Slick and smiles.
Pulling the Trigger – Tour of Ayrshire
I once heard cycling referred to as meditation at gun point. 5K into the Tour of Ayrshire and I’m ready to pull the trigger. Muscles need heat to perform at this speed and if Kilmarnock is lacking anything this morning, it is heat. The initial pace is gentle enough but the first few hills have sent the sharp lactic sting into my cold legs and by 5K I know that this pace is way too hot for me.
Despite the vast number of participants, bike races are really solitary affairs. Only the individual rider knows what innumerable incidents have made a race memorable. From the gun ones inner dialogue regresses to a primitive and at times mono-syllabic language. “Move up,” “push,” “water,” “turn the pedals, turn the pedals,” “surge, no, no hold the wheel”. Eyes move at lightning speed from the wheel in front to the road ahead and everywhere in between – but no thoughts form. Nothing solid is ever conjured in the mind. Rather, they are mere products of the instincts of riding in a bunch. No great ideas or pithy quips were ever formed in a bike race.
This becomes less true if you are unfortunate enough to find yourself alone, dropped from a group. You know that you are too strong for the riders that are following but you will never, ever catch the last wheel of the group that you have just lost.
They say cycling is the sport of hard (wo)men
The race had barely settled into a rhythm before Tom, growing weary of the lead group launched himself off the front. No one but him will truly know if he believed he could stay away. He couldn’t, he was doomed from the first surge. But for those few moments – he was the master of the peloton, a giant of the road. And then he was alone. Glen faced a similar fate; soloing most of the race, too fast for his group. Perhaps no-one deserves a place in Albi anymore.
They say cycling is the sport of hard (wo)men. Not in the typical sense. You won’t see many cyclists dabbling in UFC in the off-season or benching big weights. “Do you even lift?” No I do not, thank you very much! Such is our aversion to the wholly unnecessary weight of upper body strength that being thwarted by a particularly heavy door can be a good indication of peak form. It is their ability to suffer that gives cyclists their gritty moniker; both on the road and in our preparation for events. We are not pros, but sacrifices have been made for this day. Desserts shunned, bedtime’s adhered to and the offer of calorie rich food and drinks resented. “What do you mean you’ve baked me a birthday cake? Have you any idea how much sugar is in one slice?!”
It is then all the more cruel when at the start of a 100K race you are dumped from the fastest group and forced to ride solo until another desperate alliance can be formed. 10K in and I have caught a group of ten riders working together. Soon we are down to three, a good sign of the pace we are setting – working in steady harmony, together on the flats before separating on the climbs and inevitably drifting back together again. We all know that together we were stronger. The first really steep climb came after 30K and I find myself in first gear and out of the saddle pushing hard, grinding. A family have positioned themselves near the peak to the climb in the gate way of a farmer’s field. Just as the mother’s words of encouragement were uttered my pedals came to a shuddering halt and I am thrown to the ground. “Keep going! She offered cheerfully, Funny, I thought, do I look like I’m about to stop? ‘Crunch!’ “Oh no, I’m sorry!” She shrieked apologetically as if she had caused the chain to jump at my cassette. I was happy to have someone to blame. As I tussle and wrestle with my chain; muttering and spluttering obscenities her young family stand agog. They learn more about colourful language that day than about bike racing. And so finally, with my bike functioning again I set off alone. I know that the race will be over before I see the other two riders again. I am gripped with fury. As I settled into a Time Trial position and prepared myself for the inevitable solitary, I let out a scream; and then I pedalled.
Luckily, I had been passed by another larger group of about thirty riders as I fixed my chain and I managed to drag myself back onto the group. It soon became clear that many were along for the ride as the same group of four or five of us come to the front to take on the stiff Scottish wind. The result is a peloton that lacks any real pace. I am only too familiar with sitting on a wheel hoping beyond hope not to find yourself in the wind on the very verge of popping but several conversations can be heard in the ranks and a cyclist on the limit should not be conversing with anyone but his legs. I give a rallying cry to those behind: “Any fresh legs back there?” I’d clearly hit a nerve with one of my fellow riders who takes my advance as a chance to lay into the peloton. “He’s fucking right, come on now lads! The same fucking thing happened at Cambridge last year – a bunch of lazy fuckers sat on and did nothing – do you want to fucking qualify or not?” His voice tinged with a mixture anger and desperation. His tirade is met with silence and still the bunch sit in and still the same five or six riders take their pulls. The only real change is that the conversations have stopped. He probably exerted more energy shouting than he did on the front and despite his blunt approach he was right.
Back in black
It’s all about time
Progress is slow but steady and I know that if I stay with the bunch for the majority of the rest of the race I can probably get away from the main group with a few of the stronger riders in the last 10K. Many of the wheel suckers have white race numbers indicating they are in my age group and I am confident that as long as I finish ahead of the bunch, I will come in with a faster time and stand a good chance of qualifying. It seems my bike has other ambitions and as I stand again by the side of the road fixing my slipped chain the group slips away up the road. I have them in my sights for the next twenty kilometres, unable to close the gap.
“The power of a peloton is very real – and experiencing it first-hand makes it all the more wonderful witnessing a Baroudeur break away from the pro peloton and stay away. It confounds logic and what should be humanly possible.”
I’ve got the Power
And so as I roll over the line alone, my disappointment is short-lived as I hear of the heroics of my team mates. Dave chats casually with his rival for the podium. Their convivial chit-chat worlds apart from the carnage that took place at the head of their race only minutes earlier. Dave got his podium and Ben a top ten. Glen, Thomas and Ollie all secured qualification for Albi. Lowell will have to wait for Cambridgeshire but does what is needed. Me? I’ll be right there. Just give me two seconds…
Slick and this lot
:: Related Articles:
- Discover the rider himself, Slick
- Going 500 Miles for racing? It can only be the Tour of Ayrshire, Part 1