Stop! Do you hear that? That tense silence between the Flanders and Ardennes Classics? It’s like that frozen moment where everyone on the group ride looks up, sees the town line sign, and does the difficult math that will determine whether or not they’ll even bother to sprint for it.
Right now, even as the week winds down, the pro riders are assessing their physical condition, their dodgy knees and raspy chests, trying to decide whether they even dare to start Amstel Gold. Because now the season is under way. They’ve been up mountains and over cobbles. They’ve crashed. They’ve put themselves through wringers and limped across finishes into the merciful hands of soigneurs and masseurs.
We should all be so lucky.
In honor of this tense juncture, we would like to talk about YOUR hardest ride. What was it? Where did you go, and why was it so hard? Was it the distance? A crash? An injury? A mechanical? Did you bleed? How long did it take to recover? Give us detail. Exaggerate. Paint it in vivid, thick strokes like Van Gogh or Van Halen.
While we’re at it, name the winner of Amstel Gold. The first post with the right rider gets a free RKP sticker pack. I’ll give you a hint, it won’t be Cancellara. You’re welcome.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
It’s still winter. It’s still cold. There’s snow down. Ice. Sand and grit. The wind is a flying dagger and the pavement is a black hole. Every night as I ride home in the dark, pedaling in and out of the glare of a million hostile headlights, I feel as though I’m on the moon. The wintertime road is a lonely place, a seeming light year from spring.
They say that discretion is the better part of valor, and that truism has been echoing in my head for the last month. Some weeks ago, I rode home with the air temperature at 9 and the wind gusting to 45mph. It was, as the kids say, epic. And perhaps stupid. My doctor friends warned me of the possible consequences of “exercising” in extreme temperatures. My wife looked at me askance and shook her head. Her eyes said, “Would it have killed you to take the bus?”
Of course, I’ve been reading a lot of my fellow sufferers lately. They talk about the form they’ll have in the spring, the misery of couchtime, the boredom of the trainer.
But I come back to discretion. Perhaps it would be better to take this time off, rest my body and hit the spring fresh. I could scale the mountain of books by my bedside with two full hours of reading on the train each day. The trainer is boring, but I can do laundry while I spin in place. To everything turn, turn, turn.
This winter is taking its toll on me. I am physically exhausted from riding into the wind every day. I have a chest cold that is moving into its third week of residency in my thorax. My skin appears to be sagging like the legs of a fat man’s bike shorts. I am slow. I am worn smooth, like a river stone. I am a winter shadow of my summer self.
Is this what the last section of pavé in Roubaix feels like? Is this what the third week of a Grand Tour comes down to? Is this my Mont Ventoux?
The word ‘toll’ denotes a price paid for some privilege, usually passage over a road. In that regard, I’ve certainly thrown the metaphoric coins in the metaphoric basket by continuing to scale the snow bank in front of my house with my bicycle slung over my shoulder.
In a tertiary definition, Webster’s also talks of that price being “grievous or ruinous.” In this connotation of the word, the toll is seen to be excessive, and maybe this is how I resolve my enduring ambivalence about this daily struggle. On the one hand, I’m paying for a privilege. I’m gaining access to something others aren’t allowed. And if that toll isn’t, in the final analysis, either grievous or ruinous, then perhaps the strictest discretion, those bits of reason that would put me on the couch in front of winter reruns or on the trainer, in the basement, next to the dryer, that discretion is not the better part of valor.
The better part of valor is softening your knees as you roll through a patch of slushy ice, keeping your weight back slightly to keep the front wheel from sliding out from underneath you. And, upon arrival, telling whomever asks that no, it’s not really that cold out.