No technology can increase the energy of the willpower of the rider, nor can it lessen the doubts which sometimes overwhelm him.
– Bernard Hinault
As I swung off the main road, I was momentarily consumed by the simple thrill of my tires leaving the hard tarmac and hitting the rough gravel of the unpaved forest road. It was a brief distraction of the sort that keep me falling in love with the sport over and again; these small thrills fill even an ordinary ride; all you need to do is notice them. Nevertheless, the reality of the climb I was about to start was never far from the surface of my mind. I’d been preparing for it for a few hours; the heat, the gradient, the diabolical nature of the sandy gravel.
We never get used to the pain, it never stops clawing at us. The best we can do is harden our minds against what is to come and endure it, pulling the most from ourselves along the way. Mostly, we learn that pain is quickly forgotten and its sharpness begins to dull the instant we finish the effort. Then we train ourselves to remember that point and use that to resist the urge to stop. The Will is the only weapon we have in this fight: when it is strong, we fly; when it leaves us, we falter.
I’m horribly finicky about my equipment and my kit, that’s not news to anyone who knows me. Everything has to be perfect – always – but extra care is taken to guarantee perfection before an important ride. On a good day, it won’t matter whether the machine is silent or the bar tape clean; those things will never give me good legs. But if the legs are gone and I need to rely even more heavily on my mind, a creaking chain will start the tailspin into psychological collapse. The technology in our equipment can never stoke the fire of our determination but it can choke it off in an instant.
The best gains aren’t found in technology; they are found in building the strength of your Will; the Cave is a lonely place – if you don’t bring it with you, you won’t find it where you’re going. No one compels us to ride hard, to suffer. No one even asks us to. The choice to suffer is ours alone. The Will, it comes only from within.