Well it started well enough. Pleasantries were thrown about, marks made in the trackside sand, scary game faces briefly masked behind polite smiles but beneath it all a new rage burned to get out.
New year, newly rebuilt bikes, new purpose, fresh faced and ready to take on some new suffering, I stood on the startline, ran when they told me, got on my bike as soon as I could and set about sacking everyone else off as quickly as possible. People wanted to race me? They’d have to get close to me first. Set fire to the fireroad climb, tear up the ice with the studded tyres, shatter rocks and mock openly the bridge that I’d failed on last year. I become a ball of tensed up anger, bursting out of every corner with such force it’s a miracle my tyres aren’t just torn straight from the rims. Faster at each turn, twisting metal beneath me, wild eyed and snarling. Laughing almost. Manic. And winning.
No crashes, somehow. Off the ice tyres after 3 laps, they’re just getting in the way, I’ll fight the frozen surface without their help. Lap times keep shrinking, the lead keeps growing, so does the anger. Fuck you all, I’m coming though on fire. 10 minutes. 15. The light begins to fade. Means nothing to me. Darkness can’t hold me back. Cameras in my face on the start/finish line “how do you feel about being 30 minutes up, it’s getting dark, how’s it going?”
The race is only just starting. Those first few light hours are nothing but a warm up and I’m feeling plenty warmed up now. Supple limbed, wide awake, ready to reign down on anyone stupid enough to think they can compete. This is almost easy!
The course changes it’s face as the temperature drops. Hidden in the darkness I’m keeping at bay, more ice sneaks onto corners so far fast in character, catching me out as my mind races ahead of me on the course. I slam down hard on my hip. Under any normal circumstance this would receive nothing but contempt and a slight bruise, but in the build up to this race the ice snuck in an early blow, hitting me hard enough to make walking upright painful, coughing unpleasant and sneezing downright agony. Those symptoms were still hiding away as I set off all those hours ago and now they’re back. Bigger and more disturbing than before.
I try snarling my way through to no avail and a lap later creep, hunched over, into a tent to assess what’s wrong.
I treat myself to a change of clothes as I gently poke and prod at intestines that spasm, flutter and ache to the touch. Soothingly rub ibuprofen gel over the area and curl up with still gritted teeth.
Hours pass. Rain falls on the tent, echoing inside as I remain foetal. The rain won’t stop and in suddenly lost eyes the realisation that I won’t either begins to grow. I know I can’t “ride off” what’s wrong, but I tell people that’s what I’m doing anyway, get back on the bike and attempt to smash out another lap. Down in 5th place, over a lap and 40 mins behind everyone in front of me I revisit the power that got me round the first half of the race so quickly. Suddenly I’m 4th.
Lap times begin to fall, despite the discomfort beyond what is expected in a race like this.
Then I’m less than a lap down on 3rd.
Then the gap is down to 26 minutes.
My stomach begins to accept energy food and drink again, meaning only one thing: Double espresso energy gel time!
Instantly 7 minutes a lap quicker, instantly stealing back nearly quarter of an hour a lap, no-one overtakes me each time I go out. No-one. No team rider, no-one. This is what I promised myself from the beginning. Always fast. Me the Should Have Been would be miles away from the rest of the race by now, rather than in the thick of it. But Me The Hero is dead, flawed from the start and now reborn as something so utterly careless about how he’s feeling the only thing that stops me is the lack of time left.
Somewhere out on the course I catch third, so engrossed is speeding up, in matching lap times done 23 hours previous I don’t even realise and with that it’s all over.
No fairy tale ending. Like something from a horror story I roll over the line, grinning from under layers of grime, wishing we had to do it all again.
If I could race again next weekend, I would. If you have to stand next to me on the startline anytime soon, and I feel like this, I almost pity you.