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Vive le Tour!

July 5, 2011

Today’s Ride: 65km—Harrisburg

Weather: Couldn’t have been better

In his beautiful book, Tomorrow We Ride, Jean Bobet poetically articulates why cycling possesses a mystical appeal—almost addiction—for those who roule. He points to the eternal search for la volupté, that magical moment when cyclist, bicycle, road, environment, and universe are all in perfect harmony:

The voluptuous pleasure that cycling can give you is delicate, intimate, and ephemeral. It arrives, it takes hold of you, sweeps you up and then leaves you again. It is for you alone. It is a combination of speed and ease, force and grace. It is pure happiness.

I’m not sure I have ever experienced what Bobet describes, but I know I have come close. And this morning’s was as near perfect a ride as I have ever enjoyed. Not quite la volupté, but close enough to leave me reflecting on Bobet’s beautiful chapter, in which, after a half-hour of enjoying this fine experience, he confided with his brother that “Today, I was flying.”

Today, the pedals turned with ease. My legs felt untired and strong. The rhythm of the stroke devoured the road ahead almost effortlessly. Going uphill, I was smooth. Descending, I carved tight, confident lines. The bike was silent as it rolled along the flats. I was breathing well and comfortably. It was, quite honestly, sensational. So easy, when cycling is supposed to be anything but easy. Indeed, one of the rules of cycling pronounces:

Rule #10/ It never gets easier, you just go faster.

But the magic of today’s ride was that I couldn’t make it hard. Today, I was flying. I climbed up Sydenham Hill to start my ride. I may have climbed it faster before, but I doubt it. But I’ve never been so smooth on the ascent. Not at all ragged. Similarly on Crooks Hollow. Then on the long, fairly straight ride out to Harrisburg, the pedals just turned over. Coming back along Jerseyville Road, I was strong over the rollers, and then home through Mineral Springs. All good.
After a week away and off the bike, I was a little nervous about getting back on the bike and I was worried about perhaps having lost some fitness. Not the case (I had actually ridden an awful lot last week, though none of it on a racing bike and none of it at anything like high speed). I felt good and strong.
Of course, the Tour de France serves as added inspiration this time of year. Not in some kind of child-like fantasy of impersonating one’s heroes—I am, alas, too old for that—but rather in being cowed by the notion that these guys are riding 200km a day, everyday, for three weeks. If that’s the case, then surely I should get out and do a paltry 50km.
Jean Bobet was no stranger to the Tour. His brother, Louison, would be the first man to win the Tour de France three times in succession. Younger, bespectacled Jean rode at his side. I wonder what Jean would have thought about Philippe Gilbert’s win on Stage 1, just another of his dominant performances this year. He won’t win the Tour—he’s not a mountain goat—but there’s nobody who wins in such spectacular fashion.
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