A long time ago I had a tiny piece of paper cut out from a magazine Sellotaped to my stem with the simple phrase “Don’t cry, pedal” on it. Something allegedly shouted at Jan Ullrich (I did say it was a way back when) by his directeur sportif.
Just before I was about to head out on a cycling trip a friend of mine handed me a small bag of ahead caps with that phrase more permanently etched into them. As it was going to be the hardest ride I’d ever done at that point – the Pyrenean Coast-to-Coast, from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean along the pointy spine of the mountain range – it was both an apt and lovely gift. Part joke, part motivation, part care, part you can do this.
Ever since then one of these ahead caps has adorned at least one of my bikes. Most rides I hardly notice it’s there, some rides I glance down at it and give a wry smile, and there have been more than a few times when I’ve looked down, seen my sweaty convex reflection, bitten my lower lip, stifled a whimper and carried on with a pinch more resolve.
And now once more I face up to the hardest ride I will ever have done and there is that stem cap staring up at me again. The application to compete in the Transcontinental race as a pair with my friend Gavin has been accepted. Belgium to Greece the pretty way, nudging on 4,000 kilometres and trying to beat the cut-offs by averaging 250+km a day, whether that’s along the flat or through one of the several lumps of mountains along the route.
It’s going to be hard, by a level of magnitude far greater than any other hardest thing I’ve ever done, and something that I can’t quite get my head around right now. Although “life changing” does crash about quite often, in a positive way. There has been a period of time between entry and acceptance where a training of sorts has been done but although there was intent the event itself was still a nebulous uncertainty and it all felt a bit vague and directionless.
That has all changed rather suddenly and it is now both hand-shakingly frightening and heart-flutteringly exciting in equal measure. There is work to be done but both Gavin and I are focused and prepared for that; an ever-growing list of Long Rides To Do is filling the calendar. There will be plenty of time to look down at that stem cap, chew the bottom lip a bit further and let out a wry smile for the friend that gave it to me, because this is partly their fault.
Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he's not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for road.cc and when he's not doing either of those he's pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he's agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours don't He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.