This past Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix, one of the most famous single day bicycle races treated us to a very special outcome. No, it was not the favorite that set the record for his fifth victory- most wins in history. It was not a world champion proving his place and stature among the greats. Nor was it a loved Swiss strongman and 3 time winner going for his last victory before retiring from the sport. Nope, it was a little known Aussie journeyman racer just shy of his 38th birthday that raced the race of his life. And just barely squeaked past the favorites in arguably one of the most amazing finishes ever in the infamous spring classic.
There are some things that are guaranteed to leave a lasting impression. In my case it was a series of cult movie classics that I was unfortunate enough to be exposed to when I was still a wee lad back in the seventies. Trilogy of Terror and Don’t be Afraid of the Dark, were 2 made for TV horror flicks featuring mini demon-like creatures. It was an impression that left me scarred for a long, long, loooong time. I struggled to sleep in the dark, insisted on leaving my bedroom door partially open, and slept with the sheets pulled way over my head leaving only a 3 inch gap separating me from the cool breath of life and the diminutive demons of the dark who were scurrying around my bed echoing those chilling little whispers from hell. Not to mention the all out sprint/ long jump combo stride every time I ran up the basement stairs. Running full speed while taking 3 steps at a time, was all I could do to escape the scissor wielding Zulu doll from the underworld that was fast on my heels taking swipes and bites at my barely escaping achilles tendons.
It’s only 4 days into this year’s Tour and we’ve already experienced some memorable lessons in courage, drive and determination. From the comfort of my couch, morning cup of coffee in hand, I sit and watch. I am enthralled by the character that defines those who are tested for 21 days while being pushed to their physical and mental limits. It’s why I watch the Tour. It’s why I love the Tour.
Only 2 miles from home, the sky growled and the angry bolt strikes surrounded us. They test us and motivate us to go harder. The conditions were unsettling but there was little choice. Then the downpour. Generally, I like a refreshingly random rain ride but there was a feisty anger in this morning’s drenching that marked an ominous cap to an oddly eventful 6 a.m. ride. When I got home and sat down my chamois pad squished beneath me and released what seemed like a quart of gritty water onto the floor below me. I looked over at my shoes and a quarter-inch of water had pooled in the bottom of each one. I could swear there were a couple of minnows swimming and calling my Specialized road shoes their new home. I just hoped my iPhone managed to stay dry enough to keep from shorting out. Sometimes, you just take what is given to you.
I am a flatlander. I have few climbs around me and the ones I do are minimal and pale in comparison to the true climbs and challenges that test most Strava athletes. This weekend I decided to record my first ride in over 3 months. It’s not just any ride, but one of the regular rides I used to do with my brother when over 20 years ago back in “the D”. The ride is a loop that encircles a man-made lake and quite beautiful little local park area. What I love about this ride is what the Strava score really illustrates. At a glance the mapped out route echos the shape of the Ebola virus. And the topography map is amazingly similar to an EKG heart rate recording. Looking at this recording can tell you more about the ride than what you will ever see by looking at any scores and times.
Sometimes the perfect birthday gift is something you cannot buy. In this case it was the perfect early spring day for a road ride. Forty five degrees, and a mid afternoon sun that warmed the cheeks and nose. All while simultaneously being challenged by a sharp little headwind that tested our legs on an early season scoot. My cycling sensei felt this perfectly stark backdrop captured the spirit of our day’s ride.
As usual he was right.