On Terms

On Terms

You know the challenge. You’re in a group and somewhere deep inside of you the river of time flows just as your blood surges through your veins. You are on one of two sides of an equation. Either you are watching and waiting for cracks to appear in the plaster of the other riders’ legs or you wonder, worrying, just how long you can hold on.

One of my favorite phrases for the math that goes on in each rider’s head is “on terms.” Are you on terms with the conditions? Are you on terms with the breakaway? Are you on terms with your roll? Are you on terms with your form?

On any given day there are at best two, maybe three riders who can dictate the terms of the pace. For all others the question is simple. “Can I meet the challenge?”

For all those who’ve had a relationship or two go south, there’s probably been an occasion when someone has asked about the ex in present tense terms. Maybe you’ve responded, “We’re not on terms.”

That’s not what we’re talking here. This isn’t a refusal to play the game, it’s a test to see how long we can last. How deep is our pain cave?

Were we spreadsheets, a simple formula or two would reveal who will pop, and when—one by one. But really, no calculus can plot will or factor adrenaline and what we achieve on any day is unpredictable as an earthquake.

On terms. It defines if you can meet the demands of the group. Or how many riders still seem up to the challenge.

Michael Boogerd was a master of the probing attack. Just a little surge to see who might be ready to pop off. Time after time in Amstel, he’d make a short thrust and leave others to parry. How many times did we see a rider make a surge at the Tour only to have Lance answer with a devastating acceleration.

For those who reach the middle ground, that is, neither destined to win, nor doomed to be the next casualty, on terms means something entirely different. It’s a statement not of will, but of one’s ability to set it aside for riding at threshold—or a tick or two above—isn’t a willful act, it’s surrender.

When you surrender, you turn your future over to someone else. It is the ultimate vulnerability. You’ve shown your cards. That existential statement—this is what I’ve got—is your box.

Anonymous fellowships know this state of being by another name: acceptance. It might seem ironic, their members have learned an important lesson handy for bike racing: Once you know what you can’t change, your choices become clearer.


Image: John Pierce, Photosport International


Originally posted November 30, 2009.



    1. Neil Winkelmann

      It LOOKS like Contador, but that’s not where you’d usually see him. And I didn’t think Boonen’s time in the WC jersey overlapped with AC’s time at Disco.

    2. Quentin

      Boonen won the world championship in 2005, so this would be the 2006 Tour of Flanders. It looks like the podium that year included two Discovery riders, Leif Hoste and George Hincapie (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_Tour_of_Flanders). I’m going to say it’s Leif Hoste based on the fact that he finished with Boonen over a minute ahead of everyone else, and the size of the bike in the photo. I don’t know how tall Hoste is, but I’m certain Hincapie’s bike would have had a taller head tube than that.

  1. Steve

    This is great and very timely. On a gravel climb this weekend, I was pushing the pace. Thought that I was maybe holding off a rider 20 years younger than me. Heart rate was climbing, but he still hadn’t pulled even. Then, peripheral vision shows the front of his wheel, ever so slowly his bike, then even with me, then pulled a 1/2 wheel ahead. My heart rate kept going up, and I was no longer “on terms” with the pace. All it took on my part was 3 soft pedal strokes and he was 20 feet ahead of me, pulling away, and that was the end of that delusional situation.

    “On Terms” – I need to remember this phrase.

  2. Fausto

    Leife Hoste for Discovery was in the two man break with Tom B in 2006. Hincapie came in 3rd for Discovery as well a bit farther back.

  3. Ashish

    It LOOKS like Contador, but that’s not where you’d usually see him. And I didn’t think Boonen’s time in the WC jersey overlapped with AC’s time at Disco.

  4. Mike

    I can vividly remember the fondo from 3 years ago. Midway through and I found myself in a 15-20 rider pack (none of whom I knew). First, I was near the front. Next thing I know, I’m hustling at mid pack. In the blink of an eye, no one is behind me. If I surge and stay with them, maybe I meet my sub 4 hour goal for the day. My legs and heart and lungs say, quite clearly, “Not today, son, not today”.
    Definitely not “on terms”.

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