Imagine for a second that I am a cyclist on the final stage of The Vuelta a
. I have climbed to
the summit of 4,496 metres above sea level, through the high plains of
Altiplano, Lake Titicaca and finally Bolivia . It is the
highest and arguably the most challenging tour on the cycling calendar.
When I first arrived, the locals had told me in hand expressions and broken
English that the summit climb would make my lungs scream. This morning, I
saw Padre Perez anoint every ambulance with holy water. Such is its
intensity, I’m told he does it every morning during the tour. I know the
task ahead, but knowing this did little to settle my nerves. The
apprehension mostly leaves me when I’m on the road. All I can do now is
focus on the game plan and the wheel of the man in front. This
is the final stage. For all the pain a rider has to push through on a
climb at altitude, we always hope the final ascent is the sweetest - that is,
the ascent to a podium finish. La Paz
I was at the centre of the peloton during a slight descent. We were as snug as a jigsaw as we slipped through the humidity. We were very tightly packed; so much so that it felt like a symphony, or the opening and closing of a hand, but I’ve learnt not be distracted by the ostensible togetherness of a leading group. Everyone is hushed, everyone is thinking. Then, suddenly, a slip. Everyone’s worst fear is realised: a water bottle is dropped near the front. I imagine a scattering, like a swathe of starlings who have just been spooked, suddenly out of rhythm with one another. I glimpse it as it falls near the front. The atmosphere within the pack tenses; it is a mass brace of professionals in the acceptance of an impending crash.
Imagine I am this rider watching as the bottle falls in front of me. And you are all of the following.
You are the way the bottle bounces,
and the way the other riders in front of me react to it in my favour,
and the split second gap that allows me to ride around the crush and tangle,
and the patch after patch after patch of ungrazed skin,
and the right, instinctive choice,
and the podium place,
and the lack of fear for next year.