Monday, May 23, 2005

so what are you doing for the week?

This is being e-mailed around the cyclists at work..

Imagine it. You are two-thirds of the way down a snaking line, a wriggling arrow of riders which hugs the sheltered side of the road. Eyes fixed on the spinning wheel in front, a spray of filthy water channelling up onto your face, into your eyes, into your gaping, oxygen-hungry mouth. The water obscures your vision but still you persist, remaining desperately in the sanctuary of the slipstream. Just an inch or two from being exposed to the cruel wind which would rip your screaming legs apart. Just an inch or two from tipping that shimmering rubber strip in front of you and plunging out of control to the ground.

Concentrate. Concentrate on holding your place. Concentrate on avoiding the lethal hazards on the road surface which suddenly appear in front of you. A distant, disembodied voice up ahead roars "hole left" and you swing outwards, narrowly missing the crater which would send you smashing into the ditch. Behind you, you hear a thud, a curse and the hiss of air which jets from a tubular, ripped asunder by the asphalt anomaly. Poor bastard. Forget him. Concentrate. You grip the bars, hunched low over the bike. A sore back, aching shoulders and burning chest eat into your resolve, dwarfed only by the torture taking place in your lower limbs. Ease back, they plead. Sit up. You ignore the protestations. Concentrate. Seeking to distract the mind, you focus on the digital displays before you. One tracks the exertion of your heart, the transmitter strapped to your chest relaying the signal to the monitor and telling you that the straining pump is working overtime at 180 beats per minute. Beside it, a record of that other crucial parameter, which confirms what your legs are going through. Thirty-two miles an hour. Thirty-two point five. Thirty- three. The speed climbs as some insatiable sadist forges off the front. You curse. You spit. You hang on for grim death.

Then the gaps appear. Not directly in front of you, for you are locked tight to that spinning strip of rubber ahead. But two or three riders up the line, daylight is poking its way through the links in the chain as one struggles. You hear his breathing, hear the futile crunch of his gears as he searches desperately for more pace, see the rock of his shoulders and the useless, ominous swing of his head. Not now, you think, 'O God not now'.

He swings to one side, spent, useless. The next in line dips his head, grits his teeth and the ten feet become eight. The eight become six, then four. The gap closes. Legs on fire, lungs tearing themselves apart, you bury yourself as the line becomes one again. Then, in a moment of sudden lucidity through the ravages of lactic acid, that old phRáse comes back to you. "Spent the day chewing the handlebars". It suddenly makes perfect sense. You'd laugh if you didn't have another 80 miles to endure in this purgatory. You'd laugh if you weren't so set on becoming one of the 'Men of the Rás.'

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