Riding as if pushed by the very hand of Merckx

Vlaams Orkest: Tegenwind

Vlaams Orkest: Tegenwind

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Any return from time off the bike is always met with a peculiar mixture of anticipation and apprehension. I will be excited to return to the bike, but on some level I’ve become accustomed to not getting on my bike every day. Not riding is easy, and we are creatures of inertia – once the rhythm of the daily ride is broken, it takes a push to slip back into the current that carries us to fitness.

I will be apprehensive to discover how much of my form has left me; I was strong before the break, and some of that strength will have left me. I can always hurt my legs, if for no other reason than to prove to myself that I still can. But pain feels different depending on which side of it you’re standing; in fitness, suffering feels farther removed, as if we somehow control the pain. When fitness has deserted us, however, we are at its mercy; we are in a hole from which the only escape lies through withstanding the suffering being heaped down upon us in shovel loads from above.

After a week off the bike to rest a  knee annoyance incurred during my Festum Prophetae Hour ride, I found myself riding in the early morning rain. This was a wispy rain rain of lukewarm water, the kind of rain we normally find in a Seattle summer. I chose a route with few climbs, so I might not force my legs. The route started with a dozen or so kilometers of gradually rising road before dropping into a valley where the road pitches steeply upward for a short while before continuing on its way down to the seaside. My legs felt magical on the climb; I could push on them and the bike would go. This is why I love Cycling; how can something so rich and complex be so elemental – all we need do is push on the pedals.

I fell into a beautiful rhythm as I rode easily along the twisting road, unusually aware of how good I felt. There must be a tailwind, I thought to myself, as I rose out of the saddle to push over a small rise in the road. Not long after, I reached the turn-around point and found unequivocally that indeed there had been a tailwind. I lowered my chin in resignation to the work that lay ahead to return home. It occurred to me that this, a headwind, is the only kind of wind they have in Flanders.

On most days, I would fixate on the speed that this headwind was wringing from my machine; the most frustrating thing about a headwind is the small return in speed for the amount of pressure in the legs and lungs. But today, I had no designs on speed. I had no designs on returning home at a certain time, for that matter. There was only me and the bike. It is only on rides like these that we may truly appreciate the gifts of dimension that La Vie Velominatus can provide when we are willing to receive them.

Riding into a headwind, with the air swirling about your head and rustling the nearby forest and meadows, forms a lovely orchestra of woods, reeds, and winds. If it wasn’t normally so frustrating, it might be my favorite kind of riding.

Vive la Vie Velominatus.

// La Vie Velominatus

  1. Praises be to Merckx! When you click on a link, it opens in another tab as God and Tim Berners-Lee intended! None of that silly window in a window in a window Inception business.

    Solid work, Frank!

  2. Yes “Dutch Hills” just about sums up my feelings of head winds on the flat.  I had a conversation with my riding partner this morning about how I now prefer climbing a hill than being out in the wind.  I am examining my postion on the bike and how it can be tweaked to improve my aerodynamics.

    Maybe I just need to embrace the wind, ignore the Second Arrow that I share with @PeakInTwoYears, and meditate on Rule V.

  3. @Al__S

    Terrain around here can well be described as “dutch”- flat, with rivers higher than the fields.

    Sounds like you live in Cambridgeshire.

  4. @frank Headwinds are a variation on Rule #10 – You may go slower but you will get stronger.

  5. @Chris and the stronger you become the faster you can go and time with a tailwind necessarily becomes LESS and time with a headwind becomes greater.  If I knew what a dichotomy was, that’s what I’d call it.

  6. Loving “Dutch Hills”.  I can deal with headwinds, but it’s when they come with rain that my life gets miserable.  Applying Rule #9 is a given when you live in the UK, but it can be grim at times. Great piece Frank.

  7. @trenchfoot This is getting confusing, first we had @frank’s moving clock/stationary clock timeslip bollocks, his thoughts on time zone quantum mathematics and @chrisO on multi dimensional warp travel, now when we get stronger and therefore faster it take us longer to ride home into a head wind.

    I do know that my cycling sensei told me to start a ride into a headwind as that might give you a chance of finishing with a tailwind.

  8. Me and a riding buddy decided that must be the origin of the term “second wind” that moment when you turn round and suddenly it’s so eeeeeeeasy….  Those of us in Perth know, it’s always a headwind. And it’s amazing how it swings round to face you all the time…

  9. One of my own personal rules: When there is a wind available one must always start the ride with it at your back. Races are never easy at the end, and neither should your training rides be.

  10. Lovely article. I did a recovery ride last night and resolved something afterwards: when I do such a ride I’m going to tape over the speed reading on my computer. Those damn numbers just tease you and encourage you to push it and therefore defeat the purpose of the ride.

  11. This story strikes me on two fronts: I’m a couple of years past the half century mark and complacence this past winter pushed me a couple of pounds over the tenth of a ton mark.  In an effort to get back down to fighting weight (I’m down 7kg) and regain the lost fitness I’ve been putting in lots of base miles.  Doing what I call “daily doubles” – an hour ride before work in the morning and 60-90 minutes after work at least three days a week.  While not super high intensity the high volume (for me) recently caught up with me and I decided a proper rest was in order.  I took an entire week off the bike.  The first ride after the rest was a casual 65k.  The ride into work the next morning brought heavy legs again.  A day off.  And then magic.  All the miles, all the hanging on for dear life at the Wednesday Night Worlds, finally kicked in.  Pushing the usual headwind in the morning is now a little less daunting.  Now the fight is against the discipline of staying in (self)prescribed cadence/HR zones when the legs are saying “we can go faster”.

    The second front that Frank’s story touched on is what I recently called (on Strava) the “Glorious Tailwind”.  Friday past, the VMH and I spent the night with some friends that live in town that is 90km upwind from us.  Looking at the forecast winds for Saturday morning I decided to take Bike #1 with me and head out first thing in the morning for home.  I must say that it was pretty rewarding to ride 90k solo and finish up with a 35kph+ average speed.  Glorious Tailwind, O’ How I Love Thee.  It seems that in his great wisdom Merckx is a cruel taskmaster that forces us to put our nose into the wind much more often than not.  Thankfully, he consoles us with the notion that it makes us stronger (Rule #10).  But he is also gracious and Merckxiful and every once in a while he peels back the curtain to give us a glimpse of what riding in heaven will be like.

  12. I’ve been off the bike for 8 days now due to a nagging, swollen achilles tendon from my wont of crushing anything that goes uphill. Apparently 45 years of abuse from cycling, climbing and to a lesser extent, skiing have taken their toll.

    That said, it’s feeling a bit better, so tomorrow back at it. It is the middle of “the season” after all, and winter is when you’re supposed to heal.

    I look forward to riding into the “wind tunnel” that is the Columbia River Gorge once more. If you time it just right, you can get a solid headwind in both directions of the out n back, tho I like going out fast with the wind at my back, and cursing Merckx every last K on the way home.

  13. @PeakInTwoYears

    To hear an orchestra in a headwind. One more way in which the practice of cycling asks us to be here now, to practice mindfulness and accept what’s happening in this moment now. I say this in real humility and cop to my habitual deep irritation at being caught out in the rain today. Again. I hate the rain. And my hatred of it is the second arrow.

    Keepers Tour was into a block headwind for 9 days, on cobbles and bergs. You learn to find the good in something or you go crazy.

    But headwinds infuriate me for the most part; its the one thing in Cycling that I really don’t enjoy doing. But, as some have already pointed out, could be thought of as a long climb, so maybe I just need to listen for the orchestra more.

  14. @freddy

    Cycling loves paradoxes. The interplay of polarities form a whole: left/right, push/pull, up/down, inhale/exhale, exertion/rest. Mysteriously, they do not negate each other. They are interlocked. Cooperative. Inward polarities unify pain and healing. Outward polarities build on solitude and community. And upward polarities turn suffering to glory.

    Beautiful. You must have been the perfectly hydrated when you wrote that.

  15. @itburns

    Had really strong headwinds on parts of the ride today. I think of them as Dutch Hills and then don’t mind the added effort.

    There’s a reason the Dutch are good climbers.

  16. I’m in a kinda messy situation as well. Since a week I’ve been pestered by cough. It isn’t just an ordinary cough though. It’s a cough so deep you could think your chest starts where your ass ends! Because of that I couldn’t train for 3 days and because of my business trip I won’t be able to train another eight…

  17. I have heard of these magical winds that push you from behind, where do I find these winds? They do not exist on on Maui. It has always been headwind out and headwind back. I have named these winds the ” Invisible Hill “.

  18. @il ciclista medio

    I can’t recall riding into a headwind up a mountain though…….may be I was too knackered to notice?

    Try riding Haleakala. Headwind in both directions near the top because it swirls around up there. That, and all along the shoulder on the way up you have a strong headwind. So much wind, in fact, that I think a 30-40mm rim would be advantageous over a low-profile climbing wheel.

  19. @Chris

    I do know that my cycling sensei told me to start a ride into a headwind as that might give you a chance of finishing with a tailwind.

    The Portland Cogal went up the Hood river valley into a block headwind. We were sprinting on the front doing something like 20kph. On the way back, we were spinning out our top gear. It was like legal EPO.

    @Chris Jennings

    One of my own personal rules: When there is a wind available one must always start the ride with it at your back. Races are never easy at the end, and neither should your training rides be.

    I like this.

  20. @wiscot

    Lovely article. I did a recovery ride last night and resolved something afterwards: when I do such a ride I’m going to tape over the speed reading on my computer. Those damn numbers just tease you and encourage you to push it and therefore defeat the purpose of the ride.

    I was having a chat about this yesterday; Strava has so many cool aspects to it, but the segments etc make it hard to stick to a training plan.

    I’ve been riding with a V-Meter since the fall and love it. I go back and forth on having a computer and it comes and goes – numbers are fun and data-based training can be super helpful. But invariably, I wind up having more fun without a computer.

    If you know your body, it makes it easier to stick to your training plans without the numbers teasing you all the time.

  21. @frank Yeah, I don’t “train” as I don’t race, but I do get a bit fixated on distance and average speed. I don’t do strava as I’m not that bothered by that level of detail and I’m a complete dunce with computers. I think a bit of black tape over the speed read-out will do me just fine. I did about 45 kms last night and it was just enough to hit the spot without going overboard.

  22. @frank Nice, headwind or tailwind, it doesn’t make much difference in terms of the vvatts that you’re laying down but there’s something special about burying yourself at high speed. That feeling of being just a little bit closer to doing it like the pros. It doesn’t seems to happen often at all but it’s a guilty pleasure to be savoured 

    There are only two ways in and out of our village so I tend to finish from the same direction which often leaves me struggling against something between a crosswind and a headwind until a t junction that turns back on itself slightly kilometre out at which point it’ll be a tailwind home. When it’s windy (all year so far) it’s like easing a close hauled racing yacht on to a broad reach, there’s a sudden silence as the wind stops whistling past your ears, your balance changes and then you’re off.

  23. @frank

    @itburns

    Had really strong headwinds on parts of the ride today. I think of them as Dutch Hills and then don’t mind the added effort.

    There’s a reason the Dutch are good climbers.

    Yep, that is the video that inspired the term.

  24. This may not be ‘Dutch Hills’ but…was out for my regular training ride when after about 10k I really felt like the effort increased. I thought maybe I was just tired and kept going.  All the while thinking, “Is this it?  Has my fitness left for good?'”  I continued on and eventually came to a downhill at which point my bike started to make a noise.  I pulled over and discovered that my back brake had been rubbing!! After adjusting I surged up a hill like a new man. Duh!

  25. Well, that’s that then, now i’ll have to get back on the bike then, going to be hard, 5 weeks off now, lots of which was spent lying down or sleeping. Better take it easy!

    on the headwind issue it depends on my mood, if I’m feeling keen I go for headwind on the way home. But if you have a tail wind you should just go as hard at it anyway.

  26. @the-farmer

    Well, that’s that then, now i’ll have to get back on the bike then, going to be hard, 5 weeks off now, lots of which was spent lying down or sleeping. Better take it easy!

    on the headwind issue it depends on my mood, if I’m feeling keen I go for headwind on the way home. But if you have a tail wind you should just go as hard at it anyway.

    glad to hear you are back in the saddle again, perhaps we can arrange a mini cogal to make up for the Desparate Dan event.

  27. @frank

    There’s a reason the Dutch are good climbers.

    This is rather good.

  28. @The Pressure

    This may not be ‘Dutch Hills’ but…was out for my regular training ride when after about 10k I really felt like the effort increased. I thought maybe I was just tired and kept going. All the while thinking, “Is this it? Has my fitness left for good?'” I continued on and eventually came to a downhill at which point my bike started to make a noise. I pulled over and discovered that my back brake had been rubbing!! After adjusting I surged up a hill like a new man. Duh!

    I think Pharmstrong was so doped in 2003 that he rode all of l’Alpe with a rubbing brakepad. And Luz Ardiden with a broken chainstay.

    Moron.

    Not you. Pharmy.

  29. @strathlubnaig

    perhaps we can arrange a mini cogal to make up for the Desparate Dan event.

    par c’que c’est quoi? That sounds golden.

  30. @frank

    @strathlubnaig

    perhaps we can arrange a mini cogal to make up for the Desparate Dan event.

    par c’que c’est quoi? That sounds golden.

    @the-farmer sadly missed out on the Dundee McCogal II recently due to a wee health issue, so we will try to get a few lads together to make up the lost km. Desperate Dan …. see pic below…his statue is in Dundee.

  31. Time off the bike? What have you been doing, writing a book?

  32. @strathlubnaig

    @frank

    @strathlubnaig

    perhaps we can arrange a mini cogal to make up for the Desparate Dan event.

    par c’que c’est quoi? That sounds golden.

    @the-farmer sadly missed out on the Dundee McCogal II recently due to a wee health issue, so we will try to get a few lads together to make up the lost km. Desperate Dan …. see pic below…his statue is in Dundee.

    Mmm – cow pie…

  33. @PeakInTwoYears

    @frank

    There’s a reason the Dutch are good climbers.

    This is rather good.

    yes, very good….in mute though

  34. @frank

    @il ciclista medio

    I can’t recall riding into a headwind up a mountain though…….may be I was too knackered to notice?

    Try riding Haleakala. Headwind in both directions near the top because it swirls around up there. That, and all along the shoulder on the way up you have a strong headwind. So much wind, in fact, that I think a 30-40mm rim would be advantageous over a low-profile climbing wheel.

    I hadn’t considered (nor experienced) being totally exposed at the top! So the deeper rim would provide a sail like effect or more stability?

  35. @strathlubnaig

    @frank

    @strathlubnaig

    perhaps we can arrange a mini cogal to make up for the Desparate Dan event.

    par c’que c’est quoi? That sounds golden.

    @the-farmer sadly missed out on the Dundee McCogal II recently due to a wee health issue, so we will try to get a few lads together to make up the lost km. Desperate Dan …. see pic below…his statue is in Dundee.

    Damn, we were in Dundee and didn’t stop at the statue for a photo op? I bet it was just round the corner from the espresso stop   too. Here on the coast it’s usually quite breezy and the prevailing winds mean that most rides start with an uphill headwind but the homeward run can make you feel like Indurain.

    The wind is a reason why I don’t do Strava, unless the segment is a loop then surely you just wait for a gale force tailwind and give it your all. Met Office EPO.

  36. @strathlubnaig

    Is that the Engine? Or are most Scots built that way?

  37. @frank

    @strathlubnaig

    Is that the Engine? Or are most Scots built that way?

    I don’t usually wear spurs…

  38. For the record Mr Dan is considered a bit of a climbing Guru being blessed with such a svelte Scottish physic. Being from the East there are few hills, he has to journey over here to the West to ply his gift.

  39. @il ciclista medio

    @frank

    @il ciclista medio

    I can’t recall riding into a headwind up a mountain though…….may be I was too knackered to notice?

    Try riding Haleakala. Headwind in both directions near the top because it swirls around up there. That, and all along the shoulder on the way up you have a strong headwind. So much wind, in fact, that I think a 30-40mm rim would be advantageous over a low-profile climbing wheel.

    I hadn’t considered (nor experienced) being totally exposed at the top! So the deeper rim would provide a sail like effect or more stability?

    It feels like a headwind in every direction, especially on the way up the shoulder to the exposed section up the top. Seems a semi-deep rim would give an aero benefit. But who knows!

  40. @strathlubnaig

    @frank

    @strathlubnaig

    perhaps we can arrange a mini cogal to make up for the Desparate Dan event.

    par c’que c’est quoi? That sounds golden.

    @the-farmer sadly missed out on the Dundee McCogal II recently due to a wee health issue, so we will try to get a few lads together to make up the lost km. Desperate Dan …. see pic below…his statue is in Dundee.

    That’s cool to get a statue of Desperate Dan. I know there’s a Lobey Dosser wan in Glasgow tae. In Milwaukee they got a bronze Fonz  FFS

  41. a picture of said Lobey Dosser in the background  with Cav on his way to the Champs jersey on sunday

  42. @Cyclops

    This story strikes me on two fronts: I’m a couple of years past the half century mark and complacence this past winter pushed me a couple of pounds over the tenth of a ton mark. In an effort to get back down to fighting weight (I’m down 7kg) and regain the lost fitness I’ve been putting in lots of base miles. Doing what I call “daily doubles” – an hour ride before work in the morning and 60-90 minutes after work at least three days a week. While not super high intensity the high volume (for me) recently caught up with me and I decided a proper rest was in order. I took an entire week off the bike. The first ride after the rest was a casual 65k. The ride into work the next morning brought heavy legs again. A day off. And then magic. All the miles, all the hanging on for dear life at the Wednesday Night Worlds, finally kicked in. Pushing the usual headwind in the morning is now a little less daunting. Now the fight is against the discipline of staying in (self)prescribed cadence/HR zones when the legs are saying “we can go faster”.

    The second front that Frank’s story touched on is what I recently called (on Strava) the “Glorious Tailwind”. Friday past, the VMH and I spent the night with some friends that live in town that is 90km upwind from us. Looking at the forecast winds for Saturday morning I decided to take Bike #1 with me and head out first thing in the morning for home. I must say that it was pretty rewarding to ride 90k solo and finish up with a 35kph+ average speed. Glorious Tailwind, O’ How I Love Thee. It seems that in his great wisdom Merckx is a cruel taskmaster that forces us to put our nose into the wind much more often than not. Thankfully, he consoles us with the notion that it makes us stronger (Rule #10). But he is also gracious and Merckxiful and every once in a while he peels back the curtain to give us a glimpse of what riding in heaven will be like.

    The cruel taskmaster. This has been an early season of wind, cold and rain N Minnesota. It hit 80 yesterday, and I thought I was going to melt. The locals and I are scratching our heads – because the winds this year really mess with the cyclist. Pushy, grabby, and affliction from almost every direction. 170 Km ride on the south shore of Lake Superior on Saturday: 48 degrees, fog, spitting rain…and the infernal wind forced my pace to a mediocre 27 Kph. Rule #5, Rule #6 and Rule #9 in one great big helping. But days like this go into the bank…they accumulate with interest. The pay off is reaching deep and actually finding something there later in the season. That’s when we find something special and give thanks for all the hard days in the bank.

  43. @halfwheel

    a picture of said Lobey Dosser in the background with Cav on his way to the Champs jersey on sunday

    Thanks for posting! I think from now on, Cav should be known as wee Lobey. Small, cheeky, and comes through at the end. Cav’s the Wee Boy!

  44. I remember a few years ago during a ride across northern france heading for Paris having a headwind for a whole days riding.  It was consistent and steady and bizarrely I lost myself in my own reverie, the wind faded in my mind and I undertook The Work with something akin to peace in my soul.  A day that started with perceived misery, turned in to one of the most rewarding rides I have ever had…

  45. @halfwheel

    a picture of said Lobey Dosser in the background with Cav on his way to the Champs jersey on sunday

    The guns are looking mean there…

  46. I’m always amazed at how even a short time off the bike allows fear to creep in – “Do I even know how to ride a bike anymore? I guess. But can I do it well? What about sitting in a paceline, I must have forgotten that?”

    Yup, it’s usually good to take breaks once and awhile. If timed well I jump back on and the legs feel great, with just the ability to snap them into high tempos diminished. Nothing that can’t be recovered in a short window of a few solid rides. I’ve been doing mostly short rides lately, just to get out and enjoy a cruise, as I’m focussed on other matters. I rode solo Friday and Saturday, then with two mates on Sunday and the pace was high. Monday night I did some CX riding and when I stood I realized my legs were pretty sore. What’s that? Oh, I guess hard riding will do that, eh.

    For as much as I’d like to still have a few hours a day to ride, I’m still constantly appreciative that I can ride frequently, still have decent form, live close to lots of great riding, also have trails for CX riding down the block, and oh yeah, have a bunch o’ nice bikes to choose from on any day. Not much to be upset about.

    Nice one, Frank!

  47. @Deakus

    I remember a few years ago during a ride across northern france heading for Paris having a headwind for a whole days riding. It was consistent and steady and bizarrely I lost myself in my own reverie, the wind faded in my mind and I undertook The Work with something akin to peace in my soul. A day that started with perceived misery, turned in to one of the most rewarding rides I have ever had…

    That’s fantastic stuff, mate. Those moments, when you find them, are some of the most amazing in life. And they never come without first fighting through some kind of adversity.

  48. @Ron

    A rest at the right time can actually strengthen the guns. If you’re getting that soreness after a few days, take two off and try again on the third. You’ll crush it!

  49. @halfwheel

    a picture of said Lobey Dosser in the background with Cav on his way to the Champs jersey on sunday

    Boy, Cav is a short little sport, isn’t he? And thick. He looks like a bratwurst with bratwurst legs. Much like my little pit puppy.

  50. @frank much like the pup, he’s not averse to throwing a headbutt or two either…

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