speed is similar to a family funeral or wedding; all relative. we are disparate inhabitants of the same world, trying hard to remain insouciant in such matters, pretending not to train in the same way that we told our schoolday peers that we never studied for exams. the blame currently falls mostly upon television coverage of world-tour races, whereas historically it would have been via inscrutable race reports in a language not our own. a single black and white photograph would have doubtless reinforced that which we failed to comprehen
this relativity, however, becomes a problem of regionality or domicile. i was recently a guest on a resolutely ‘non-training’ venture to european parts; southern france if you wish to put a face on it, and while i had little allusion to leading the randomly selected peloton, i did expect to give a good account of myself. after all, my daily writings surely have to be founded upon something concrete? you can but imagine my sense of confoundment on discovering that not only was i not leading the peloton, i was struggling to keep it in sight.
i am, perhaps, a poor example of an approach to relative comparison. in the same way that the island’s pipe band has had to recruit more non-islanders than those resident in order to make their way up the false road to success, a local peloton of rarely more than four, gives distorted hope to the virtuous. though all but devoid of challenging climbs, those that do exist on a flat island in the atlantic have allowed a misplaced zeal for robert millar-like ascending. in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
i should, of course, have seen it coming. previous attempts at international riding ought to have provided ample evidence. my first two forays into french france were undertaken in the slowest of four individual, yet substantially constituted groups. in hindsight, reaching the top first with a self-satisfied grin quite probably failed to demonstrate an ability that i never really had. it seems that a marco pantani poster on the back of the office door is a portent of very little.
and both my ventures across the pond, ostensibly to ingratiate myself with those immensely approachable portlanders, should have offered obvious clues. in fact, they advertised those clues on a larger scale than on any previous occasion, but i had the trump card of imperious jet-lag to explain away those black spots in front of my (very) slowly climbing eyes.
as age takes its inevitable toll, i am resigned to the fact that reading richard moore’s ‘in search of robert millar’ is probably the only training to which i am likely to accede. the dutch may claim that endless riding into a gale-force headwind is an appropriate substitute, and i have convinced myself that they are indubitably correct, for i have headwinds that i haven’t used yet. there are sparks of apparently increased velocity, but on a bicycle devoid of any measuring data, that could be just wishful thinking.
it is euphemistically referred to as ‘character-building’.
however, if i might invite you to revisit my cycling of the early 1990s, when skinny tyres and bendy bars had yet to enter my personal lexicon, i was surely far ahead of my time. in recent years there have been many ‘slow’ movements brought to light, ranging from ‘slow’ food, all the way to ‘slow’ reading. i may have been in the vanguard all those years ago, for i was immeasurably content to ride marginally above snail’s pace and truly thought little of it. there may have been modest mocking from my fellow pelotonese, but it was like water off a rapha hardshell.
those who race with a will to win will pay little heed to my words, and that is exactly how it should be. but tell me who seems the more foolish now? in that brief expedition to southern france, who spent longer on the bike and saw more of the surrounding scenery? and by extrapolation, who got more than their money’s worth?
i don’t look so foolish now, do i?
Brian Palmer is the man behind the washing machine post, a splendid cycling blog written from the whisky-soaked Scottish island of Islay. In reverence to Brian’s “continuing disagreement” with capital letters, we leave his poetic prose untouched. Why not follow him on Twitter.
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