I’m sat at Kuala Lumpur Airport on a thinly padded bench bemoaning the lack of two things, the first being enough fat on my buttocks and the other alcohol. Not necessarily in that order, for if I think about it even with more fat on my arse I’d still be penning sad laments to the booze, whereas if I was tipsy enough I doubt the bone-ache I’m experiencing right now would be much of an issue…
Somehow though the relative dearth of alcohol in this majority Muslim nation wasn’t a barrier to my teammate storming into the room this morning at 2am, as I slept dreaming of Eddy Merckx telling me I wasn’t good enough for his daughter — again — and vomiting uproariously all over the bathroom.
Everywhere, in fact, except into the toilet bowl. Who says cyclists are boring?
But yes, a beer, a Belgian, and in particular a Rochefort 10 would find itself at first wooed romantically, then tickled and finally jumped, and with gusto, I tell ya, were one to be foolish enough to wander my way at the moment.
Big Tour #3 is down. The Tour de Taiwan is next, beckoning like a scheming siren on an otherwise clam ocean. It starts on the 10th of March and I wonder what I’m going to do til then, even though I have to go back to my day job in between. It’s weird not to be riding today, after ten days straight in the saddle. Amazing what the human body can endure, those daily, self-perpetuated rounds of assault and battery, even though I was near exhaustion at the start of each stage. I feel a strange mixture of pride, strength and stupidity for getting through it.
On the morning of Stage 7 I met Allan Peiper in the elevator, which was awesome. He has no idea I used to watch him on TV and I left it at that. He drives the Garmin-Barracuda front car and dragged me back innumerable (well about times after punctures, so I thanked him. He replied but I didn’t hear what he said, I was just thinking “Allan Peiper! In an elevator!”
He said stuff like this in his book, A Peiper’s Tale:
“We are a mixed up bunch, us cyclists, not balanced like most people. We run on our egos and hide our frustrations and impressions of life in our actions, A lot of our life is lived in denial, then we stop and the rooster comes home. It’s then that we get the bill.”
Allan Peiper So … the rooster brings the bill? Or … wait … I … um …
That stage was hard, 205km at something like 45km/hr, yet that was nothing compared to the 166km we did next day at 47.7km/hr in torrential rain, and I truly mean TORRENTial. I could only see 3 meters in front of me and it was full gas all day. I attacked a couple of times but at that speed, any unsuccessful attack means that once the peloton sweeps by you find yourself at the back damned sharpish and that is a scary place to be when your body is trying to shut itself down.
That’s where The Will kicks in and you just have to dig. And I mean really dig, like archeological style, like you mean business, with little flags and pegs and ropes and a Polaroid and a small army of undergrads armed with little trowels, helping out in shifts on the weekend.
Who won? Guardini, again.
I met Matt Rendell this day too. The actual Matt Rendell, the writer, author of The Death of Marco Pantani and Olympic Gangster: The Legend of Jose Beyaert. These are two of the finest sporting biographies ever written, cracking tales of adventure and, well, misadventure. Mr Rendell loves the sport and is so obviously enthralled by its rich tapestry, and he has that rare talent of being able to communicate in a very eloquent manner, simultaneously managing to draw the reader into the social fabric of the era concerned, and there he was asking me questions about the stage. That was probably the highlight of the week for me.
Stage 9 was more of the same, rain and Guardini, though I spent the first 2 hours near the front trying to go away in a succession of breaks but everyone was ravenous for it. Farnese-Vini wanted none of the chase so left it to Serpa’s boys. 55kg South Americans — who’d have known they could hit 55km/hr on the flat all day? They must eat their Wheaties. A break finally succeeded, Guardini blah blah blah.
(I am just joking, his success here is truly extraordinary, seriously, I’m just being a jealous little punk).
Finally, Stage 10. Oh you beautiful little Miss Stage 10. The hallowed Last Day. Offer yourself up to me, Miss Final Stage, let me drink the nectar of your Completeness and Deliver Me from Crashes and from Becoming a Dropee. In return I behest to you my Carbonic Devotion, until The Guarantee runs out or it cracks, whichever may cometh first.
Four guys hightail it out of Dodge from the get go, the pack hits a blisteringly dull 25km/ hr for 30 minutes, then begins to chase like mad once the gap grows to 3.45. We catch them on a very cool final circuit of the beautiful city of Terengganu where the crowd must number a rib-vibrating ten thousand, and I’m feeling good. I might even head to the front for the finale. And then I puncture with 8km to go. Fitting, seeing as that is how I started the week.
I flew around after that best I could, spraying the cops by the road with my bidon to huge cheers from the spectators, which was fun, then got called to anti-doping where a man watched me pee, which was not fun. He didn’t even take me to dinner first.
‘Hello, sign here, and now I vill vatch you pee!’ Romance, let me assure you, is well and truly dead.
In the car on the way back I was listening to some music and watching Malaysia speed by. A man crushing sugar cane in a press outside his home. Two young boys watching on their bmx as our convoy flashed by. A family standing and waving, smiling, the little girl in the dad’s arms giggling away with the excitement of it all, her laughter chasing us down the dusty road in peals of late afternoon hues of yellow and orange. I thought about how I came to be here, and I thought about some of the hard times but mostly I though about love, from family and friends and fleeting encounters I’ve had along the way, and the cumulus clouds expanded and billowed in magical plumes above and I wondered if it wasn’t the fear of inadequacy that holds us back from pursuing our dreams, but rather the fear of being too much.
What if we discovered that we’d been letting ourselves down all along? And what if we’d wasted so much of this wonderful thing called time by being afraid?
It was just a thought. Like the clouds above, it billowed some place else soon enough.
The final bit of this entry isn’t very cycling related, but I’m going to relate it anyway. It is a conversation I had during the race, so I guess it’s allowable. Me and our masseur Daryoush are talking one morning.
Me: ‘Argh! These bottles of water the organizers are giving us are so annoying.’
‘Cos they are absolutely and completely full to the brim! Every time you open one it squirts out all over the place!’
‘If there was less in you would complain.’
‘Listen, let me tell you an old Iranian story. An old man is out with his grandson and his donkey. The old man is on the donkey and the boy is walking. Some people see them. They admonish the old man, they say ‘Hey that is terrible, the child should be on the donkey! You should walk!’
The old man thinks for a moment, then gets off the donkey and puts the child on its back. They meet some other people soon after. They look at the old man walking and one says ‘Hey! Are you stupid? You should both be riding that donkey!’
The old man stops, ponders this, then gets up onto the donkey with the boy. A little later they meet some more folk. They all shout at the pair for putting so much weight on the tired old donkey.’
Daryoush looks at me and smiles, and, before I have grasped the connection, he walks away.
The very next day at lunch he reaches for a bottle, opens it and, sure enough, gets water all down his shirt front.
‘Geez,’ he says, ‘these bottles are always too full!’
‘That’s what I said yesterday!’ I say in exasperation. ‘And then you told me a five minute story about a flea-bitten donkey…’
He looks at me, all fatherly and with a hint of condescension, draws a breath as if he is about to admonish me, but pauses and begins to laugh. He laughs for quite some time, as do I. When he has wiped the tears from his eyes, he says:
‘Yes, you are right. Sometimes wisdom makes no sense.’
17 years after stopping racing as a junior in England and traveling and working around the world, Lee Rodgers started cycling again 4 years ago “to lose a bit of weight” and now rides for UCI Continental team, RTS Racing Team, based in Taiwan. He works full-time as a journalist and part-time as a cyclist. Check out Lee’s previous diary entries