Sunday, 21 February 2016

ABR - I remember now

Racing. MTB Stage racing. The “hey, let’s go and do a winter stage race somewhere hot, it’ll be fun” ideas that I just seem incapable of turning down. Hence I’m now at the Andalucia Bike Race, on a whim and just 6 weeks of training.

It’s been a couple of years since I did a mountain bike race. The last one was also an international stage race, the 4-day Cyprus Sunshine Cup. Each day I would turn up, ride, finish and climb on to the podium having the glorious honour of being both first and last – that’s what happens when you’re the only Master Woman riding. After that, I swore “never again”, but then I say that every time I have a heavy night and huge hangover and that promise never lasts very long. And of all things in my life, perhaps cycling is the only one that actually pre-dates drinking so there’s even more of a precedent there.

I remember the routine of stage racing. Wake up, eat and drink, ride, eat and drink while riding, finish, eat and drink, shower, eat and drink, sleep. Repeat for x number of stages. It’s kinda nice to just immerse yourself in what it must be like to be a pro-rider for a while, but then I remember that taking part hurts and winning looks masochistic so to dabble on occasion is enough for me.

I remember the excitement of the town centre starts and the crowds cheering you on with encouraging shouts you can’t understand; the families having picnics in their gardens to watch the race; the one random stranger on a climb who starts clapping the moment he sees you and doesn’t stop until you’re once again out of sight; the closed roads and police escorts, smiling marshals and patient car drivers who shout a hearty “Vamos! Vamos!” not in the slightest bit bothered that you’ve delayed their day by a minute or so.

I remember the dilemma of whether to look at the stage profiles or not – intrigued by how far it is and how much climbing there will be but equally anxious about the thought of what lies ahead. Ignorance is bliss as they say; except when your heart is pounding so loudly in your head that you need to know whether to risk heart failure because you’re almost at the top or if you should just cut your losses and live to ride another day. Then there’s the “last climb, it’s all downhill from here” moment (which should be a mandatory sign on every cycle course) which sparks the glimmer of hope and final release of energy that always gets you home.

I remember what it’s like hanging off the back of a bike with your belly on the saddle, backside just off the rear wheel, as you grip the bars at full stretch down an unknown technical and steep descent with a technique that at best can be called ‘controlled falling’ and ‘lucky’ if you’re being honest.

I remember the jelly legs and shaking hands at the bottom of the descent only to be faced with a wall of trail in front of you and the frantic clicking, clunking, clanging and wincing that accompanies the panic of trying to find the right gear for your non-functioning legs before your thighs explode. Then the moment of disbelief when the lever will go no further and you realise you are in the lowest gear. But still you pray that they snuck another one in there, a secret one, just for emergencies, one so big you’d never even noticed it was there and now in this very moment of pain and desperation the chain will magically, seamlessly, slip on to it and you will spin on. But no, there are no more gears.

I remember the effort of my whole torso heaving at the bars trying to use the leverage of every inch of every limb to haul the crank over one more time and hoping that sheer body weight, or gravity or ‘the force’ will do the rest; knowing that every pedal stroke takes you closer to the top of the hill, and every hill summit gets you closer to the finish and the end of this self-inflicted suffering.

And then I remember that I have five more longer, harder, hotter, steeper days to go…

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