With 30k left in yesterday’s race, I suddenly couldn’t see straight.

I’d been flying, covering moves and fetching bottles, fighting at the front then dropping back for the boys, euphoric, not useless, ‘til I cracked.

I wasn’t prepared. I was riding on memory, on too little training, too little racing, too much belief in myself. 

In half a lap, I fell from the front to the back, legs numb and hands cramping, body bathed in pain, mind floating in ether. Every corner became a battle to concentrate, to stay on the wheel, stay on the wheel, stay on the fucking wheel.

For the rest of the race, I was either third or fourth last, absolutely grovelling. I nearly gave in every time the race was guttered. My back seized, my stomach cramped, my head pounded. Time became a blurry series of snapshots. I was defeated, I’d defeated myself, but to admit it would be to be done for.

I finished one hundred and somethingst, with the peloton.

On the first day of third grade, my mum told me I was old enough, I could ride to school without her. Within a week, I had ridden my first bike race.

Every morning, the boys from town would meet at the corner of Avon and Ridge for a mass-sprint to the schoolyard. By the time the first bell rang, no one would remember who had won but for those eight-hundred metres coming first was the only thing that mattered.

There we were; a pack of kids on hand-me-down bikes, charging, cars-be-damned, down the whole road, backpacks swinging and shoulders bumping, gasping for breath as our sneakers slipped and our pedals spun-out, t-shirts billowing behind us. To win, we’d have happily put any of our friends in the hospital.

So it continued every morning until the end of elementary school when we all decided to grow up.

I did the training-race at De Berg on Tuesday. The race is for getting a hard effort in with the group and some speed in your legs. There have been training-races every Tuesday evening of every season there has ever been a club. Nobody remembers who wins.

Coming into the final sprint, I was up near the front, content to follow wheels and roll safely in to the finish. We’d crested the last rise and were hurtling down to the last corner, when two gentlemen in front of me clashed. There we were, going sixty kilometres-per-hour downhill in a training race and these forty-something-year-old idiots with day jobs and families and ten-thousand-euro bicycles were shoulder-checking each other for twelfth wheel, repeatedly almost crashing. They swore, I swore. I smiled. They clobbered me in the sprint.