Race of truth

Last night, I rode my first time-trial of the year, which was also my first competitive event since the whole osteoarthritis thing kicked off. It was wonderful to be back in that world, so familiar to me yet so strange to those outside it. As usual, I went along with my best friend Kev, who did the decent thing and went off a minute ahead of me to provide a suitable target. I didn’t quite catch him (I finished six seconds behind him, which meant I beat him by a tidy 54) but I did overhaul the guy who started two minutes before me, which is always a nice feeling. Anyway, the knee held up, the Madone performed flawlessly, and I managed eighth out of 23. Perfectly satisfactory, the more so as I was also 44 seconds faster than my best time over the same course last season, when I was still in full training. In fact, my average speed of 24 mph was the best I’ve ever posted in a time-trial. (I never said I was good at this.)
All round the course, I was reminding myself that four months ago, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever ride a road bike again. It’s a cliché, I know, but on this occasion, it truly was the taking part that counted.
The French call the time-trial la course de verité – the race of truth – because it’s just you, alone, against the clock. There is no simpler, or more brutally effective, way to see how good a rider you really are. As I said, it’s an odd, insular world, but I’m thrilled to discover I can still be part of it.

RACE OF TRUTH

– I-
Out here
There’s nowhere
To hide
From the wind, the clock
Your own weakness and desires.

– II –
You tell yourself
It doesn’t matter.
But it does matter.
Your head and hands and guts
Can’t sustain the lie.

– III –
The guy in front
Is my best friend
But for a penny
I’d pound him into the road
And hand him my dust on a plate.

– IV –
Everything –
Legs, lungs, back, even eyeballs –
Hurts. But to quit
Would be unendurable.
So you ride on, through it.

– V –
There’s a line that lies between
What you just can
And what you just can’t do.
The trick is to find it, then follow it
Until you drop.

– VI –
When it’s over
We swap times, slap backs and laugh
On our re-entering the world
They call the real one
But seems a shadow now.

– VII –
Spin home in a bunch,
Heavy-legged, smiling-warm
Each both wholly man and boy,
Loving the bubble we’re in,
Separate, special. The chosen few.

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