3-2-1, GO! I bleated out three little words that I say every day to my rock, my soulmate, my best friend as I descended the start ramp…
And I was finally away in the sweltering oppressive heat of the midi-Pyrenees slowly, but smoothly building up a rhythm as I easily negotiated the racing bends on the Albi race track.
And then out onto the main road, just cones and the odd marshal for company, looking ahead to see where the chilled American chap I got talking to in the holding pen prior to the race was, as he had started 30 seconds ahead of me.
I was in the groove, “on it” as these cyclists tend to say when all is going well. On reflection, starting back in Denmark two years ago, it has indeed been a turbulent couple of years. I wasn’t optimal for this race, but I’d given myself the best shot I could muster for this year given the circumstances having also overcome a recent knee injury that tried its best to derail my season. Anyway, I had my secret weapon and she was back at the finish line willing me on just like she was two months prior on the Isle of Man when we were just long term friends and cycling buddies. I say “just” with comedic flippancy, because that race, despite being the most important race of my life at that point was my ground zero. I was determined to race on the Isle of Man alone - a single man on a mission to find himself and be happy just being on his tod with his daughters to remind him now and again that he’s a good bloke really and not completely alone. But the encouragement and congratulations I got via the text messages I received before and after I got a shooing from Cummings, Dowset, Gullen, et al, when I look back was probably the start of a new and beautiful relationship with an incredibly loving and generous human being.
Anyway, I digress, this is supposed to be a blog post about cycling not a love story!!!
I shouted aggressively another three words of self-encouragement “COME ON JON”. For the first time in my 45.5 years (nearly to the day!) I felt genuinely at peace with myself, almost confident dare I say! I was raging for the right reasons this time. “Be the best you can be”, said my Oracle prior to the race and it was going round and round in my head and I was energised by it. I was picking up speed and I could feel it.
But there’s always a “but”. And this race was no different. Though I didn’t think about it at all until some kind soul posted the incident on the UK Time Trialling Facebook page a day later. I’d completely forgotten about it, but it’s worth telling as it wouldn’t have changed the result, only fortified the bronze medal position, or as I prefer, third place on the podium.
So I’m bombing along, like you do in the world amateur TT final, and I start to catch an ambulance in front of me. WTF was my first reaction. What am I supposed to do now? Ok, I’ll give it a wide berth so as not to be (unfairly) disqualified for drafting (even though I’d be slowing at the same time), speed up and overtake it instead - this is what you did when you entered the 19’ club last year and a combine harvester started 30 seconds ahead of you.
But the “hill” was coming up and this distracted me as my heart rate was creeping way past threshold (which rarely happens as I’m often in a deliberate fatigued state) and I was starting to parboil internally. The brain was racing as well as the legs and I sat up. Then the ambulance thankfully sped away allowing me to get back into position and ready for the “hill” which in reality was a short rise, but must look like Ben Nevis to folk from the north Netherlands.
Sharp left at the junction and hill time! Only to be met around the bend by the same ambulance who had stopped in front of me. Evasive action. Being a mountain biker in disguise allows me to handle the TT bike pretty well and I started to swerve to the right of the ambulance only for it to start moving in the direction I was swerving!
I took a look at three foot drainage trench on the right which was accelerating towards me and decided I didn’t want to end up in the ambulance which was inadvertently doing a great job of trying to place me in the ditch. Oh the irony!
Not to be this time…somehow? Phew! Some choice words shouted angrily (often abbreviated as “FFS” in social media/text messages) seem to do the trick and stop the driver from ramming me off the road and I was away up the “hill” shaking my head in disbelief catching my 30 second American man in the process without realising I had done until I passed him.
At the top of the rise, I instinctively took a calculated risk. My heart rate was racing too, along with the brain and the legs and being the highest and slowest point on the 23km course, it was blow torch hot. No 45 kph wind chill here! I clicked into easier gears, ignored the power data and speed, concentrated on spinning the legs until the heart rate stabilised. And from here on, I hung on watching heart rate like a hawk, controlling my efforts as smoothly as I could, drawing on all my racing experience which eventually took me back into the aerodrome for the last 2 klicks and I gave it one last heave before finishing up crouched over my bike pecking like a dog for the next five minutes. I knew then I’d given it the best I could have done on that day. There will be other days when I’ll be better, fitter, faster.
I found my Oracle and she helped me with my bike. As per usual I had no idea where I was in the standings and as per usual I didn’t care, as I’d given it laldie and Kyle had placed a nice cold beer in my hand. We wandered over to GB pit where Nelly was recovering from his race and we waited on Kelvin and Mike to come in from their own thirty-odd minute date with a nuclear furnace on TT bikes.
Then it started to dawn on me, perhaps I should see where I finished? The target was a Rainbow Jersey after all (you numpty)! But now I didn’t care, as I was genuinely happy, though I got a strange feeling that I’d done something useful, but an even better feeling that this time, because just like on the Isle of Man, there would be no price to pay for this short-arsed 45 year old optimist with a knackered knee. No dressing down, no looks of disgust for finishing tenth or being ignored for smashing a record. Quite the contrary. My inspiration had given up four days of her holiday (which for someone who is also runs her own business is no easy task) at little notice to support me regardless of the outcome. I owed her this even though it didn’t matter to her, because she knew I had delivered on her “Be the best you can be” mantra, like I always do.
I wandered over the results sheet in the baking heat wearing a nice pink sunhat that I stole from my motivator, got some funny looks in the process and for once felt happy and at peace with myself seeing the result. Third. By literally a fraction of a second. For once I didn’t care about the time differences.
Bronze medal. Progress from 11th two years ago in Denmark. Heading in the right direction, and at last now with the right people who I want to work, socialise, ride, have fun and share experiences with. Life is for living. Life is to be enjoyed not endured.
So once again, three is THE magic number, but as a new and exciting life begins, it’s all because of ONE special and amazing individual.