– My beautiful legs -- shaved high, tanned to a beautiful brown char, moisturized then embrocated to a reflective shine damn near as blinding as the ocean just outside my hotel window. Calves lined with sinew down their sides, coiled veins snaking from achilles to back of the knee. They never looked better than in that full-length mirror in Carlsbad, CA -- pity that full-length mirror, victim to God knows how many minutes of me-on-my-tippy-toes, my head swiveled around to admire the view. Mine was a full-on embrace of the local customs, so for three days I stayed aware of how beautiful I looked to me.
Sunglasses set just right. A fresh team kit and a sparkling Dura Ace 7900-equipped bike. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous me -- my keen sense of self-love unbridled for the best conceivable occasion, a weekend of riding in Southern California. This is the land where vanity is a beatitude; where youth and style are the twin pillars of reality; where just as the tide is sure to come and go, it’s always better to look good than to feel good. ‘When in Rome’ is exactly right and I lived up to the task, or at least I tried my best. The truth, though, is that my embrace of the SoCal way turned out to be an imperfect one. On the longest ride of the weekend my true pre-dispositions gave me away.
If you trace the roots of all things PRO -- that is, of all the things I love about this sport -- it always goes back to Belgium. It’s where the sawblades of wind and rain so easily gut you of motivation. It’s where the 1,000-year old roads and the stockpile of future, past, and present talent flog you before destroying you. It’s where the history of the land and the acres of bones buried beneath command all-encompassing introspection -- demanding you to affirm your own means of deliverance, or recognize that none exists at all. The twin pillars of reality there, like anyplace primarily agrarian, is your dual sense of smallness and humility. The fight against futility -- Is that a definition of bike racing, or of life? And futility’s home is most acute in cruel, cruel Belgium.
Belgium is not SoCal, and the opposite is also true. Forget about the weather, the relative beauty of the coastlines, or, most importantly, the dominant mentality found in the citizenry of each place. Instead, you can boil it down to one hard fact: In Belgium public urination is the national pastime. And in SoCal, as I learned somewhere between Camp Pendleton and San Clemente, public urination is cause for outrage.
I’d just spent the previous 45 minutes pulling a gang of locals through rolling hills and into the wind. Then I pulled over to take a roadside piss --an act as integral to training as turning pedals in circles. The ire I aroused in them and the yelling that ensued froze my bladder and filled me with shame. The effort I’d just put out -- less the fact that I dished out the pain as I saw fit, and more that a beautiful rider is never more beautiful then when they’re at the front -- the effort was nullified, my weekend-long over-inflated self-esteem decimated to normal (non-SoCal) proportions.
The locals dressed me down for my ‘disrespect’ long after I pulled my shorts leg back up. The sting lasted long after their lectures were done. Not once, I realized, had I seen somebody pissing on the roadside in the last 3 days there. The parking lot bathrooms we passed had signs that were tiny to the point of illegibility. It’s as though pissing -- the tingle, the right, the bodily requirement -- in its evocation of our unsavory excretory needs, it’s anathema to the SoCal fantasy of endless summer and impeccable perma-youth. The ritual, I realized, was precious to me -- last drips of warm piss falling down my thigh my socks my shoes; the celebration of how the laggards, every last soul behind me on the road that day would ride through my wet marking. Every ride, this great cause of joy. Everywhere, that is, but there. SoCal, never to be mistaken with PROCal.
– As a cyclist, this is the stuff that bad dreams are made out of.
– Tyler Farrar dropped out of the Eneco Tour -- 2nd place in GC, with only a 13km TT to go -- was anyone else bummed out by that? He had a hell of a week there. He must be awfully optimistic about his future prospects to blow off a surefire top-5 overall in one of the bigger weeklong tours on the calendar. Here’s to hoping Tyler’s agent already signed him up somewhere for big bucks and a long term. DNS’ing that late in the game in such a sizeable race is a fine, fine luxury, one that few pros can afford.
– Our favorite pro/writer Michael Barry starts to wrap up his race season.
– ‘How was the food in Belgium?’ Is this the best bike racer blog on all the internet? It’s on the short list for sure.