The fear of crashing is there but we can’t let override our pleasure in cycling. @mblume writes of this and underplays his riding the Haute Route. That ride alone should be a long article about abiding Rule V.
Yours in Cycling, Gianni
As a transplanted American living in Europe for 12 years, I have had the great fortune of upgrading my cycling routes from the flattish, potholed, roadkill -filled, tire- puncturing, debris -strewn, pick-up truck infested cycling routes of St. Louis, Missouri to the secure, scenic, smooth as glass roads sitting at the base of the Swiss Alps, as a resident of Zurich, Switzerland.
In my first nine years in the land of Cancellara, I was much more drawn to mountain biking and racing, which probably spoke as much to my post-St. Louis, traumatic road riding recovery period as to the quality of the local singletrack. As a caterpillar undergoes a pupal metamorphosis into a butterfly, I began the transition to a road cyclist. At first the signs of the transformation were slight as I rode my Cippolini/ Gotti era Saeco-Cannondale team replica aluminum frame with Spinergies no more than once a week. Then I began to feel embarrassed about wearing a mountain bike-specific kit while on the road bike, on full display to the perfectly attired, affluent, Swiss chapter of the Velominati. I really began to feel the transformation was inevitable when I began to pay strict attention to my diet and weight. One more agent of change during my transformation to a road cyclist must also be given its proper, but tainted due: the rise of the Pharmstrong dynasty and the increased media attention paid to my countryman and cycling.
Eventually, I upgraded my ride to one signed by Ernesto Colnago. I started riding in road specific gear. I developed PR goals on all the local small Alps and generally began to live the life of an apprentice Velominati. One key item that hindered my transformation to a true amateur Velominati: the fear of crashing. As a youth, I had several bike crashes on the pavement which resulted in losing several teeth and raising my parents’ insurance premiums. In my entire career of road racing in St. Louis (2 races), I had narrowly avoided crashes that sent friends to hospitals and ruined their bikes. So despite my apparent transformation to a road cyclist, I mainly trained in isolation. For the most part I abstained from road bike races except for the occasional Alpine cyclosportive. This strategy allowed me to not be exposed to the quick, jerky reactions and the cacophony of the peloton and the resultant tense shooting fear of crashing that careened around my head like a never ending game of pinball.
Ultimately, a conversation with my Dad changed this. He had just retired and at a toast following an excellent celebratory meal, reflected on his life to that point, “Do not get to my age, look back,and have regrets about not pursuing your passions.” From that moment on I began to pursue more fully my passion of road cycling and racing. Luckily to date, I have been crash free. Although I have witnessed some nasty crashes very near to me in road races that still give me nightmares. I still think the sound of carbon and flesh hitting the pavement is one of the sickest sounds on the planet.
During 2011, I trained more seriously than ever: alpine training camps in Arizona and France, reading and studying the Rules as well as discussing them with mates, with all the seriousness of the debt ceiling debates in the US Congress. All of this devotion was in preparation for the chance to try to have a stage race experience like the Pros.
The race objective was the Haute Route, which covers a seven-stage, 720 kilometer course from Geneva to Nice. The race featured 15 Alpine cols with four mountain-top stage finishes, as well as a 12km mountain time trial on the fearsome Col du Granon. I expected many moments of pain and elation as I tried to drag my 40 year old body over the 17,000 meters of total ascent.
On stage 2, in a packed and nervous peloton at the start of the stage before the Col des Saisies, a bottle was dropped in the group ahead of me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the bottle coming my direction through the air, like a punted football at a fairly high speed. The bottle ended up under my front wheel at an angle that caused me to go skidding along the pavement. I had finally realized the nightmare crash scenario complete with the nasty sounds and pain resulting in road rash. Bruising and blood were resplendent on my entire left side and much more importantly, my pristine Scott Addict steed showed certain minor scars from the battle with the French road.
I am pleased to report that years of training topped off by this past year of paying reverence to Rule V overrode any worries about pain. My main goal was to get back in the race as soon as possible after a mandatory trip to the race ambulance. I finished the stage and the rest of the week’s racing. I have a new respect for the Pros and the level of mental focus required to compete and win Grand Tours and the demands of consecutive days of racing. Crashing is just one part of a wildly complex set of challenges and threats that the Pros and Velominati must live with and overcome.
For all you Velominati out there, find your passion and pursue it.