On Friday night I ran over a snake. Barreling down a brick road with whitewash houses on either side, trying not to hit an obstinate pensioner, be distracted by olive skinned and barely dressed young girls or inhale a lungful of purito smoke. I never saw the silver and red mess until i felt it under my front wheel. I imagine the guy behind me didn't see it until its guts sprayed over his frame. I didn't think much of it at the time. In the course of a short race (for me) i also ran over several bidons, a croissant and quite a lot of fruit.
It didn't occur to me until later that night that, not so long ago i had been that snake. Lying in the road, invisible in a sea of distractions. I'm lucky, nobody ran me over, they stopped and called an ambulance, they saved my life. I'm luckier than the snake. A lot has happened since I last pinned a number onto a skinsuit, I've broken my back and fixed it again. I've lost a friend and made many. I've helped friends change their lives for the better and watched friends change their own lives for the worse. Life goes up and down, you can't change it, you can't choose to make it stop. Your grief, your pain, your sadness and your trials aren't special, everyone goes through the same. It's like bike racing, it always hurts, it hurts everyone and you always want to stop. You never choose to stop, just like in life. But, just like in life sometimes your body makes you.
My body wasn't having any of it on Friday, or Saturday. Friday began well, a morning ride, a croissant, shaved legs, eggs and rice and a drive to the race. Embrocation and coffee, a pretty girl to hold my spare bidon ( and no hope of getting a feed as she squealed and ran away every lap, but i knew that was going to happen) a coffee flavoured gel and a number pinned so as to hold 2 more. A lucky charm on the inside of my base layer, good shifting on the deep wheels and a place on the second row of the grid.
That's where i stopped rolling sixes and started scoring ones: the guy in front of me missing his pedal, coming around him on the gravel, seeing the attacks go off the front, clawing my way off the back, a dropped water bottle, a bunnyhop, a sprint, burning lungs and aching legs. A roundabout, a traffic sign, another bunnyhop and my stomach flat on the top tube, my toes clenched in my shoes and my eyes closed. Eyes open, no more road sign, another bunnyhop and another sprint, more burning. Another roundabout and braking, the smell of burning rubber. A climb, the pretty girl, a wave and another sprint to pay for my cockiness, the same roundabout as the first time but a better line, more smells, a wave of braking, my brakes burning and my bars swinging, toes curling, eyes closed, no crash, another sprint, more burning, a breath, a drink. The the second roundabout, skidding, a sprint, a big gear and a big hill and a nagging pain in my back. Another lap, the ebro delta, thoughts of the civil war, of the second republic, distractions.
Another hill, more nagging but worse, then a rod, a red hot iron rod just left of my spine. Who put that there? Stop thinking, start sprinting. I can't. There's no won't there's can't. Instinct, little ring, start pedalling again, light gear. No big gear, sprint, get back in. Big gear. Can't, instinct again, small gear. It's all coming together now and it isn't what i wanted. One more sprint and the rod is back, instinct has me unclip before i fall like I've turned to ice and it's over. my whole body is shaking and my blood sugar shoots up. I lie on the ground with my ribs rising and falling and wait for the pain to subside, i grovel back to my car, the pain in my back has been replaced by a worse pain. Being hurt is horrible, giving up is hard to deal with, not being able to continue, i thought that would be easier, it's not.
Packing a bike race is never an enjoyable, it's never the easy option. A race might last 6 hours and the pain might be pretty bad but the feeling that you gave up, that lasts a lot longer. At least the 6 days until you race again, until you get the chance to redeem yourself. Bike racing isn't real life, it isn't existence it's just a game, it's just for fun and for entertainment but sometimes it feels like it's more important than real life. Bike racing is the life you choose, the person who gives up isn't the person who you were born as it's the person you made. The body you created, the fitness you worked for, the legs you sculpted, the mind you made. Sometime's when all these things let you down, it does you some good to get some perspective, it does you good to think about the snake. I'm lucky, i'm not the snake. I raced around the Ebro delta, where Idealism, hope, equality, liberty and love made a desperate last stand against hate, greed and fear. It seemed at first that hope died at the ebro in 1938 but, 40 years later hope blossomed again in Spain. Even when it seemed that the republic couldn't go on, and it had to give up somehow, in the end the right side won out. Even when i felt defeated on Friday it does me good to think about the snake and the second republic and try to be the latter and be happy not to be the former.