Right, third lap. This one matters.
Don’t worry about the fast group. They’re gone already, up the road. No contest there. This is about my group. We’ve already dropped… how many?
Who’s still taking turns at the front? Me, and I’m feeling strong. There’s the kid, the teenage son of that guy in the fast group. Knows his stuff, but he’s spindly. Still, keeping up isn’t he?
Pete knows his stuff too. He’s been on wheels longer, ten years longer than me at least. He’s tidy, but if push came to shove, I don’t know if he’ll hang on.
Who else? The guy in brown. He looks good, he’s taking long turns. And the other guy. He’s the one I have my eye on. It’s the club colours. The tattoos on his calf muscles. Why isn’t he in the fast group?
A long drag coming up, lifting up out of the reservoir. It will test them if I lift the pace. Tell me who I’m up against.
Chess, not cycling. Push a little, and see who cracks. I’m a grinder, not a butterfly. I can’t fly up the hills, but I can stay strong over a longer battle.
Yea. Then I’ll jump from two men back, at that road sign near the top. Take them by surprise, see who has the legs to follow me.
Grinding, grinding. Raise the pace again. Who’s still here?
Everyone is still on, but they’re taking shorter turns. The drag is taking a toll. Heavy breathing as riders pass. Hissing: the sound of someone trying to hide how hard they’re working.
How hard I’m making them work.
Raise the pace again. Mr Brown is off. Four left.
Pete, me, the kid and tattoo. Taking turns. Another couple of loops and we’re at the road sign. Raise the pace again, then hide at the back. Chess.
I hit the front again, apply the gas a little more. Not too much. Need to save for the jump. Now ease off, click up gears quietly, get ready.
Where’s my man? No-one’s come through. I’m stuck at the front doing all the work. Keep grinding, pass the road sign. Look behind.
They’re all off the back, a few meters behind. Or I’m off the front. Are they left behind, or not playing my game?
Over the top and back onto the flat. I let them catch up, take a minute to recover. My right. I’m either strong or stupid. We’ll see in another mile. The final hill, the 30s at the end.
We all ease off. But no-one’s chatting now, not like on the first lap when it was all smiles and small talk. Just heads down. Plotting. Placing. Preparing.
Rotate. Easy, save yourself for the 30s. You can’t sprint, you’ll have to shake them down again. Grinder, not butterfly.
Who’s still here? Mr Brown’s still off. Just Pete, that kid, tattoos. And me.
Now, the bottom of the hill. Not steep, just a gradual drag. Curvy. Less than a mile, but lots of blind corners.
Take it in turns, grind them down, then pull away for a gulp of air. Back to the front, a longer pull. A couple of bends done, then it kicks up.
There he goes.
It’s the kid. Of course it’s the kid. Thin, lightweight, butterfly dancing on the pedals as he shoots past. Should I follow?
We round the curve and there’s the kid. Back in the saddle, slowing up. Youthful enthusiasm spent and misjudged. Dancing, versus grinding it out. Now he’s going backwards.
It’s just me, Pete and tattoo. Easy does it, a few more turns, one more bend.
We go together. But tattoo is just quicker. He’s already out the saddle and head down. I slip into his wheel, as the road stretches out straight before us. There are the 30s, but is Pete in my wheel too? No time to look around.
I follow tattoo, spin a few turns, catch my breath then push to go round him. One final surge. We’re level as we hit the signs. It’s his. Half-a-wheel, no more.
The road is too short. Another five meters and it would have been mine. The road is always too short.
We pat each other on the back, shake hands as we slow and pull to the curb. Pete skids up behind, breathing heavily. Then comes the kid, spinning his skinny legs, flapping his butterfly wings. Mr Brown ambles up in his own time. The fast group are already deep in conversation, their race finished five minutes ago.
It’s only a training ride. But we don’t care. This is our rush.
A sunny spring night in early April. Before all this began.
Inspired by The Rider by Tim Krabbe
Another five seizures during the night last night. I update my medical team by email.
My neurologist called, but I missed him. The message says he wants me to come in.
Probably just a drugs change, because these ones aren’t working at all. I’ll try him again tomorrow.