are sometimes smooth and silky, and other times tired and tight.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Road to redemption

Where I am, I don't know, I'll never know, in the silence you don't know, you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on. Samuel Beckett

It began in Pau, legs tired from the previous days ascent of Col d’Aubisque. The climb done in some vain attempt to try and feel what they feel when they work their way north. The supposedly flat roads to Castelsarrasin and Angoulême were anything but. The weather was better than predicted, but far from ideal. It didn’t matter. There was no choice but to ride.

In the beginning you notice almost everything, then it starts to blur, leaving brief snapshots: the graffiti on the campaign posters, a memorial to a member of the resistance on a bridge crossing the Dordogne, pilgrims walking along one of the routes of the Camino de Santiago, a one story building on the side of the road emitting the cackle of what must have been thousands of ducks, soon-to-be fois gras.

Your sense of time is as hazy as the morning landscape. It seems as if the trip to Lourdes, where you superstitiously lit a candle for each stage that you were riding, was months ago, when it was days. By now all you notice is how your legs and lungs react to the grade and quality of the road and the direction of the wind. You are alone with your thoughts, which you try to ignore.

After only four days and a little over 400 kilometers on the bike you wonder how they do it. How do they drag themselves out of bed, eating bowl after bowl of pasta for breakfast, and climbing on a bike for 5-6 plus hours of suffering every day for 3 weeks? Perhaps the more pertinent question is why?

You wish you had an answer. The closest you have ever come to that experience – which is not close at all - was a stage race in Vermont. On the fifth and final day you did everything you could to stay with the peloton, but it was no use. You rode the last 80 kilometers alone, because there was no other choice, there was no “broom wagon” sweep you up, and your ride home was parked at the finish. It didn’t matter if you were the last, the Lanterne Rouge, because you finished.

The mountains are behind them, but the race continues. By the time they leave Pau, they have been on the road for twenty days. For some, the next two days will be their last chance to make their mark. Some will bide their time, waiting for the final time trial. Some will dream of glory on the Champs-Élysées. Some will merely hope to make it to Paris.

By now the road has taken its toll, many have been left behind due to injury, illness, or missing the time cut. The “broom wagon” follows the stragglers, nipping at their heels, while they do everything they can to make it to the finish, because, most likely, they have no choice.

Meanwhile, the rest turn their pedals, their pilgrimage of pain is nearing its conclusion.

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