Kilometer 32-34. Seven plus two is nine [ed.: off the front]. Still, I’m not climbing badly, that amazes me every time. It hurts, but it’s also sort of nice. Heavy labor you can handle, carrying a pile of pouffes up to your girlfriend’s new apartment.
Keep the steer steady, going slow here. The way I see it, your handlebars move forward, and you just have to make sure you don’t let go. You need strong arms for that. I view my wrists, stretched out in front of me to the bars, straight as ramrods. They’ve become so tanned, almost black in the wrinkles. The little hairs lie next to each other in wet rows, pointing away from me. I find my wrists incredibly beautiful.
What I can do, no animal can: be the other and admire myself. I hear nothing and see nothing, but I sense that, behind me, one rider after the other is being dropped. I once interviewed an Olympic rower, Jan Wienese. Rowers practice their sport backwards. I asked Wienese whether he was ever afraid, during training sessions for example, of running into something. “No, we have radar for that,” he said.
They may have been dropped by the dozen, but I sprinkle my back with the glances of riders behind me. Cool and collected that Krabbe’. Did you see him? Pow-er.
Do my eyes deceive me, or are we gaining a little on Reilhan and Guillaumet?
Kilometer 83: The race has entered a new phase, and every thirty seconds my wheel is in the lead, but is this a sensible phase as far as I’m concerned? Aren’t I in the process of letting myself be jerked around by Barthelemy again?
I’m the one up pushing in the wind, and that’s helping his odds for the third climb. Odds he’ll be able to double during the descent. He’ll get dumped later on, but perhaps so late that he’ll be able to come back after the climb. The further I take him, the greater the chance that the toughest race of the season will be won by a bad climber.
I’m an ass.
This escape has to be made undone. What was stupid at first is now the best thing to do. I drop back to second position and slow down. I stop pedaling. The rider from Cycles Goff misses me taking my turn and looks back, puzzled. The gap is ten meters. I look over my shoulder. When I turn back around, Barthelemy jumps and passes me, very powerfully. He goes right past Cycles Goff, who makes a reflex move to follow, then drops back on his saddle.
Barthelemy is already a hundred meters out in front.
The rider from Cycles Goff lets himself glide back beside me. We look back. We see the four.
“Still too far,” I say.
He hesitates for a second, then nods.
We straighten up, drift along, fifteen seconds to breathe just for the fun of it.