We had been racing for almost ninety kilometers
when the news that one of my teammates had been pushed by into a ditch reached
me via a friend on a rival team.
The whole race up until this point I had spent shepherding our team’s sprinter around the bunch, attempting to soak up as much of the wind, hills and general hardship of racing as
possible. Saving his legs for the crucial last two hundred and fifty meters.
For every one of these kilometers, constantly checking he was still on my wheel
and felt ok, keeping him in the top fifteen of the bunch, I had stayed calm. I
was one hundred percent focused on the job in hand, even risking my overall placing in order to allow our fastman to take the last climb that little
bit easier. It was all in for one last hurrar, aiming for another stage win to
add to our success. But now, the talk of one of our lads in in the grass, flicks
a switch inside my head. Something deep down rages and I let the red mist descend, my eyes
searching out the perpetrator:
He is located, via his race number, about five
minutes later. A teammate and I pull alongside him and unleash a barrage of
abuse, of which, ofcourse, he will have understood little of. We do it anyway and despite the language barrier, I am sure he got the message. We tell him
exactly how it is before moving back through the bunch, his reply falling on deaf
and now uninterested ears. We have bigger fish to fry.
It’s a certain type of anger, one I can only conjure up upon seeing a teammate or friend in trouble,
that rises up at times like this. However despite this rage, I really just pity
the guy. His team are known for causing crash after crash, never giving a crap
about anyone else. In contrast, as I look around the bunch, I see friends and
teammates that I hope to race with, and against, for years to come. I see the
respect that we have for eachother, all enduring the same race, regardless of
success or failure. I laugh. Now safely on the otherside of the tunnel, race
over, I can sense the desperation of his act. Without a win or even a podium, with
the weight of his nations cycling heritage weighing down heavy upon his shoulders,
looming on every horizon, he and his team resort to this…
Ten kilometers later and its full gas now. We are coming into a big bunch gallop and whilst chaos
is normal, today is a bit more. It is the last day of a stagerace and everyone knows that without a result
today, they leave empty handed. There is no tomorrow and you can sense it. The earlier
incident is now a forgotten memory, something we will joke about later on the
Plane home. Its time for our sprint train and it’s ready to deliver.
We wait, calm before the storm, jostling for position. Shouts to move left, move
right, keeping us together as a unit. We hold out, looking for the exact point
we had been instructed to light the ignition, a few kilometers from the line.
As we hover, I sense the lads strung out behind me, all sticking to eachother
like glue. I know any second now it’s going to be full gas, all guns blazing.
At this moment a rider from another team passes me far left. He shouts to take his wheel. In an
instant, as I pull our team into his slipstream, it’s time to commit.
Take a step back from the drama of the sprint leadout for a second. Rewind twenty five kilometers
back into a race you have never even seen. We are on a fast and rolling main
road into the finish town, the bunch barrelling along, the race leaders team on
the front driving it to keep him in contention. Rewind back further, past the red-mist,
the expletives, the push. I am at the front, sprinter tucked into my wheel,
just like he has been the rest of the race, when a rider comes up beside me. He says his teammate,
a guy in the top ten on GC, has had a mechanical. He asks politely that we wait
to start our leadout, so his man can get back to the bunch.
It's a long way to go and I know we wont commit until the dying stages so there is little I can do on
that front. Instead I pick my way forward a few places, and pulling up alongside
the yellow jersey tell him of the mechanical. Before I know it the bunch is
ten across the road, the pace slower than it has been all day. Whilst we may
not be pro’s, we no how to race fairly, at times like this atleast.
Fastforward again, in pace, time and tension. Put yourself back into the heart of that GB train. Lungs
screaming, legs giving for all their worth. You have to go until you die, then,
upon death, pull over and slipping back in the bunch, cross your fingers
for a win. But wait, go back further, to the supermarket where we started the
leadout, where the ‘rival’ came past with his offer to help. That's right it’s
the guy with the mechanical. The one who we orchestrated the wait for, now driving it
on the front for us. His rear mech at some ludicrous angle, he still managed to get
the power down and strings the bunch out in the process. He has gratitude in
his actions and contributes hugely to our leadout today.
His job done he peels off and I go next, giving it everything I have left. I pull over almost exactly where I was meant to, my legs blowing up and buckling underneath me. The teams remaining three riders come past me full bore and that's it, the day is done about a kilometre and a half from the end. I slide into the back
half of the bunch, attempting to watch the finish through fifty or so helmets. I stand up out the saddle to get a better view.
Whilst I dont see who wins, I have the feeling that today, regardless of
the result, we struck fear into the opposition, taking them to the sword. Then I
cross the line and the race is done.
Last week I took fifth in the overall classification of the Course De La Paix - The Peace Race. Great Britain took a stage, two seconds and one third place in the process. I thank my teammates and the unspoken
friendships of the peloton.