It’s mornings like this that convince me that surely we have a benevolent, and loving God. Well, mornings like this and Nutella. Only a loving God could give us Nutella.
There is no sweeter feeling than the fatigue you feel the morning after a big ride. Yesterday was the annual Iron Crotch Ride in Western Wisconsin, hosted by County Cycles of Roseville. A 60 mile loop from Houlton to Osceola and back, it’s been held the first weekend in May for 25 years. As anyone who lives here knows, the first weekend in May can be snowing, or 80 degrees. This year we lucked into a mild 58 degrees, and light winds. The nicest weather I’ve ever had in my 3 times of doing this ride. Last year it was 33 degrees, and windy.
I slept for krep the night before the ride, as big thunderstorms blew through town, and the dogs were restless. I kept looking at the clock, wondering if it would be worth driving the half hour just to be rained out. A little rain doesn’t bother me, but the lightning, and torrential downpours that we had would make it a no go. Finally at 5:30am, I got up and checked the weather radar. As if on cue, the big green and red blobs of rain were sliding out of the area, promising a nice 6 hour window of dry weather.
We set off on wet roads at 8:30 am, and two punctures later, rolled into Osceola for a cup of coffee at the Coffee Connection. That’s the downside to riding on wet roads. By the time we turned south again the roads had dried, and the winds had shifted, denying us the pleasure of the usual headwind for the last 30 miles. Surely the cycling gods were smiling on us. Several cookies, and water bottles later, we were packing up our worm encrusted bikes into the back of our cars, and crossing the St. Croix back in Stillwater, MN for a celebratory beer at Brines. (The unofficial beer of the 2012 Ironcrotch was Farm Girl Saison. Highly recommended.)
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always had a weakness for falling in love with places. Perhaps it was the excessive amount of time I spent being carted around in the front seat of a Chrysler to sibling’s parades, and sporting events. Or maybe it was the interminable summer vacations to Florida in un-air conditioned automobiles with AM radio. Whatever the reason, I have always had a weakness for day dreaming about life in places seen out the window of a car. Each town we passed, each farm, each house on a hillside, I would lose myself in daydreams of what it would be like to live there. This affliction continued when I left Western New York behind and took to the road. Criss-crossing the country I would search for that one perfect place that would demand I stop and call it home. Of course, no place was ever alluring enough to overcome my desire to see what was over the next hill, or around the next bend. Life is like that.
Thankfully, in Mrs. 20 Prospect I found a reason to stop circling the country and plant roots. If not for her I’d still be wandering. And yet, even though I have lived in one place for 17 years now, I still can’t help but daydream when I’m traveling. As much as Minnesota is my home, there’s nothing about our little inner ring suburb, or 50’s Rambler that convinces me that this is the place where I want to grow old and die. If only I had a million lives to try out a million different places. I like to imagine that when you are dead your soul gets to go around and hang out in all the places you never got to when you were alive.
Last weekend we visited my In Laws in Eau Claire, a small city in a big landscape. One of those places that I can’t help but be drawn to. I brought along Isabella Cuevas, as I like to do when the weather is nice, and slipped out of town for a 3 hour ride through the hills and valleys of Eau Claire, and Trempeleau counties. Without a doubt, this is one of my favorite places in all the earth to ride a bicycle. Perhaps it reminds me of Western New York, or maybe East Flanders. The rolling hills, and farmlands, interspersed with remnants of the real “Big Woods” of Laura Ingalls Wilder fame, are covered with small two lane farm roads, and dairy farms. Each ridge promises a view, each valley a twisting descent. The farm roads don’t adhere to any modern road building standard, and the grades can be short, steep, and leg snapping. Perfect for cycling.
I rode for 3 hours, and had I not been exhausted, I could have rode for another 3. Each crossroad called for exploration, and it hurt to have to adhere to a schedule, and route. Every time I spend a weekend doing this, I end up going online and looking at homes and property in the area, which only serves to torture me more. Some people dream of retiring to malarial swamps in Florida, or sun blasted desert in Arizona. I dream of retiring to a little house on a ridge-top looking out over a big river., with enough land around me to make neighbors a theoretical concept. It’s the hermit in me that dreams of a life of walking the dogs in the woods, riding my bike in the hills, and watching the sunset from my porch.
I don’t know why I do this to myself. I have no intention of moving until the kids are out of high school, and I am less dependent on the financial benevolence of my dark corporate overlords. Yet I find myself continually searching jobs listings and property listings in the hope that I find that one perfect place that was made for me, where I can eek out a living teaching at a small college, and spend my days reading and writing. Whenever I get caught in that funk, the only thing I can do is tell myself, “10 more years. Keep cashing those checks and squirreling money away.” And keep on riding. Always keep on riding.
When you live in a place where its not uncommon to have snow in April, you develop a real appreciation for Spring. And when Spring comes as early, and as gently as it has this year, you don’t even mind a little rain.
In my never ending quest to get back into shape I have vowed to ride as often as possible. While fitness in its own right is a worthy pursuit, I confess my real reason is vanity. I’m tired of looking at my jowly middle aged face in the mirror. I can blame it on my Germanic ancestors. Once the men in our family hit forty, their chin starts to swell until they look like Sargent Schultz. And while a jowly face may look respectable if you are serving in the army of Kaiser Wilhelm, it isn’t exactly the face I want staring back at me when I shave.
So yesterday morning, I got my butt out of bed at 7 am, poured myself several cups of coffee, and struggled for motivation. The sky was the color and consistency of steel wool, and the weathermen were calling for storms in the afternoon, so I decided that it was best to get out early before the weather turned. So I pulled on my warmest wooly, and leg warmers, and made a date with my dark eyed Catalan mistress, Isabella Cuevas.
No sooner had I gone a block from home than the grey skies started pissing rain. It wasn’t a real rain, just a misty English rain, and since 90% of the effort of exercise is finding the desire to do it, I decided to push on. Normally, I don’t ride in the rain. Not because I don’t like getting wet, but because I don’t like getting my bike wet. Isabella complains that it messes up her hair. (Yes, she may be beautiful, but she’s also a little high maintenance)
Sunday mornings are my favorite time to ride. The streets are nearly empty, and the city is so quiet. Rolling through North East Minneapolis, the only sounds were the birds chirping, and the hiss of my tires on the pavement. The crab apples, and cherry trees were in full bloom, and the lilacs were just beginning to pop. The scent of the lilacs was intoxicating as I pedaled through the grey mist. It may not have been Kyoto, but it was as close to Hanami as we get here in Minnesota.
I was lost in day dreams as I rolled over the hills of NorthEast, imagining myself at the 89′ Worlds in the break with Sean Kelly, Fignon, and Lemond. There’s something about lousy weather that makes cycling seem epic. Nothing between you and the elements for mile after mile. You can suffer like a dog, but at the end of the ride, no shower will ever feel better.
The mist continued until the water dripped from my helmet, and plastered my rain jacket to my arms like paper mache. I was plenty warm in my wool jersey though. There’s nothing as good as wool for keeping you warm and comfy in the rain. Those British sheep are onto something. It wasn’t until I was 45 minutes into the ride that I noticed my rear tire going soft. Then I remembered why I don’t ride in the rain.
There’s nothing romantic about changing a flat in the rain. Its times like those that I could really use a team car, or neutral support vehicle, to quick hand me a new wheel so I could catch back onto the peleton. Sadly, there was neither a support car, nor a peleton. 10 minutes later I was back on the bike finishing out the ride, while obsessively checking to see if the tire was holding air.
The hot shower, lived up to my expectations and I could have spent an hour in there. Afterwards it was time for Isabella to get cleaned up. She’s not the kind of bike you ride hard, and put away wet. By the time I hung her back up in the garage she was sparkling like new.
It was at that point that the rain stopped, and the sun started peeking out. Freakin’ weathermen.
Sunday evening, and I sit in my comfy chair by the window listening to the song of the catbird in the velvety darkness. My legs propped on the ottoman, I can feel the sweet ache in their muscles from the miles I spent on my bike this weekend. A guy from the north could get real spoiled with an Appalachian Spring like this. Pedaling through the bright sunlight, drinking in the sight of a world gone green, I have to keep reminding myself that it is March, and not late April or May.
I close my eyes, and inhale the sweet night air. If the color green had a smell, this would be it. As a child I would lay on my back in the soft tufts of grass in our backyard, listening to the cooing of the mourning doves, feeling the cool evening air as the sky darkened above me, and the world came alive. Reaching out with my hands I would run my fingers through the grass, and feel the cold, soft earth beneath it. I felt as if I could plant them like roots in the loamy soil, and drink in the life like a maple. A modern day Rip Van Winkle.
Life seemed to stretch like an endless road in front of me. Each evening when I had finished dinner, I would throw a leg over my ten speed, and pedal out into the countryside. Across the furrowed fields, and through the greening woods, I would lose myself in grand day dreams. Nothing in the world is more heroic than the fantasies of a 13 year old boy. That ten speed was my freedom and escape from the anxieties of youth. Out on those empty farm roads there were no bullies to embarrass me and no girls to make me tongue tied. Out on that bike I could be anything I wanted.
I thought of that today as I crested a climb, my lungs burning, and my legs aching, and realized that for the last 4 miles I had been absorbed in day dreams so deep, I could recall nothing of the world around me. For those four miles I may as well have been a 13 year old boy, instead of a 43 year old man. The road raced under my wheels, and the sunlight glittered on the lake, and I could have been anywhere I wanted to be at that very moment. Yet nowhere could have been as satisfying as being astride that saddle, and that steel frame. A shadow passed over the road, and looking up I saw the silhouette of a Hawk against the blue sky. Thirty years disappeared in an instant, and for that one brief moment I too was soaring.
I’ve always been something of a contrarian. I’ve always shunned the easy comfort and conformity of the group, to try to choose a separate path. This is a common behavior among misfits. In some sense, it is a defensive behavior. By “choosing” to be different, we own our deformities. So when one of the wolves from the pack tries to single us out as being different we will not suffer humiliation.
In reality, we always suffer the humiliation of being singled out as a freak, and our loner behavior becomes as much self loathing as it is hatred of the pack. This is the American paradox. We claim to love and adore the lone cowboy, yet it is the wagon train of pioneers that our country is built upon. Perhaps that’s the self loathing of the faceless pioneers manifesting itself as a love of the loner.
The reality is I have always walked with a foot in both worlds. I have chosen which groups to join, and which ones to stand apart from my whole life. We all do.
I thought of this again while watching yesterday’s stage of the tour de France. When I was a kid my “sport” was the most frat boy wolf pack sport of them all, football. I played it from 2nd grade until I graduated from High School. I never struggled to fit into any team I played for, regardless of the meat heads and jerks that were on the team with me. Even after 25 years I still feel kinship with that “Band of Brothers” I played with.
But in other sports I choose a different path. I sought out the solitude of the bicycle as soon as I was old enough to throw a leg over a ten speed. On July Saturday afternoons I would watch the 1 hour weekly recap of the tour de France on Network TV, then head out on my Huffy or Schwinn, into the countryside of Genesee County dreaming that I was climbing a mountain in the Alps and racing against European guys with cool names. My imagination has always been active, and I have never felt more secure and at peace as I have riding alone across the hills and fields, lost in my day dreams. July has always been the month of cycling.
When I hit my 20′s and my good friend Scott started racing in Connecticut, it wasn’t long before my day dreams returned. I bought a new bike, and started riding again. As Mrs. 20 Prospect can attest, when I take up an interest I tend to go overboard and immerse myself in it. Riding mountain bikes led to racing mountain bikes, which led to road biking, and subscriptions to CycleSport, and devouring books on the history of cycling. Finally, it led to trips to Europe to see races. It became an addiction.
I followed the sport religiously for almost 10 years, reading the online race reports, and watching every scrap of TV coverage I could find. But as the sport stumbled from one doping controversy to the next, I became frustrated with it. When Floyd Landis was caught cheating, after winning the Tour de France with an epic solo attack, it was the final straw. Since that day I have turned away from following the sport, especially the Tour.
With the unbearable heat wave this past weekend, I picked up the remote control and flipped on the TV. There on a Saturday morning was the Tour. It’s riders strung out in a long line, ascending a mountain in the Pyrenees. I was sucked in. No sport has better scenery and cinematography than cycling. It can be a breathtaking spectacle.
I filled my coffee cup and settled in to watch the fireworks. A mountain top finish on one of the legendary climbs, I was certain this would be a terrific stage. The leaders would attack each other until finally a champion emerged, and the pretenders cracked. This is cycling at it’s best. Only it never happened.
All the way up the slopes of the Plateau be Baille, the race favorites sat and watched each other. Only one of them even attempted an attack, and when he did it was quickly covered by the rest of them. Such negative, calculated racing is painfully boring to watch. This beautiful mountaintop finish couldn’t have been more anticlimatic. Disgusted I switched the TV off, and went out for a ride in the blistering heat. At least in my imagination the campiones could still soar like eagles.
To the French, winning is almost secondary to the way in which you win. Cold, calculated racing may bring victories, but it doesn’t make a champion. To be a true champion you must with with style. You must win with panache. Better to lose spectacularly, than to win without distinction. This is a very strange concept to the American mind, but in my contrarian world it is one that I have come to embrace. Perhaps it is my own lifetime of scratching on the eightball that makes me identify with it.
So yesterday I was thrilled to see that honor, and panache are not yet dead in professional cycling. With over 30 miles, and two tremendous mountains left to climb, Andy Schleck attacked the field, and soloed away. In the style of the greats of cycling, he climbed the Izoard, and the Galibier, and took the stage win as the other supposed leaders watched each other, too afraid of losing to even try to win.
This is cycling at it’s best. One man, alone against many, fighting himself and the mountain. When Schleck climbed those switchbacks on the Galibier, he may have looked alone, but he was riding on the wheel of the ghosts of history. Coppi, Bottechia, Bobet, Bartali were surely looking down and smiling. This is how it is done.
There are still 2 days left to race, and he may well falter, and fail to win the yellow jersey, but with this ride Andy Schleck has done more to honor the majesty of the sport than anyone else in this years race.
This has never been a topical blog, unless you consider my teenage misadventures and sexual frustration to be topical. Today will be no different. The interweb is abuzz with the news of global events so I will type away over here in my little corner, and not even try to connect this post to current events.
Yesterday was the “Ironcrotch” bicycle ride that I mentioned a few weeks back. I had signed up to give myself a reason to get out and get into shape this past month. Well, between the weather and some health issues, I never really did get the miles in I had hoped to. All last week I had been watching the weather forecast, as the weather people adjusted the temperature down each day. 60 degrees. 55 degrees. 50 degrees. 48 degrees.
Yesterday morning the temperature was 34 degrees at the start. The wind was gusting to 30 mph. Under low, scudding, gray clouds we set off trying to ride hard enough to get warm, but slow enough to make it the full 60 miles.
We stopped at the halfway point in Osceola to thaw out at a coffee shop, before turning into the wind for the ride back.
During the 5 hours we were out on the road the temperature soared to 36 degrees. Hats off to the organizers for keeping us fueled with plenty of cookies, brownies, and bananas at the rest stops they set up along the route.
The last six miles, up hill, and into the headwind were a killer. It wasn’t pretty, but I kept turning the pedals knowing that a warm car was waiting for me. After 5 hours, we made it!
Our reward? A cold beer, in a warm bar.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to refill my coffee cup.
I promised you all some Bike P0rn once my bike was ready, so here it is. Introducing Miss April:
Name: Isabella Cuevas
Statistics: 55cm Top Tube, Reynolds 853 Steel, 19.5 lbs
Turn Ons: Sunny days, Italian food, Rolling hills, Long rides in the country side with the wind at my back
Turn Offs: Rainy Days, Potholes, Fat Guys in Lycra, Retrogrouches
Hometown: New York City
Favorite Place: Barcelona
Favorite Movie: Breaking Away
She’s a real lithe, dark eyed, Catalan beauty as you can see. Supple lines, buxom curves, and a spirit like a wild Mustang. I apologize in advance for some of the graphic photos you are about to see. Please cover the children’s eyes.
Today’s post is a short story that I wrote. It’s a little early for the Giro d’Italia, but the weather seems more appropriate to April in Minnesota, than June. Sorry Elly, this is another cold one.
The leaden clouds press down on the valley. It is 2 degrees Celsius outside of the hotel, and sleet is pinging like ball bearings on the roofs of the team cars. The mood among the team is as dark as the sky.
Sitting around the breakfast table, Kiefel is the first to say what is on all their minds.
“Do you think they’ll cancel the stage?”
“Nah, they never cancel a stage because of weather.” Responds Phinney
“What if the pass is snowed in?”
“Trust me, the Italians will race through ankle deep snow if they have to. This is the Giro. If the Red Brigade dynamites a bridge, they just climb off their bikes and swim across.”
Andy Hampsten sits at the table, drinking coffee, and eating. It’s the 14th stage, and fatigue is a constant companion. Some riders wilt more than others as the race progresses, but nobody gets faster.
This is the first time in 28 years that the race will pass over the Passo di Gavia. They have planned this stage out for over a month. The team is to lead him to the base of the climb. About 14k from the top the road changes from a modern two lane down to a one lane dirt road. There, on the 14% grade, he is to launch his attack.
The riders all turn and look expectantly at Mike Neel as he walks into the room.
“Well, they are going to shorten the stage today because of the weather.”
“So, we’re not going over the Gavia?” Kiefel asks hopefully.
“Oh no, we’re still going over the Gavia. All they did was move the start 20 km down the valley.”, is Neel’s reply.
“What the fuck is the point of that?” interjects Roll.
Neel smiles, “I guess they figure the towns people here won’t be upset since they got to see the finish yesterday, so no mayor is going to be calling up the race directors to complain.”
“Hell, not even the tifosi are crazy enough to watch the start in this frickin’ shit.” Roll complains.
There’s much muttering, and complaining, but Hampsten is quiet. Is has been two days since his stage win, and his legs feel good. This is the stage he had been waiting for, but he is having doubts about the weather.
“Och’ and the guys have been out shopping at the ski shops. We’ve got Gore-tex gloves, and wool hats, and we’ll have the soigneurs rub you down with lanolin.” Neel explains, “it’ll be cold, but we’ll be as prepared as we can. Just remember, everyone is going to be suffering today. The guys that hold it together the longest will be the guys that win.”
But winning is the furthest thing from their mind right now as the rain pelts against the windows. The riders head out to make their final preparations before leaving for the start.
Lying on the massage table Hampsten relaxes until he feels nothing but the strong hands of the soigneur working his muscles like putty. He smears lanolin all over his legs, arms, back and chest. Over this thick coating of grease, he pulls on a thin long sleeve polypropylene shirt, and over that goes his wool jersey.
Standing astride his bike at the start line, with his rain jacket pulled tight around his neck, the rain is coming down in buckets, dripping off the bill of his cap in little rivulets. There is bitching and moaning in seven languages as the peleton rolls out of town.
“This isn’t fucking right.” Kiefel moans, “We need to start a union so they stop treating us like animals.”
“Shit” Roll barks, “they’d fucking treat horses better than this.”
The group soft pedals down the valley toward the first climb of the day. Eventually the complaints fade away, until there is just silence, and the sound of spray off of the tires. Thunder rumbles in the distance, and the rain pours down in sheets. It numbs their faces, and legs, and works its way into every seam until their clothes are soaked through. There is no piss break today, the riders just wet their pants for what little warmth the urine can give them. The smell of the urine, and the exhaust from the motorcycles is a constant for the first half hour.
Hampsten is riding near the front of the pack with the other leaders. None of them are in any mood to start racing. As the first climb of the day approaches a small break of 12 riders goes off the front. There isn’t anyone in the break who is a threat to the overall lead so the peleton is content to let them go. The domestiques are busy dropping back to the team cars to bring up water bottles filled with warm tea. The riders stretch their legs on the Cat 2 climb. Over the top of the pass, and down the other side, a few riders go down on the wet pavement, amidst the chilling clang of metal hitting asphalt.
At the bottom of the descent Hampsten signals his team to the front. After his stage win two days ago the other favorites are all watching him and waiting. The 7-Eleven boys move to the front, and pick up the tempo as they climb the 20 km false flat before the mountain. There is no talking now as they go to work, taking their turns pulling on the front, working in the practiced rhythm that only comes from weeks spent riding together. Hampsten shivers uncontrollably trying not to think about the cold, or how far they have yet to go. He wonders if he has the legs to make the attack that they all are expecting. What if he tries and finds nothing in them? He puts the thought out of his mind, and rationalizes that no one would be disappointed if he tried and failed, but he would not forgive himself if he failed to try.
The clouds press lower, and the Dolomites loom up in front of them, their presence felt rather than seen. Hampsten takes off his rain jacket, and extra clothes until he is just wearing his wool jersey, undershirt, and neoprene diving gloves. His glasses fog from the heat of his breath, and the road spray leaves specks of grit stuck to the lenses. As they hit Ponte di Legno the climb begins.
Alcala goes to the front and raises the tempo. The peleton strings out behind them, but the favorites are all still there. Hampsten can see little, but a dark silhouette is all he needs to identify them. Chiocciolli the race leader, is on his wheel, behind him are Bruekink, Giupponi and Zimmerman. They are moving into the clouds now.
Fir trees crowd the slopes, and make the day seem even darker. The rain has changed to snow. There are no tifosi lined up along the climb today. The pavement ends, and the road narrows to a single lane of dirt. This is the moment. Rising out of his saddle, Hampsten attacks.
He swings out around Alcala, and pushes hard on the cranks. It is not his hardest attack, but it is hard enough. After a hundred yards he glances back over his shoulder, and sees the gap widening. Chioccioli is still frozen to his saddle, and Zimmerman has come around him. Breukink is standing on the pedals and looking across to Zimmerman for help.
Hampsten settles into a tempo now. He is not full out, but riding at 95%. The storm is coming from the other side of the pass, so he knows the descent will be worse weather than the climb. Better to save some energy for the downhill.
Rising at 14%, the road begins to switch back and forth across the face of the mountain. As he climbs he can look down onto the road below and see his rivals spread out all over. The race has exploded. Some riding alone, some together with teammates, only Bruekink has been able to respond.
His chest burns, and his legs are numb, but still the pedals keep turning. His wheels trace a steady line in the mud of the road as he sways the bike from side to side. One by one he passes the riders from the early break. They look gutted, hollow eyed, weaving on the road. He tries not to think about the weather, but focuses on the mountain in front of him.
The snow is mesmerizing as it swirls around him. Flakes the size of silver dollars stick to his arms, and begin to pile on the road. There is only Van der Velde now between here and the summit, and he is closing on him. With about 5 kilometers to go he waves for his team car.
Pulling up along side, Neel yells out “Keep it up Andy, you’ve got 45 seconds on Breukink, and over two minutes to the others”.
Hampsten nods, too tired to speak, and reaches out for the hat and neck warmer that Neel is holding out the window. He is feeling warmer now despite the snow, but he knows the real cold is waiting for him on the other side of the mountain. Sitting up he runs his hand through his hair to dry it before he puts on the hat, only to discover that his head is covered in snow. Stunned, he looks again at his gloved hand and realizes that hypothermia is starting to set in. If he is no longer generating enough heat to melt the snow on his head, how can he be sure of what is going on within his body?
Three kilometers to the top now. He has the gaitor pulled around his chin, and can barely feel it against his skin. Working with his scuba gloves, even the touch of his hand against his face feels foreign. The lanolin has gotten smeared onto the gloves, and is all over everything. Trying to wipe the grit from his glasses only makes it harder to see.
At 1 km from the summit, the road is just a path cut between 8 foot high snow banks. He comes upon the support person that Och’ has positioned there with a musette bag full of dry clothes. Taking the plastic rain jacket out of the bag, he struggles to unroll it’s frozen folds. He is slowing now, swerving from side to side as he wrestles with the jacket. His gloves are sticking to the sleeves. At last his arms are through and he is fumbling with the zipper as Breukink passes him.
Hampsten finally gets the jacket closed as he crests the summit. The wind is blowing hard across the pass. There is 2 inches of slush on the road, and he is fifty yards behind Breukink. He sees Van der Velde standing along the road side, in the arms of his mechanic, wrapped in a blanket, and blue around the face. It is 22 km downhill to the finish in Bormio.
His hat pulled down, his neck gaitor up over his ears, the heat of his breath is fogging his glasses, but the wind is so cold he doesn’t dare take them off. Shifting up into his 53 – 14, he catches back onto Breukink’s wheel. The road is winding, but does not have the hairpins of the climb. Breukink is taking it slow, making tentative turns on the slippery surface. Better to pass him now, than to ride into him if he goes down.
Hampsten pulls around him, and begins to increase his speed. The road changes back to pavement, and the speed increases 50 kph, then 60kph, now 70 kph. His arms and legs are numb, but the fastest way to get warm is to get to the finish line now. He pedals to keep his legs from cramping up. The snow has turned back to rain and the wet pavement reflects the gray skies. The motorbikes leave plumes of spray behind them.
The road is straightening out as Bormio approaches. Out of the forest now a few buildings appear, then a few more. With 7 km to go Breukink comes past him and puts in an attack. Hampsten tries to respond but his gears are frozen. The gap is only a hundred yards, but he is unable to close it.
The drop off along the roadside is replaced by a stone wall, then hedges, and they are into the town. Under the 1km to go kite, and Breukink is still tantalizingly close, but he is not thinking about victory anymore, only warmth. Around a corner, and through the crooked city streets, fans line the barricades shouting, and the motorbikes blow their horns. Another turn, and up a slight incline to the line, and it is over. People run alongside him, a coat is thrown over his shoulders, but he stares blankly into their faces. They are pounding him on the back, and he cannot understand what is happening. Slowly he begins to realize they are shouting congratulations, and trying to warm him. He lets himself be led into the heated tent, and realizes that the jersey is his. The jersey! The Maglia Rosa! He had nearly forgotten about it. There is shouting, and noise, and microphones, but all he can do is mumble a few phrases in Italian as Ochowicz leads him to the team bus.
Five minutes later, and the peleton starts to arrive. The finish line looks like a triage center. Riders are collapsing. He looks through the crowd and sees Roll being held up from behind by a bear of a man shaking him, as others press their warm hands against his face to try to revive him. It has been a terrible day, one that people will not soon forget, but all he can do now is struggle to strip off his wet clothes, and put on warm ones. He had to dig deep to finish today, deeper than he has ever gone before, deeper than he even thought possible, but the jersey is his.
In a little while he stands upon the podium, and pulls on the jersey for the first time. Basking in the light of the TV camera’s, he does his best to answer the journalists in his pidgin Italian. His brown eyes are sparkling like a child’s, and his cheeks are as pink as the jersey. How does it feel to be the first American to wear the Maglia Rosa? Molto bene!