Despite having a few seconds to compose myself, the line caught me out. It was a rookie mistake. I stumbled across the line, idiot-grinning, half raising my arms and sort of Praise Jesus-ing/ shrugging. Several teammates were cheering and expressing surprise bordering on outrage ("Are you a lap down? Where are all the other guys who are way faster than you? Did an asteroid/bear/fast-acting stomach bug incapacitate everyone but you?").
I sort of mumbled what I considered explanatory notions ("...mighty thighs...praise Jesus...hydration") even as I struggled to push the bike up to the minimum speed necessary to take my hands off the bars. I failed at this, but decided, what the hell, to throw the old arms up and try the Praise Jesus/shrug...and felt the bike lean dangerously and quickly hugged my bars again--surely the quickest and most spastic victory salute in the post-amphetamine era.
As far as facial expression, I imagine myself resembling Jan Bakelants, except, of course, older, crotchetier, and with much fuller eyebrows and nose hair.
Or maybe it was a synthesis of Sagan's look of surprise and Ciolek's "I-have-a question" salute at Milan San Remo:
After my mockery of Cadel, it's probably fitting that my own salute was such an aesthetic disaster.
Here's Cadel mocking me and eating an invisible banana:
I know the self-help gurus tell you to envision success before it happens, that winners will their wins. The dream it-achieve it, T.J. Mackie school of success in all endeavors.
One must train the brain to attain.
Name it. Claim it.
Dream. Conceive. Believe. Achieve.
I didn't do any of these mental practices. Maybe if I did, I'd win more, but I've believed of bike racing, as legendary Oregon coach Bruce Bowerman believed of running, that the process of improving is more interesting than the outcome: "the real purpose," Bowerman wrote, "isn't to win a race, it's to test the limits of the human heart."
The feeling of victory was fleeting for Bowerman. He'd wake up the next day already thinking about the process.
That's not quite the case for me, but I understand the notion. Maybe it's part of aging; you realize how few chances you have to discover the limits of your physical self.
I think of Frank Vandenbroucke (who shares my birthday), a prodigiously talented bike racer who died in a hotel room in Senegal, stripped of his belongings, at the age of 34. Two weeks before his death he'd said:
I divorced two years ago, having had lots of problems in the relationship. I'd suffered a lot on the inside, in my heart. But since last winter, I've been a new man. I've recovered 100 per cent.Two weeks later a prostitute asked the hotel concierge for a mop to clean up his vomit. Hours later, he was dead.
I think of Vandenbroucke's teammate, Philippe Gaumont, who died this May of a heart attack. Unlike Vandenbroucke, Gaumont never claimed to have reformed: "I'm still a wanker. I'll never be on the straight and narrow. If I go on a bender, I do it properly. If I want to sleep with a girl, I sleep with a girl. My excesses haven't finished."
I suppose that's the beauty of avoiding fame and glory; the present can seem as glorious as the past.
Then there are those like Andy Hampsten who find glory where it belongs--on the road itself, and not what happened at the end of it. Here he writes about his favorite road:
My favorite ride is a 12 kilometer section of road between Sassetta, my home village, and Suvereto. It drops three hundred meters and there’s not one straight-away, it’s all turns but no hairpins. One day I counted 287 turns, the locals hate it because it’s so twisty and turny. It’s my favorite road on the planet. I’ve lived on that road for 29 years or so and I like it more every time I ride it...I’m not a genius, I just find great places to ride, interesting sights, wineries, mills, farms and hobby farms, and fun people, who when stoned on endorphins, appreciate great food and wine.There's something beautiful about America's greatest living cyclist opining about roads and the joy of riding, and of finding in the road, rather than glory or dope, the rush.
I experienced something of that joy during the Giro di Coppi. The first lap was a brutal effort to escape, with Bike Doctor's Scott Giles leading a unrelenting pace. Each pull was a choice between risking falling off the back or earning resentment from others. I missed several pulls, but I noticed others were also.
But then we settled in. We found our rhythm, slowing on hills and pushing on the flats and descents. For three laps, we simply rotated, easing our advantage out to four minutes. Working in a rotation of that speed and efficiency is rare and the speed of it comes effortlessly. The calm of it is precisely the opposite of the frenzy of the pack. In that moment, we held our place and simply rode through the Maryland hills in silence.
Later things broke apart. We launched attacks, tested each other.
The sensation of the race that remains is of that rolling break, of effortless speed on never-flat roads passing mills, farms and hobby farms, and fun people stoned on endorphins.
I want to find myself on that road again.