With the title of team leader comes responsibility.
The season may be a long one goes the adage. Full of important races, so they say. But ultimately there is something, put simply, special, about the World Road Race Championships. It’s the day they crown the heavyweight champion of them all. It is a day to be grasped with both hands, a day you just don't let slip away without one hell of a fight. And with an unfamiliar setting, a move into the espoir and senior ranks, just around the corner, it is a day to remember the rainbow bands are something that will never leave your palmares.
What do you want to be? You want to be the best in the world.
Rainbow jerseys aside, the Championships are our sole opportunity to gain some exposure. Not the ego boosting type, no - more the dream living type. The chance to watch your heroes up close, the guys who, embarrassingly maybe, still grace your bedroom wall. To share a dinner table, an awkward lift, an exchange of words in the corridor, it’s an opportunity to be up close with your goals in life and then show the world how you are going to get there, finally letting the legs do the talking.
What is there to be scared of?
Like that nervewracking first date, filled with unknowns, anything can happen. Worrying about the race is futile, yet as a bike rider you still do it. Luck does exist in Cycling, but the old cliché that you ‘make your own luck’ must have been written for the sport. Today you don't even take the chance to slip out of position, it might be the only opportunity you have and that weighs heavy on your mind. It is one day, one race… When a crazy unnamed rider kicks off infront of you, where you would normally drag him back and bellow in his face, you instead get out the way. Risk adverse, today it isn’t worth your breath.
Talk over. Execution…
The boys are on the front, the race under control: a scenario that feels familiar. My hands resting on the hoods, bony wrists straight out infront, the same view as any other race. As we climb beads of sweat tinkle down the side of my face and into my eyes. I pull my fresh from the packet red mitts off and chuck them over the sponsor-clad barriers one at a time, the feeling of bare hands a sub-conscious reminder that it is nearing kick-off time. This all falls within the plan. All adds up to the perfect race so far…
Onto the next climb and the gradient is steeper now. Chain jumping a little but then suddenly legs are spinning round uncontrollably, looking down and seeing nothing there, climbing off and looking back for the service car, race splitting to shit, running up the climb in cleats, photographers lined beside me, seeing names painted on the tarmac now, sound of lenses snapping away louder, overwhelming thoughts of disgust, anger, immediate bitterness. This isnt familiar. This isnt normal. This wasn't what I planned.
Chain is gone.
So whilst I may attempt to make my own luck, today it all still falls away. Whether it was in my grasp I will never know, the chance, 1in199, doesn't seem to suggest so. But my belief, our belief, says otherwise. I could have atleast had the chance to roll my dice, revel in the pressure, put to use my legs. That will have to wait for another day:
Most of those one hundred and ninety eight fly by as I stand there. I don't really see them. It’s a blur.
Sitting on the tailgate of the team van, head in my hands, I hear every pre-race interview go back around my head. I feel every dream I harbored vanish. Between tears I see failure, in the dirt on my once so promisingly white socks, in the shaking of my legs, in those same hands and wrists that hours earlier were filled with so much promise. Like the mitts, everything was saved for this day. The day you don't let things fall through your hands, the day you take the opportunity to show what you can do has gone…
The wait, standing there on the Via Salviati felt like an age but in reality it was just over a minute, maybe a little more. I chased as hard as I could. For a lap, once underway on the spare, I rode over my limits. The unfamiliar neutral service bike didn't feel strange. There was no time for that in utter concentration. But that little more proved to be just too much. My body failed just within reach of the bunch. Going from being completely out of sight down the finish straight to just within touching distance, I gave it my all. My hopes of personal success left with the chain, but I still try to get back to the bunch to give something to SD. Anything to make the race not completely lost…
But it was. And after these words it is forgotten in all but experience. The winter looms large and it is time to restart the hard work.