The others, 707mmHg. Poland 1.
‘How was your ride?’ reads the message. I pause the podcast I’m listening to as I unscrew the tops of my bottles. The Font’s ‘aigua sense tractar’ dribbles away infront of me. It fills my bottles agonisingly slowly, perhaps aware I have little else to do today but ride my bike.
The hours pass quickly, immersed in the work. Losing five minutes every hour seeking water, the occasional Snickers and a piss, ensures I am still out pedalling away when logically I should be home by now. It doesn’t really work like that out on the bike, as anyone who rides will know. Real time slides, ride time all that really resonates within ones mind. Upon clipping in, our loved ones fade a little into the distance. And I think many secretly cherish this time in the saddle for precisely that reason, it is truly for themselves.
Do you lose that feeling upon the uptake of this time as a job? I don’t know. Personally I’ve kept a hold of it firmly, I want the bike to feel the same as when I was sixteen.
But ironically I hated the question ‘how was your ride’ as a teenager. It felt somehow patronising and loaded. As if I had been out on a town bike enjoying the views and stopping for a picnic at my leisure. It wasn’t a ride, it was training, structured, planned and executed. On occasion I probably took it more seriously than I do now. It was a question often delivered by family members whom I suspected felt I would eventually lose interest and passion, that all the hours out in the rain and cold would never really amount to anything. When they ask now I just laugh. They can enjoy their 9-5 desk toil whilst I explore the world.
‘I’m still out.’ I reply bluntly to my patient and understanding better half. It takes three attempts, the touchscreen cloaked in sweat. My bike computer paused, more ‘real’ seconds disappear in to the abyss. Looking down as I put my phone away, my shorts are stained with salt, the skin on my hands worn away and my legs covered in short blonde stubble. The puncture a few hours ago hasn’t helped my timing. No team cars to be seen here. The rim had been so hot from descending that I’d had to wait a few minutes to take the tyre off. I am seeimingly alone on the mountain.
I’ve been descending lots. And of course going up just as much.
The first three years July was spent in Park City, Utah. It was my first experience of high altitude, quietly preparing for the state’s eponymous race. It is a hard time of year to ride a bike there. The sun so strong up high, the air dry and deathly thin. Then you drop down to Salt Lake City and the temperature soars, slowly baking you from the inside. But it was amazing. I have such great memories from those summers and the gas station raids. Waking early every morning, grateful of a little jet lag as I switched on the television to see the final hour of the tour whilst eating my breakfast. Before saddling up and heading out for the day, full of motivation and the occasional dream.
Back then I was aspiring to be in the race. Dreaming of being a ‘real’ world tour pro. In some sense both are still somewhat true. Then it was a seemingly still quite far-fetched goal. I was riding in professional races, against tour riders, but it still seemed like a world away. Of course now it is a little different. I watch team mates and friends compete, often talking to them via sms after the stage. I mean a mate of mine just won the race, which is pretty insane. But these days I often miss the stages too, European timing not fitting the television slouching in to my training schedule quite so well. I must instead head out myself to work, there is races looming and a job to do.
So what do the others do in July? We watch a fair bit, the same as anyone else, drawn in to the spectacle, the biggest prize and narrative in the sport. But we also toil away, spending hours out on the bike, many of us fighting back to fitness after the first half of our seasons and a well-deserved break. Myself, this year, on the comeback trail from 12 screws, a titanium plate and some wire being attached to my halved right collarbone.
And 707? The approximate barometric pressure (mm of Mercury) at 2000metres above sea level. The height ‘the others’ find themselves living at for any manner of weeks when not selected for the Tour.