19 Mar, 2015

Discovering the racing snake


Our Italian Cow, Roberto Riccardi, lets us take a peek at his world behind the handlebar. And we thought he was tame …

Nothing excites me quite as much as the adrenaline of racing.

That sweet injection of go-go juice before the wheels turn is the only drug I need, or crave. It’s an opportunity for madmen to tilt towards their imaginary windmills and for the lionhearted dreamers to test their temerity against the pulchritude that is the peloton.

If all has gone to plan, the race is the peak after stretched months of training. Training comprised of coffee before dawn, gluing shredded tyres onto tired wheels, sweat-stained open-prairie rides whipped into submission by crosswinds, and the directing of limbs and bikes into blackened tempests.

The adrenaline begins its sweet release the moment I shovel globules of shammy cream under my bib shorts. It feels like inevitability. Come what may: incremental weather, technical glitches or searing pain, one thing is certain: no shower now until I get to the finish line. Retreat has been removed as an option.

Riders coalesce to the starting pens like flies to flames. Stirrings of fallibility and invincibility mingle with the echoes of the morning announcer who tweaks the emotions with his selection of fiery Rock ’n Roll thumpers.

Some riders know they’ll hold onto the group for as long as they can before muscles implode. Others want to cause as much damage as they can. And a select few - the potential winners - flitter in the holding pen. They reek of victory. Those that will not accept anything other than staying ahead of everyone else at the finish line. Fast finish times be damned! All that matters is that when the finish line appears on the horizon, they are still turning circles. Their eyes brim with confidence knowing they are prepared to do anything – to rip the cranks off – to cross that finish line, stretched out in the middle of the road, in first place.

The self-belief toggles switch on and off triggered by the pulsating doubt percolating within the peloton. What can they control? Who needs to be marked? Is their bike 100%? Does anything matter other than going hard, sucking it up, and going hard again?

With the warming of the sun, the race begins after the one kilometre neutral zone. This solitary kilometre remains the last bastion of sensibility because shortly thereafter, the pace-dial is set to “Suicidal” and the peloton is stretched out like a prisoner on the rack. Shards of riders splinter down the hillside. My body howls at me to stop the madness, but like an addict I promise myself this will get better. It has to get better. Just hold on. For a few minutes more. The pace will settle. By Jove, it has to settle.

Bill Shakespeare’s words, which he put into Julius Caesar’s mouth, scrawl their way through my brain, like acid poured into a ravine. “A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once”.

Elbows fling out from the front riders like sirens beckoning me to my death. Come round me they urge. Do your work.

“You want me to drive this crazy train?” I think between the screams in my head. My legs curse me as I engage them round the front man. It takes five lifetimes to get my wheels in front of his, and for a moment I am in the lead. Thirty, maybe forty riders, are hurting behind me and I am the cause of their pain. The road ahead is clear and tranquil. It ripples and twists through the farmland like a motivational poster.

This moment will not last for very long. Maybe a minute longer. It may never happen again. But for the few seconds that I am in the front, and the chaos is behind me, I feel calm. And valiant. Death is inevitable - sure. Better not to be a coward about it. And so I push on.

Roberto Riccardi

Roberto Riccardi

Journalist |