My bike and I are on Cycle Super Highway 8. My head is still in the Alps. It’s the same when I’m sat at my desk at work. It hasn’t been easy to fit back into my normal life. Whilst 3 weeks on Froome & Co have moved on to Rio, I’m still looking at my col top photos, planning routes for future col conquering trips (I like the sound of the Circle of Death in the Pyrenees) and my head is still a whirl of cycling cliché ridden flashbacks, flickering like movie reel, playing over again and again.
Our unofficial race from Verbier to Martigny (the centre of the apricot growing universe) with riders attacking off the front at 60kmph only to be pulled back in by the collective will of the rag bag peloton or more likely stopped in their over eager tracks by the damning headwind of truth and fading, retreating back to the safety of that same rag bag peloton; until they’re ready to go for the breakaway again.
The world has an infinite ability to move on. Look at the news. The bloodless coup that saw Cameron’s clique ousted not by the coup leaders but by Teresa May’s puritan posse. Forgotten. Labour leadership battle, hardly newsworthy, not even the intriguing undercurrent of plotting Trotskyists lurking in the shadows. Syria and its refugees a footnote. All overshadowed by the Rio Olympics.
Stevo pulling a neat line of us up Col du Forclaz, Wout Poels like, until the elastic snaps and I fall off the back, legs pounding out squares rather than spinning effortlessly like Christine’s as she floats past. My stomach is cramping with hunger pains, a sure sign of hitting the wall. I’m blowing up, with a low rumble of thunder the skies open bringing refreshing rain, part washing off the ingrained grime and sweat. Forclaz was so bad it was almost good, the climb itself wasn’t too tough but the long grinding road lacks visual drama, making it a mental rather than physical haul to the top. The top is a relief, bathed in sunshine, the storm has passed over in the time it’s taken me to ascend.
The Olympics brings us wall to wall joy, hope and over achievement. A rainbow of colourful drama to banish the recent darkness from our lives. It’s almost as if it planned. The economic fallout from BREXIT, conveniently unreported, what we don’t see can’t hurt us. The American car crash Presidential Election. Actually that’s still receiving of column inches because it’s entertainment: Presidential Election Reality TV.
Descending off Col du Ramaz, a messy thin ribbon of tarmac, rutted, scarred with untidy bitumen repairs mixed in with gravel, greasy white lines and rollercoaster hairpins – steep and banked like a natural velodrome. I’ve no idea how to ride them properly, maybe like a mountain bike berm, that’ll do, not too much speed scrubbed off. Stevo and DrewBear have gone, disappeared down the road, its’s still worth chasing them, attacking out of the hairpins for the hell of it, to do the brutal climb justice, to pay back the legends who inspired in memorial posters on every hairpin on the way up – Coppi, Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault, LeMond, Indurain (no poster for Armstrong, he’s been erased). It’s a good one, with the road as good as closed we can confidently-ish use its whole width, not as good as the descent of Colombier the day before but we’re in the alpine descent sweet shop so no need to compare.
Olympic flavoured Dopamine for the masses. The Developed World masses – investment in Olympic glory does little to alleviate the pain and suffering outsides of the medal table top 20. Even in the top 10 countries what do all these medals achieve? A satisfied population? Unedifying glory on the world stage? It beats going to war. It beats being miserable. State sponsored escapism can be good. Our sportsmen are our modern day warriors, adventurers, heroes. They don’t need to defeat an armada to earn a knighthood. Which is progress of sorts.
On the road between Taninges and Samoens we’re at Tour peloton pace, or close enough. A disciplined pace line hauling 45kph, racing in the suppressive heat of the valley floor, taking our turns on the front, sun burnt noses in the wind, team time trialling to the foot of Col du Joux Plan before it gets closed. That and hunting down coffee and pastries (plural). It’s a brutal pace, we’re being made to work hard in the chain gang. I let them go as we arrive at the outskirts of Samoens, saving myself for the climb, besides I know where the best café in town is. They’ll have to wait for me.
The media decides the news that we see. Have they decided it’s time for us to be happy? Or what are they trying to hide? We should be suspicious of the 4th estate as any of the other 3. What news will shoulder its way back into the limelight when the Olympics has ended. The old stuff or new news?
The crowd are closing in on top of brutal col du Joux Plan, the gap in road no wider than a meter. I’m in the crazy footage you see when the pro riders climb Alpe D’Huez, Ventoux, Galibier and the spectators, close in, over step the mark. I’m not about to hit anyone. This is too exciting and I haven’t even started the descent. Then I do and so does the rain. Lots of rain starts. Thunder too. The road down becomes a river; I tip toe around the hairpins to scared to regret the lost opportunity to push max speed. I can’t see much other than huddled spectators waiting for me to slip/slide off the road. They don’t mean me ill; they’ve just had a long roadside wait of nothing much too see. Satisfied that I’d cashed in a month’s worth of risk cheques in 1 sodden descent I was in the barriers. The barriers that mark the last 3km to the finish line. I almost certainly shouldn’t have been. You’re not allowed to drive your car around an F1 circuit before the race starts. Under the gaze of the massed Tour spectators I don’t know whether to look serious, grin like an idiot or concentrate on not losing it on the still wet corners until crossing the finish line where my grin is unstoppable.
That’s better. My memories have been backed up to the hard drive. Time to sit back and enjoy the Olympics.