I often question my passion about cycling. I too have to suffer the indignance of defending my heroes only to be proven wrong again and again by the never ending soap opera that has become professional cycling. There is however, another side to cycling and i am inspired when I see a neighbour who has adapted his bike with high rise handlebars, WELDED on to his flat bars so he can still ride with his new tracheostomy, just as much as i am inspired by the kiddies and fit old dudes in lycra who take to the roads each day.
This failing old body also makes me question my other involvement in the sport, that as a lower grade weekend racer. I had my first ever handicapped road race on the weekend which for a skinny old bloke with no testicles, a bung ear and a marathon runner's back was quite a significant event for me.
I packed the car with the trusty Madone and an assortment of wheels, shoes, helmets and apparel sufficent for any possible weather condition and fashion requirement and headed up for the 'Tour of Riverland', a two day handicapped event held around 200km up the river Murray at a place called Berri. It's a 79km on Saturday and a 37km on Sunday on mainly flat exposed roads through parched orchards and vineyards. The trip up is hardly inspiring as once you pass the rain-shadow of the Adelaide hills it's so dry that even the carrion Crows have left as there's nothing left to die...damn drought.
Berri is however, an oasis and the race started on the banks ot the Murray and for a fleeting moment you could forget the desperation of the area. Saturday's route was a figure eight loop with two out and backs with Berri as start, finish and half way point. The front group were off 22:30 and I was in a group that had 10 minutes on a scratch group that contained some pretty handy guys, some of whom had ridden 100 mile race in 3 hrs 24 last week (so i knew...or hoped they'd be knackered). The plan was no plan. A friend of mine who had actually won this race in '83 sent me a message which read. 'Good luck with the race, be patient and wait for the right move. Get Bobridge's wheel and stick with it although many others will also be trying to do that'. I was handicapped well above my ability....it was afterall my first ever handicap road race so no amount of fitness can surpass the importance of experience. But because I did so well in my first Summer of Cycle racing I guess I was where I had to be in the pecking order. So I wrote back...'Thanks, what does his wheel look like? If it is thin and black then i shall suck until i have no suck left'.
So...on the starting line I was looking for someone who had big eyebrows and strong legs and was obviously Jack Bobridge's brother. I hadn't worked out which was he when they called us to the line so reverted to the no plan, plan!
Fuck!! We were going 40km/hr before I'd even had time to tighten the ergo-ratchet on my shoes and some old dude with big eyebrows and strong legs was shouting instructions for us to get ordered and hammer it. Ahhh! Bobridge senior I thought! I wasn't wearing my cochlear implant so i was oblivious to the dertogatory comments that followed my inability to hold the wheel in front of me. Problem was, the guys that I set off with in chase of people of similar ability to myself were just way too fast for me....and so rather than enjoy the advantages of riding in a bunch I was dropped off early to enjoy the scenery of Mallee bush interspersed with some pretty sad looking fruit orchards and vines on my lonesome. There were only three bunches behind me and I knew all were going to be faster than the one I couldn't keep up with so i settled in for a hard day and went through some old albums and memories from the second drawer of my mind to distract the pain. I hung on with each of the groups that came past me for long enough to get a bit of a hold on what to do next time but as the scratch group caught me before the half way mark and then spat me out the back, I had to pull out and not finish...I was sad. I waited around to watch the finish and the sight of a huge finishing bunch of over 100 riders (which shows that, in general the handicapper got it pretty right despite one or two anomolies...ahem!!), which would have been such a buzz to be in...made me even sadder.
The sadness continued as I listened in, but couldn't really join in the post race story telling....the crashes, the 70km/hr downhill run before the finish, the battles up the hill to hold on. I don't think anyone wanted to hear about my ability to remember the lyrics of a 1980's funk album or the time my mum stroked my head when I'd been a naughty boy (Brothers Johnson, Strawberry Letter 23 by the way), so I sipped my beer and headed back to my motel to freshen up for dinner. I fell asleep before even having a shower watching the footy in my lonely Motel room. I woke up an hour or so into a blissful Tour de France dream and couldn't get off the bed...my whole sacral and coccyx region had spasmed up...fucked up old body!!! Now, after stretching things out enough to venture out, and as I'd forgotten to bring the Heroin, I decided to have another beer or two with dinner to increase the focus on my pathetic-ness and provide a little mental pain relief.
The dining room was another great place to re-live the post race buzz but after my beef lasagne and chips and two servings of sticky date I decided to take the drive back to Motel and chill out and re-focus....and stretch.
The best thing about a weekend like this is meeting new people and catching up with the familiar old one's. The kiddies involved in the sport all seem like a lilkeable bunch. Even the one's that are on the brink of sporting stardom seem well grounded and enjoy the 'tales from the back of the peleton'. We'd heard of Jack Bobridges win in Japan and were all hoping for a successful day for the Aussies in Italy, most have ridden with Cameron Meyer and were living his dream with him. It's great to feel a part of that.
I woke up sore as shit on Sunday morning but I was able to stretch it out whilst enjoying the most beautiful of sunrises over Lake Bonney (and yes...I have the photographic evidence).
I knew one thing though, despite the pain. That I would try harder to remain in my handicap group today even though the race was shorter and would therefore be faster than the pace I couldn't keep up with on the previous day...dig in boy!!!
Dig in I did and despite being well into my red zone I was still hammering it with this, even faster bunch of dudes than the one's i was with yesterday about a third of the way in to the distance and into a strong wind.. Then on a small incline I made the mistake of trying to get out of the seat to pedal and realised i was stuck there...I was in spasm but the legs were still rotating...and only 25 kms left to race, what fun :-) A moment of agony induced weakness and i was spat (no, make that shat) out the back of that group and humming obscure eighties power pop tunes once again. I was yelling, trying to get that last bit of energy out of my body to tag back on but I was at max. Another guy (Lincoln his name, we introduced as our group distanced itself from us) joined me in the lonely mire so we worked together until the next grupetto (that started a minute and a half behind us) caught up...we seemed to spend forever together alone, but the next group was a combination of the four minute and two minute thirty groups who'd joined together. Lincoln and I gutsed it out together and tried not to get in the way of the finely tuned engine as they took their turns and we sucked on the back. Eventually I was able to take my turn in the rotation and we were doing 45 into the wind, it was awesome but my legs were becoming more detatched from my body each turn i took on the front.
We reached the turnaround in Renmark and the pace increased to try and hold off the scratch group who were only about a minute behind us....I couldn't hold on to that increase in pace and my race was over. I didn't even try and tag on to the Scratch group who went by me like a blur even though I was doing over 40 myself with the wind now at my tail. I didn't catch any fellow stragglers up and i don't think there were many behind me but I kept up a good pace till the end and finished with a big smile on me dial. I averaged nearly 40km/hr for the 37 kms of the race....wicked!!! I couldn't get off my bike without help and needed someone to tie my shoelaces for me...why do i do this to myself??
It seems the boys in my original gruppetto held on and were too strong for everyone and took out most of the placings along with some others who's handicaps had been a little kinder than mine...it's all part of the apprenticeship.
As I drove home through the Mallee, I relived the weekend through my pain as I caught up with some ol' Motown tunes turned up to 11 with the sunroof open.
Then I got back to Adelaide and found it had been raining...sometimes God can be so unfair.
It didn't kill me.....this is cycling!!