It will never happen to me. Yet it did. Humiliation, defeat, weakness. It wasn’t even a quick ride. Strong riders taking it easy and I was blown out the back. Bump, gone, just like that. Dropped.
The ignominy of weakness. Feeble. Left behind. The horrible, unforgivable moment when you lose the wheel, for it is not a choice, you do not give up the wheel. No, it is gone, just like that, beyond your reach.
Being dropped is not instant. The pain had begun much earlier. Early warning signs you are afraid to acknowledge. Hanging on, kidding yourself you’ll make it, the pace will drop, you’ll warm up or get a second wind.
Yet this is not like the other times. No amount of energy gels or teeth gritting will pull you through. You already know it is all over, you’re just in denial.
Suffering mile after mile. Of course you’ll make it. You won’t. The mental games begin. Are you simply weak minded rather than physically incapable? Somehow it’s easier to admit you’re mentally weak rather than physically for the former is easier to resolve.
Not so when you’re physically done, for nothing can bring you back. A lightning bolt from Zeus himself would be of little use. The training required to bring you to the required level is either a long way back in the past or is all the riding you’ve yet to do.
You’re fucked. Royally fucked.
Nobody must know. You’re fine. This is easy. You can’t see what they’ve long since seen. A man suffering on the outside as much as the inside. The bluff is long since over.
It takes an enormous emotional commitment to overcome the self. To let the wheel go. Why hold on? You stopped enjoying the ride at least ten miles back. Dave Brailsford isn’t scouting today. There’s no contract at the end of this ride, only tired legs.
And yet. Still you refuse to let go. Only when the choice is beyond your control do you lose the wheel because just like that you’re unhinged, loose, a first time water skier left flailing in the wake of the speedboat.
The pack rides off. Not at speed. No, it’s worse than that. They barely seem to be escaping you, teasing you, come on, you can make it back it on, look they’re not going that fast. And yet, try as you might you cannot reduce the gap. That extra 0.01mph may as well be the pro peloton speeding off. You’re dangling.
Corner by corner the pack disappears. Out of sight. Relief. You can slow down. Not that you have much choice, you’re broken and almost come to a standstill like the lead out man in a race up a mountain, their monster turn on the front over, they simply pull over and come to a stop. Battery dead.
Yet your ride isn’t over. This is a no drop ride. The kind bastards will stop and wait for you. Even worse, you’re riding so slow you won’t even reach them, they will turn back and reach you. Bastards! No you’ve not punctured. You’ve been off the back so long you could have been fitting a new pair of tubs.
Excuses. Time to roll out every last one. Too much of something (riding, food, beer) or too little of something (riding, food, beer). Take your pick, they all add up to the same thing. Today is your turn to be weakest. On every ride there will be a link weaker than the others and sometimes they simply snap.
My excuse: jet lag. Riding after a 3 week break and very next day after a 24 hour flight from New Zealand was not wise and my body evidently hadn’t overcome the 11 hour time difference. The day after being dropped I didn’t even ache. The next ride I was smashing out big numbers. That’s my excuse, but there can be no hiding I was the weakest on the day.
The group is too polite to laugh at your pathetic efforts or even to acknowledge the fact that yes today, it’s your turn to be the weaker rider. There’s nothing to do but be gallant and admit it.
Go ahead, save yourselves!
And yet they won’t take ‘go’ for an answer. Now comes the true embarrassment. You can’t even maintain their new slow pace. The group slows and slows yet still you yo-yo off the back. Looks are exchanged among the group. Nobody will make eye contact with you. It’s over, but they’re too polite to be kind.
Try a gel, stretch, spin, they suggest. Try a different sport they don’t say but think. You try everything short of rubbing an energy gel into your thighs. Gels fail to resurrect you as they usually would. Not this time. This is beyond the bonk.
Only after you have begged and pleaded do they go, when they realise there is no resurrection. You’re left for dead. A long slow ride home, head hanging low, the weight of shame, the lack of energy to lift it.
The psychology of failure
Few enjoy failing, despite the mantra of fail fast, learn more. To be humbled by your inadequacy is a hard pill to swallow. Especially when you have an audience.
For some failure is simply the consequence of trying, for others it is the result of their own inadequacy.
I’d like to think it will never happen again. But of course it will. Better get my excuses lined up…