While the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, for us road cyclists it is usually not the fastest. @RobsMuir ponders this while riding and retains such complex thinking when done with his ride. That is an enviable skill in itself.
The Line. The right track. To the sprinter it hardly matters, a few technical turns during a maniacal kilometer or two through the centre-ville. The track specialist knows the Line, yet it never varies; it remains fixed on the planks, lap after lap. For the rouleur crossing the Loire Valley, or the of the peleton kicking through the wine grapes in Northern California, or the randonneur facing long rollers across scores of miles, these riders seldom see the Line.
The grimpeur–the escalade spécialiste–studies the Line. So too does the descendeur–the plunging décroissant spécialiste, the madman who plays the piste all the way to the base. It is said few can combine these two specialities successfully. Yet for the true Keeper of the Line, these two skills are but different sides of the same black-gloved fist thrust defiantly high above a reverently-bowed head.
It’s easy to see the sweeping Line in the descent. Here, the Velominatus generally lets G work its impressive magic. The hands gently ride on the drops, the index and middle fingers calmly touch the hair triggers while all around is noise and fury. Precise attention to the Line brings maximum velocities and the reptilian brain slingshots the organism out of each compressible switchback. ‘The Falcon’ knew the Line; admire Paolo Savoldelli as a blur.
For the grimpeur, life is harder. The ascent brings a slow and relentless suffering, and the frontal cortex is free to ponder the moment. Rule #6 to the contrary, the climber is left with but two stark choices; either dwell on the pain, or observe the Line. The former is self-defeating, the latter binds the observer with the unspeaking brain stem. Therein lies strategy.
How best to thread the Line from bottom to top? As with descents, moving to the inside of each turn shortens the distance–a worthwhile endeavor. Those steepest hairpins, though, can kill the cadence when the tarmac climbs above twenty percent. Do you head toward the top of each tight turn, knowing that you’ll need to climb that much anyway? Or should the pedalwan observe the unwritten Rule known by some as the Center Line Rule (CLR)? When the road’s your own, following the Middle Way might lead to enlightenment…
And here’s where a contemplative climber can discern the Line threading somewhere in between. Anticipating the next turn, the grimpeur can see the subtle Line that sweeps first from the bottom, then gradually to the CL, pushing upwards to the top of the curve, and completing each turn near the mid-point again. Imagined targets in the road–a pebble there, a divot farther along, that tar snake up ahead–can bend the Line ever so slightly and bring it more solidly to mind. Each turn brings a slight variation of the superior Line, and–like a mirage–it seems to drift as one approaches. Yet, in the process, this precise observation distracts the conscious mind from the pain that lies too, too near the surface.
The Line becomes the locus of control and the focus of attention. The kilometers melt and the summit nears.