Some have said that cycling is the hardest sport in the world. Eddy Merckx – the greatest rider of this age – was once quoted as conceding that perhaps boxing was a more demanding sport. No doubt, owing to the fact that there’s no oponent in cycling bent on beating the daylights out of you.
Take the grand tours, for example. The Tour de France has 22 days of racing with only two rest days. The average stage is over 100 miles. The mountain stages add 10-15,000 feet of climbing each day. More than any other sporting discipline, the word “heroic” describes an athlete’s efforts. Except for the one day spring classics, victory requires somewhere between 7 and 22 days of best efforts…in all weather conditions.
So what’s the attraction to long distance cycling? Well…you get to suffer! You spend long hours in constant motion perched on a skinny saddle and put up with joint soreness from road-shock transmitted through the bike frame. The diverse training regimens that address the many facets of the sport are time consuming. Hours of unrelenting headwinds, extremes of weather [including horizontal sleet and hail on one memorable ride], and the gut effort expended in climbing underscore the challenges.
Then there’s the satisfaction of achievement that more than balances the difficulty. 100 mile rides, [called centuries], leave a rider with a sense of having done something unique: far enough out of the norm to be strangely rewarding. The final miles always bring a soul-deep satisfaction. For me, it’s similar to the joy and relief at the end of an extended solo wilderness journey.
There are days when you find the zone – where machine and body work together, and the miles disappear. There are times when the rhythmic pulse of pedaling helps me to pray and reflect for long blocks of time.
Coming to the above photo. Mark Cavendish earned his road rash after being taken out by a wildly out of control Italian rider who cut direcftly across hs line. Cavendish hit the pavement during a full-on sprint, traveling almost 40 mph. The story continues: he was then run over by two other riders in the pack who couldn’t avoid him. He stayed in the race, and three days later won another stage of the Giro d’ Italia.
Heroic? Simply nuts?
The weirdness of it all.