The mountain-top finish
By David Pacey
If you look very carefully between the swaying fir trees in my back yard
you can see the top of the climb before you ever turn a pedal, but I donít
recommend it. Itís best to taste the clean mountain air. Itís best to enjoy
the warmth of the last few days before the rains come. Itís best to get a
few kilometers on the legs, get the lungs working and the back warmed up Ė
and then hazard a look up, waaaay up.
The hill in question doesnít even have a proper name, itís just one in a
line of foothills leading to the real mountains of the North Cascades, but
for my purposes this is perfect. In May my hill can be the Zoncolan, in July
Galibier, but today, on an apple crisp afternoon in mid-September it has to
be La Pandera.
I could easily extol the virtues of this ride for its cardiovascular
value, or convince you that I only torture myself getting to the top so that
I can enjoy the cruise back down, but the plain fact of the matter is that I
enjoy the fantasy that I am riding in that select group of riders at the
front of a mountain stage on the penultimate climb in one of the grand
tours. In short, Iím up for a climb and all of the contenders will be there,
unbeknownst to my faithful dog Ginny, who will be my peloton of one.
I never quite get around to riding a hundred or more kilometers leading
up to the climb, I find a few miles to suffice, but the fact remains that to
the top the climb is Ďround about 10 kilometers. Steep. Painfully Steep.
Maybe not for the pros, but Iím just an average middle aged guy, so for me
3000 ft. in 6 miles, which works out to be about 10% on average, feels like
a stage in the Pyrenees any day.
Warmed up and spinning easily my legs feel good as I approach the first
part of the grade. Iíve made up my mind not to end up in the groupetto
today. Once is on the front as we begin to climb, riding tempo, and,
typically one of the Kelme riders has gone on the attack, but thereís no
panic in the pack, no need to answer just yet.
Then thereís a milder stretch, a chance to get my wind and assess my
strength, before the hill Ďticks upí and the fun begins.
The big boys arenít wasting any time today, the moment the hill begins to
bite theyíre out of the saddle and on the attack. Sevilla, Mancebo and Igor
Gonzolas de Galdeano lead the way, but Iím on good form today and have no
trouble matching their accelerations.
Weíre only a third of the way up, but already the peloton has been blown
to pieces. I crack a smile, so far so good.
For a short stretch the road really turns up, and itís putting some of
the others into real difficulty, but Iíve still got power in my legs and I
havenít reached the red zone so I give my Basque teammate (Ginny) a smile
and go on the attack.
Only a select few are able to answer my acceleration Ė Heras is there,
Oscar Sevilla, Roberto Laiseka, the usual suspects. Weíre halfway home and
itís clear whoís on form today and who isnít.
Much as Iíd love to breath easy from the this point, and ride at my own
pace, I know that the only way to take the stage is to stay attentive and
match the othersí moves.
Ginny thinks Iím insane. I can see it in her eyes. She knows this climb
as well as I do and canít quite figure why weíre pushing so hard today; but
she canít see, as I can, the faces of the imaginary riders as we struggle
toward the summit. She canít tell that weíve got them where we want them,
that this our day. She canít know how it helps to ease the pain to imagine
that I could keep up with these magnificent athletes.
Roberto Heras attacks again and immediately Iím out of the saddle and
onto his wheel. Am I dancing in the saddle?? At 40 years old, six-foot-three
and 190 lbs. it is hard to call my efforts dancing, but Iím up on the pedals
and the bike and I are driving up the hill as fast as we ever have.
One last hairpin turn and then the final ascent, I can feel the
Ďflamme-rougeí burning like a coal deep in my furnace and I go flat out up
the final kilometer. The hill really bites here Ė itís a spur of an old
forestry road that shoots straight to the top of the mountain at what must
be more than 18%. My lungs are burning and Iím really suffering. Itís not
Angliru, but it hurts. No one will best me on the line today. I offer a
small salute before I nearly collapse next to Ginny. Her wet kisses are a
slim substitute for a pair of pretty Spanish podium girls, and there will be
no golden jersey, but we both know that today Iíve put time on my two
greatest rivals Ė old age and complacency, and thatÖ is victory enough.