August 23, 2010

Bite The Dust, Then Reach For The Stars

In the moment everything seems lost. I skidded along the ground, sliding on the tarmac as if I were seated on a sled but with only a thin layer of Lycra between skin and rock. The initial impact was brusque and jarring — similar to what a driver feels when rear-ended by another car. Then came the impacts every professional rider expects: Riders crashed into me from behind, colliding with my torso as if a thug was kicking it with fury. The riders whom I had crashed into, who were on the tarmac before me, would have felt the same impact.

For months, we had all trained meticulously, sacrificed, dieted and focused to be ready. A slick road, a nervous rider, a careless maneuver can end a dozen riders’ goals. Seeing riders fall in front of me, I feared it could be over. The fear is momentary.

On the ground, I feel the burn of torn skin. But before I look at the damage my body has sustained, I am looking for my bike. I get up, realize it is broken, look for the mechanic who is running towards me with my spare bike, adjust my torn jersey and prepare to climb back on. A dozen riders around me do the same.

The team cars have stopped in the middle of the road, unable to pass due to the crash, as the directors and mechanics look through the bodies and bikes to find their riders. A few lay on the ground holding their arms or shoulders while bleeding profusely. Their faces grimace with pain. From past experience I know that I will see most of them back in the peloton in half an hour. Riders will continue with broken, pummeled, bleeding bodies. Their will is too formidable to give. The sacrifice to prepare for the race has been too concentrated to resign to the pain of injury.

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