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Free Associating

January 14, 2012

Today’s Ride: 20km—Mineral Springs loop

Weather: -7c. Cold.

The Mineral Springs loop allows me to identify with four different pro riders. I’m not sure why and I’m sure it’s the kind of juvenile imagination that hearkens back to my mimicking (again: imaginary) Wayne Gretzky on my parents driveway when I was young. And I’m confident it’s wildly inaccurate as my riding power and style has little in common with any of them. But it does suggest four distinct stages in the 20km loop. It’s also become a common refrain on this loop that I should channel different riders like this as I take on familiar roads.

Stage 1: Climbing Wilson, a long, steady ascent, I am Michael Barry. This is the beginning of the ride, which is about establishing pace and rhythm. So often at the head of the peloton, Barry has a smooth riding style. It would be unfair and unappreciative to call it effortless, but he exudes pure class in this role. While a lot of riders will wear their hearts on their sleeves—and it’s easy to tell whether or not they’re suffering and how much—Barry is more controlled. This first stage deserves some qualification; I sometimes opt for the Old Ancaster Rd. instead of Wilson, when the three steeper climbs pull me out of the saddle and require a different kind of style. I’m still working on the right comparison. I’d love to say Alberto Contador, but that’s not quite right. I’ll have to think about this more.

Stage 2: After descending towards Sulphur Springs Rd., the ups and downs begin, and I am Jens Voigt. The grimace is certainly there, but I’m still in domestique mode. One more short hill to push myself over, holding my line and my gear for longer than I think I can. Shut up legs. If Stage 1 was about style and cadence, Stage 2 is about mind over body. Will and power. The first few times I rode this, I remember challenging myself not to change gears as I approached the top of the short hills (I was gassed and would want to gear down immediately before descending). Clenching my teeth, I would ask what Jens would do and push on.

Stage 3: Diving into the horseshoe turn into Mineral Springs before climbing out of it and over the last three rollers, I am Philippe Gilbert. The end of the climbing is in reach and nobody but nobody finishes better on a hill than Gilbert. I’ll get out of the saddle here and punch my way up. The smoothness of the earlier climbing has been replaced not by a fatigued desperation, but a deliberate harnessing of as much power as possible to get to the top.

Stage 4: The return leg along Governor’s Rd. is a long, steady, and gentle descent. I put the bike into the biggest gear and maintain a high cadence. Hands in the drops, legs pumping, I’m Fabian Cancellara. This is solo mode. Not time trial, of course, but the body is low and the legs are charging, pushing up against my chest and reaching the fastest speeds of the ride.

It’s a curious form of free association. It makes sense in child play, but most of the time, I’m a mature adult. I ride for fitness and pleasure, but this method of pretending to embody the qualities of some of the world’s best cyclists serves as a healthy and poignant reminder that riding bikes is an ageless activity.

An added footnote to this morning’s loop. It was cold. I donned my new Bikes to Rwanda vest and arm-warmers for the first time. Probably an unfair day to give them a proper test—probably the coldest ride of this winter so far and I could feel it on my face and arms more than usual—but the vest held up rather well, and will be a welcome layer in future rides. Adding comfort and style…

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