Saturday, 9 April 2011

Chinese whispers

The bizarre notes of Pete’s alarm clock alarm clock went off at 5.45am and whilst he stirred I went off for a shower. Today it’s day two and the first proper road stage and as I stood in the cascading hot water I have to admit I was smitten by a sort of stage fright. From the Penzance Wheelers criteriums in the far distances of West Cornwall to the UCI 2.2 Tour of Taiwan is a big jump and the learning curve I was peering at on seemed to disappear into the clouds.
I arrived at breakfast early, Tom was the only rider and I guess one glance was enough to inform him of my concerns. He listened intently as I explained my misgivings, using words like deep water, over my head and sinking. Then he quoted something to me that sounded just right; I saw the door of opportunity and thought all I had to do was push it open and waltz right in. In fact when I opened the door I discovered I was facing a grizzly bear that I had to wrestle to the ground with my bare hands. He ended by saying something like ‘just do it’.
I think he actually said fighting cock but I envisaged a grizzly.
I listened. I’ve always had a vivid imagination so I used it.  I saw a nine foot grizzly bear rearing up on its hind legs, catching it by its fur I smashed it down flat on its belly. The nerves vanished. From then on every time it reared its head I whacked it back down again.
Later as I drove in the convoy Pete outlined a few golden rules to follow and ever the student, I listened and learnt. Never ask the riders a question, always have the answers for them, pre-empt any qusetion by finding out the answers beforehand. All the riders want to do was concentrate on riding and resting. They just want to be told when and where. Well, I had blown that as my mobile had decided to go to sleep as soon as I had arrived and not having a watch I was stuck asking the time. (I decided to buy a watch but never had time to do so until at the airport on the way home when Pete helpfully pointed out a few Rolexes costing some £2,500 which I thought a tad expensive) If a rider asks for anything, do it then and there. If you ever have a spare moment, think what you can be doing to save time later and do it. 
 He also ran through how he wanted me to approach a puncture or mechanical and feed the riders. The key point being that when the radio call comes, gun the motor and use on your horn, use it all the time, that tells everyone where you are and you are doing it flat out. From then on I did just that.
From there on the days followed a pattern, up by six, showered, packed, luggage to the hotel pick up point. Then Pete and I separated, he did the bikes and car, I did the riders. Once at the start it’s the same procedure. The stage passes with the Pete and I in the convoy, driving along listening to the radio with bursts of intense activity when called upon. Stage end, again Pete does the bikes, I do the riders. Then it’s a transfer to new hotels, keys, rooms, dining room, meal times, shopping for tomorrow’s race food and drink, evening meal, riders meeting, discuss the stage, plan tomorrows, tell them the morning schedule and off they go to bed by nine pm. It’s routine, it’s what the riders like.
In many ways it’s just like a school field trip and over thirty years I have done many of those. There were things I couldn’t do much about. We had no masseur, however often the riders wished to have one, I couldn’t magic one up. There was nothing I could do about the food either. There were grumbles about this but I guess they’re not concerned about experiencing Far Eastern cuisine. I thought it delicious.  Fish is banned to the riders as it’s potentially a fast track to a dodgy belly but I ate it. I tried everything bar the braised cow tendon stew; I looked hard into it but just couldn’t bring myself to place any on my plate. I did try something that appeared as an unappetizing purple grey colour but on tasting it I had to have some more not really sure what it was.
The great thing was although I’m not at the top of that curve, it wasn’t as steep or as difficult as I had once thought. I was swimming, maybe not a perfect stroke but I was well above water. After the last stage I lay on my bed contemplating it all, searching for one word to describe the experience. Exhilarating was the one that kept coming into my mind.  
The actual quote is as follows: ‘If you want a life doing what you love you’re going to have to decide between grace and grit. Swinging wide the door so opportunity can waltz in is graceful, but wrestling a blood hungry champion fighting rooster to the ground is awkward as all hell’
Josh Ritter wrote that, good song writer too. Different isn’t it, Chinese whispers.

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