llet and lef tthem debating the issue. Following my nose (i never like to plan my rides) and heading towards the sea. 

An hour and a half later i found myself behind a moped, the young lady on the back looking bemused and delighted while her boyfriend checked in his mirror to confirm that yes, the beardy manlet was still there despite the fact that his two stroke was whining like a banshee. After they turned off i found myself on roads i knew and made it to the hill below my house just in time for a hail storm of biblical scale. 

Racing, and training have given me the highest highs and the lowest lows of my life. I've broken myself more times than i care to remember and in the process i have made myself stronger. I seriously thought that on Saturday night i'd write something here about how i couldn't be bothered to turn up at races, watch guys who i know charge up ride away from me and beat myself to a pulp for 15th place any more and how i wasn't going to do it any more. instead i am writing about how i had a great weekend beating myself to a pulp in the rain and how i can't wait to do it again! 
playing outside in the rain

*on a side note, i am all for empowering people and overcoming adversity but just how extreme can one's ativities be with a walking cane that one requires light, navigation AND the ability to phonically alert others to one's presence? 

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

ways of finishing bicycle races

It's the day of the year when i celebrate the least notable of all human achievements, being born. Correct me if i'm wrong but one thing EVERY single human being has done* is be born (unless of course you find yourself in the "foetuses are more important than poor people" school of moral thought). To be honest i wasn't even properly born, my mum had an emergency c section. If you'd like to celebrate the anniversary of my arrival on earth, i'd appreciate it if, in place of buying me a beer, you threw a few bucks towards bettering someone's life with diabetes.

This week i've been lucky enough to race 3 times. In 2 countries and had 3 of the most different finishes to races you will ever encounter.

This weekend had a distinctly Spanish (not Catalan) feel. The race was scheduled for 9, delayed until 10:30 and began at 11. IN the meantime 120 underweight men overconsumed coffee, made a pigsty of some poor Cafe owner's toilets and twitched in metal chairs as they'd applied embrocation WAY too soon. At the deisgnated start time we were finally allowed to pin on our numbers and take a practice lap. Having discovered the course to be fu**ing stupidly dangerous (including a 4 lanes to 1, 180 degree turn with tracks running parallel to the entry and exit and no padding on the barriers. People started protesting, and rightly so. We're entertainers sure but this isn't ancient Rome. After half an hour of protest and moaning we decided we had little option and set off, pretty pensively. We rode our bikes for a while, once you're racing you're racing. We all agreed to take the dangerous part easy but once you're in that silent place where gears are clicking and wheels are wooshing and brakes are squealing you do what you have to. Every lap someone came down, someone screamed and everone else looked for a hole in the bodies to sprint through. After a few laps the organizer realized this really was dangerous and, somehow decided the best idea was to have a motorized sweeper come and clean up the corner. This time we came into the blid turn at about 50kph, down hill. I was instantly stuck by the sound and smell of a stack. Burning rubber, burning flesh, cracking carbon.  I didn't need to look. I unweighted the wheels, hopped onto the curb, put a spectator on his arse and sprinted off in search of the survivors. Realistically at that point the race was over mentally for me. i did a few more km but once the break rolled out i rolled off. I didn't really want my mother taking me to hospital on mother's day.

Last sunday by contrast saw the race end early for other reasons. I have never felt such a profound cold in all my life. We started the race at 4 degrees (proper degrees, where 0 is freezing and 100 is boiling) with snow hail and rain alternating (no graupel though which was a shame). we sat on the start line and shivered, and then we rode downhill off the line. Multiple riders just slid straight off the first corner, too cold to apply the brakes. I made it slightly further, inside my head i was screaming at myself, i knew i needed to get off the front soon or i was going out the back. I tried to move up, the climbing was easy but on the descents i was unable to control the bike. I wa sshivering so hard i had to grip the top tube with my knees to keep control. In front of me the bunch split around a roundabout, i didn't think i would make the short side without skidding and i hopped up and over, clenching every muscle hoping not to slide out. i didn't but the front of the race was rolling away. Car's came by and i chased hard. Car's braked and i couldn't, i shot past but it was too close for comfort. Returning to the safety of the grupetto i tried to bring us back to front group but it wasn't happening. i would drop them all on the climbs and then shiver my way back on the way down. After a few more km and the second feed we bailed en masse, having survived long enough to make some money. Someone else opened my car door and i climbed into the boot where i returned to the foetal position (another birth reference!) but this time for a mere 30 mins before i emerged from the boot to take a shower in my kit, which i then slowly peeled off. looking slightly less forlorn and merely bedraggled someone was kind enough to invite me for lunch and a gallon of warm coffee. I drove home shivering and went to bed, at 3pm and i stayed there until the next morning.

Wednesday by contrast was sublime, a great circuit (sadly filled with some not so great riders) a nice climb and to top it all off i spotted another young rider with diabetes. Seeing his CGM i got so excited, i may have literally bounced up and down a bit. Then I got really worried he was going to get dropped in the echelon, and so commenced the hardest bike race of his life. Every time he gave up, i pushed his saddle, blocking him from the wind and riding out of the echelon. I got him to the easy part where he recovered and rode until he couldn't and then the whole saga repeated itself. This guy was tough, if he keeps suffering like that he'll go places on the bike. he had his sugars spot on the whole time as well! Other points of note include the bloke who rode off a bridge (he was OK, don't worry) and the gentleman who consistently dropped his bottle every lap and the idiot who consistently slammed on the anchors every time he saw anything near the side of the ride which he thought might jump out at him, things like road signs and trees (possibly ents but i doubt it) His eagerness to come to a complete halt as rapidly as possible made the race less pleasant and several people's race a lot shorter.

Bike racing is a diverse sport, and they say a bad day on the bike is better than a good day in the office. I don't know what the latter feels like but i can't see that much of a concentration of suffering going on in anyone's cubicle. But i can't see years of cycling leaving me fat, depressed and unfulfilled either. What i love about bike racing (well one of many things really)  is that every day is different, no two races are the same, the constant motion of the peloton is reflected in the constant motion of your life. Moving around the world, making new friends and experiencing new things. I've found new parts of the world and new parts of myself on a bike and i'd never have found these things without it. Every ride is a story, it has a start, middle and an end. a protagonist and hurdles to overcome. The hero emerges changed by his adventure, each ride, each race, each time you lie under a palm tree gulping down the juice of a fresh coconut as little children look on or meet a bloke for the first time by helping him pull lycra off his shivering body you become a little bit different, a little bit more itneresting and a little bit better.

*We also share the achievement of being "not dead yet" (thus making it the least remarkable title one could choose for one's autobiography, apt then if one has lived an unremarkable life...).  Ok that's 2 offensive digs in the first paragraph, I promise to calm down now.