It’s 4:45 am. It’s dark. It’s cold. It’s starting to drizzle. The houses you pass are filled with people sleeping. In reality though, they seem much further away.
There are no words that capture this sense of seclusion.
The night sky is vacuous. The void between each streetlight is chilling. This is not normal.
At this time of the night (or morning), you should be in bed or yet to reach it. You should be deep within the confines of REM sleep or perhaps REM music. Yet you find yourself on the bike, utterly alone.
So why on earth would anyone do this?
Well, the answer is obvious; you want too. All cyclists, in fact all athletes, have a fierce motivation within that compels them on the path they follow.
What differentiates cyclists from other athletes, however, is their ability to embrace loneliness and turn solitude into fortitude. The addiction to intense suffering grows and the pleasure of pain only increases as the duration of the ride augments.
By this point it is pretty clear; we’re all completely bonkers.
Indurain? Certainly of questionable sanity.
Armtstrong? Not one speck of normality within him.
Some cyclists are internally driven, they strive to improve continually. To nail the ‘one percenters’. To sleep well, to eat well, to train hard and to remain focused.
These riders arrive at a race fueled by the confidence that they have done everything they possibly could. They banish any nagging doubts about their preparation. It’s about perfecting the process rather than proving yourself through your performance.
Some cyclists are externally driven. They struggle to train properly on their own. They need regular groups or training partners to fire their competitive spirit. It is this incessant desire not just to win, but to unreservedly crush their opponents that makes them such fierce competitors.
They don’t like the way you look. They don’t like the way you ride. They don’t like anything about you. They will not just beat you, they will humiliate you. One famous Texan (ex)cyclist famous for ‘Strong Arming’ his opponents comes to mind. A pathological desire to control and sculpt his own journey fueled his every move. He will remain a case study for generations to come.
Other cyclists need to continually stoke their social lives in order to fully apply themselves on the bike. In an apparent juxtaposition, the night owls and the party animals need to have their all night benders from time to time in order to perform.
Of course, no sleep and a dozen drinks make for a tired cyclist. But cyclists are not logical. Bleary eyes and a BAC still within illegal confines gives some riders the psychological edge.
Then there are some cyclists that are truly anti-social creatures. Long rides, rainy days and prolonged isolation fuel them. It’s this punishment of the two wheel variety that keeps them addicted. Sometimes the addiction, unfortunately, can go too far.
Marco Pantani and Frank Vandenbroucke are prime examples of the internally conflicted beings cyclists can become. Both used performance enhancing and recreational drugs. Both enjoyed the highest of highs. Both suffered the lowest of lows. Both took their own lives.
But don’t let that sombre note push you back into bed when that alarm starts ringing.
Don’t let what gets you fired up, also get you down.
Cyclists are as hard as they come, and we should embrace it. A paradoxical package of shaved legs and an incredible tolerance for suffering. A confusing mix of tight lycra, colour coordination and self-flagellation.
Yeah sure, footy players hit hard. But so does asphalt at 60 km/hr.
Yeah we know, boxers cop a few fists to the jaw. But cyclists do the same. All the while jousting around opposing riders all trying to get to the line first, be it upright or otherwise.
Cyclists will battle cars, climbs, rain and road rash. Sometimes we will battle each other. Sometimes we will battle ourselves.
There is little doubt though, that each battle is worth having. Because if it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth doing.
Cycling is as tough as it gets. Now I challenge you, to convince me otherwise.