Tuesday, May 1, 2007
"Man is sometimes extraordinarily, passionately in love with suffering" - F. Dostoevsky
The first cycling video I ever saw was the 1985 Paris Roubaix. I remember it all. The mud. The grit. John Tesh's fruity voice. Most of all though, I remember the grim, fixed gazes of the riders fighting for position amongst the fury of Mother Nature. 1985 was the year that she hurled her worst at the mortal men pedaling ferrous machines across the flatlands of the French countryside. I was awestruck and inspired. Marc Madiot had a weird habit of sticking his tongue out between clenched teeth when he rode balls out. I imagine mud and shit never tasted so good.
While watching the dark figures of the peloton do battle that day, I became acutely aware of how much I was enthralled by the deep suffering etched on their faces. It made my fists ball up and heart race. I never saw a baseball player suffer like that. Or a football player. Or a basketball player. This sport was different. It was self-inflicted inhumanity. And I, the little dweeb that I was, wanted to be a part of it.
I didn't know a damn thing about bikes or racing at the time. I had no historical reference other than those retarded Taco Bell commercials with Greg Lemond. So I read books and magazines and studied photographs. The photos that drew me in were the ones where the riders had the thousand mile (yard, kilometer...whatever) stare, where they were mashing the shit out of their teeth in agony, or gasping for a few more molecules of O2. The crash photos were a guilty pleasure.
Soon after, I was battling my way into the world of bicycle racing. I suffered along with 4's. Then the 3's , and finally, with the 2's, 1's and PROs. My racing memories are filled with oxygen debt and lactic acid burn. I thrived on that throughout my days as a racing cyclist and traded stories with friends and teamates about how much we were either hurt by, or put the hurt on, each other. I finally understood the photographs I studied for so long. I felt like I was part of a warrior family of masochists.
Things have changed alot since I stopped racing. I ride slower and take more time to smell the proverbial roses. I'm more casual in my approach to riding and who I ride with. I am more liable to ignore that twitch in my legs when another rider passes (challenges) me. I suppose these are symptoms of me "maturing" as a cyclist. Whatever it is, I'm cool with it. It's hard to live in the past. And, ultimately, impossible to live up to.
I still miss the deep exhaustion that comes from racing a 100k criterium (about the only racing we had here in the good ol' midwest) and continue to get fired up watching the PROs duke it out in ways that seem to defy human limits. I'm still addicted to the suffering that baptized my virgin soul. Someday my addiction may get the best of me and I'll make good on my yearly warnings and race yet again. But, until then, I'll keep the pilot light in the ol' furnace set to "best efficiency".