You can see the smile playing at the corners of his mouth. Fabian Cancellara has just won Paris-Roubaix. He’s just ridden 254.5 Km including 27 secteurs of cobble stones, known as pave. The pounding of the cobbles causes riders to lose sensation in their hands up past the elbow. The secteurs are rated by difficulty – the intensity of the beating they dish out to the rider. Number 17, the Arenberg Trench, is one of the worst. The cobbles were placed over 200 years ago. Many riders have snapped in this place. It’s the HELL of the NORTH. Only those who are strong in mind and body can hope to compete.
Mental toughness is the soul of cycling. It comes from experience, and experience comes from doing time on the bike in all conditions. It’s not an automatic byproduct of training – but the degree of adversity we welcome through training. Long pulls into the wind, riding in the rain or cold, and hill repeats coax us into the crucible. Demanding conditions bring about a rawness of effort that forges inner strength. Sooner or later a ride will demand more than what we bargained for, or instead of leaving it up to chance, we can choose that day.
This year I didn’t complete the Habitat 500. I rode 360 miles in 5 days with a sinus infection – and then crashed and damaged my bike too much to continue. My benchmark for success was not riding 500 miles, but continuing to ride no matter what. On the fourth day I rode 80 miles in 94 degrees of heat and high humidity: the last 30 miles into a rising 25 mph headwind. As we like to say, the door opened and I went in to see the man with the hammer.
Even as I recover from a concussion and abundant road rash there’s a certain steadiness rising within. A few more strands of adversity have been woven into the fabric of my character. I’m looking forward to 460 miles and 35,000 feet of climbing through the mountains of Colorado with that funny smile playing at the corners of my mouth. I’ve been tested and passed. It’s not that I think the mountains will be easy…just that they are now possible.
Trek’s crash replacement program exchanged my fatally damaged Ruby with a brand-spanking-new black and grey 2013 Madone 5.2, who will hence forth be known as The Black Pearl. The replacement helmet from Bell arrived two days ago.
And I smile the curious grin of a man who’s struck gold.