With nearly 1,300 punishing kilometers of racing scheduled for the eight-day, 2010 edition of Paris-Nice, and only 119 kilometers remaining the final day, the end was in sight. Actually, it literally was in sight, since we had just one lap to cover, so the start banner also served as the finish line just a brief stroll away from where I sat on the team bus. After a week of sub-zero temperatures, wind gusts rumored to be upwards of 80kph, and snow playing a greater role than just the creation of snowmen lining the roads, finally the sun and warmth melted away all the arduous memories of the previous week.
Temporarily at least.
As we leisurely rolled out of town along the Mediterranean Sea, Christian Vande Velde, a seasoned veteran of Paris-Nice bluntly asked me, “So are you ready for something epic? This stage is a beast.”
Allow me to digress. Albert Einstein defined insanity as, “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” Clearly Al wasn’t much of a cyclist. Besides Eddy Merckx’s staggering 45 percent winning percentage in 1971, there are very few guarantees when it comes to how a race will unfold — especially a French race. I should have therefore stewed on that previous sentence a bit more as I eagerly entered my first Race to the Sun.
You see, with a respectable showing at the unexpectedly grueling Volta Algarve two weeks prior, and what I considered intelligently adequate preparation in terms of training, diet, and mental focus, I really looked forward to a strong performance in France. Whenever I enter a race, I have a set of goals that I would like to accomplish. Pedaling around as pack fodder never ranks on that list, but I humbly say that many of the past few days I found myself in that category.
There are a few things that I can fall back upon that offer some redemption to an otherwise laborious week. I dutifully accomplished my job of covering the early onslaught of attacks the day my teammate Xavier Tondo heroically won the queen stage of Paris-Nice. Moreover, I did this while suffering splitting headaches and gut-boiling stomach maladies the entire second half of the week. But I am by no means looking for a crutch here. Professional cycling is my job and I expect more out of myself.
So here on the final day of Paris-Nice I found myself racing at speeds greater than 50kph … uphill. In the brief respite from pedaling I am offered in the sharp turns on the sinuously long first climb of the day, I steal glances at my PowerTap. 380 watts, 408, 415, 423, 440, 460. As the power ticks higher, so does the speed. Much to my chagrin, so does the gradient of the road. The peloton is entirely strung out one-by-one so that the first rider to last covers a seemingly impossible stretch of road.
A shadowed patch of water on the road, followed by a touch of wheels sends a dozen riders to the ground and splits the field into two. I’m among those slowed down behind the carnage and I catch my breath for no more than a moment before sprinting away in chase. One minute passes, two, then three. Thinking it was not physically possible to go any faster before the tumble, I look down and see we’re pushing 60kph and a leg searing 500-plus watts in chase. I dodge riders who pull the proverbial plug in front of me. Virtually cross-eyed from exertion, and seeing attacks flying well up the road in the front part of the bunch, I too meekly call it a day.
Cycling is a vicious sport. It’s a cruel sport. Cycling is punishing beyond belief, full of agony, indescribable sacrifice, as well as sheer and utter pain. However, like an epic tale spun over the course of roads around the world, thankfully cycling is a redemptive sport as well. It is a beautiful sport, it is fulfilling, and it offers plenty of room for triumph despite adversity.
If you’re not prepared to have bad days on the bike — and I mean wretchedly awful days — then you’re simply lying to yourself. Learning how to roll with the punches is as fundamentally part of bike racing as logging base miles.
I was popped the final day of Paris-Nice and it eats me up thinking about it. No one ever wants a DNF by his or her name, least of all me. Given the chance, Albert Einstein may have called me insane, but I can guarantee that you’ll once again find me next week pinning my number on and going out swinging, searching for redemption and fully expecting a different result.
This year Ted King is in his sophomore year with the Cervélo TestTeam. After getting a taste for the European peloton with the U.S. espoir national team in 2005, King returned to the United States for three successful years of domestic pro racing. The 27-year-old is a native of New Hampshire and despite his affinity for hearty servings of coffee, he is slowly adapting to the smaller European portions. Slowly. His diaries appear monthly on VeloNews.com; between the scanty portions we serve up, you can follow Ted at www.Cervelo.com/team and www.iamTedKing.MissingSaddle.com. Those of you content with 140 characters or less can track his activities at www.twitter.com/iamtedking.