That beauty below is the Cannondale SuperSix EVO Tour de France “Grizzly Bear” edition as chosen by yours truly, Ted King.
Think for a minute, and try to define yourself as an animal. Not the easiest task, unless you’re a shaggy blond, are often driven around in a back of a Volvo station wagon, and are friendly almost to a fault, then you’re obviously a golden retriever. But truly, to characterize yourself as an animal isn’t easy. I opted for the Grizzly Bear not because I’m frighteningly hairy, but because I am uniquely native to North America, I’m very tall, and I’m carnivorous with a particular penchant for salmon. Boom, knee jerk reaction: grizzly (Teddy) bear.
I nearly chose the lobster. More specific to me geographically than just North America, the lobster is native to the frigid waters of New England. But our shared traits effectively end there. “American Lobster” as they’re also referred, are less affectionately known as bottom feeders or the insects of the sea. Their brains are minuscule and they don’t do much deep thinking, as I’m told by the authority to end all lobster authority: the Gulf of Maine Research Center. Lobsters of course are exceptionally delicious especially doused in butter and upon further consideration, they have regenerative abilities that would have suited me really well this month. Not that I planned to lose a claw in the heated battle of the Tour de France, but a lobster could do that and grow a new one like it’s no big deal.
Unlike my lobster kin, I have been doing a lot of deep thinking lately and especially these past few hours. Not much sleep last night as my mind spins a million miles per hour. My Tour de France ended prematurely with pain serving as the excruciatingly cruel hinging factor. The fishnet stockings that I’ve been wearing aren’t just for esthetic reasons; they’re holding the bandages tight to my skin. The stress-fest, crash marred first week of the Tour took it’s toll on me too with high speed visits with the unforgiving pavement on stages three and four. In the days since then I’ve grimaced, ground my teeth, and occasionally let choice words slip when riding a particularly jarring road or ironically during post-race massage where the masseur’s hands act both an angel and a devil, flushing my muscles of lactic acid while exacerbating a body riddled with hematomas. Heck, even just rolling over in bed — that hurts enough to wake me up a dozen times per night. I’ll tell you the two people perhaps most pleased that my Tour is over are the kindly folks doing the hotel laundry — my Tour de Nightly Blood Staining Linens Across England and France has come to a close. Also our loyal and always smiling team doctor who’s been applying dozen of bandages to my seeping body morning and night. He suddenly has just found another hour of his day without having to tend after me.
It’s a bloody sport, as witnessed by this first half of the Tour. Cycling’s tip top riders, and plenty more lesser known such as myself, are going home left and right. It’s a bloody cruel sport, when all I want to do is be a loyal domestique, employed to tow my captain, plow through the wind for my team, ride in the dangerous trenches, and fetch bottles across northwestern Europe ultimately to Paris. Not this year.
Bike riding is a beautiful thing. Peaceful and serene, flowing and artistic, freeing and blissful, pedaling a bike over hill and dale is ethereal. Tack a number on your back, though, and bike racing is a bizarrely unnatural sport hinging so much on luck. Yes, there is inherently risk, calculating one’s risk, diminishing risk, and so forth. A flat tire at the wrong time on a fast descent, a dog crossing the road (who brings an unleashed dog to a bike race still baffles me), rogue #TDFSelfies, rain, and rain and rain and rain, even on the days forecasted for pristine weather here in France it rained buckets. So in the grand scope, there’s only so much you can control. For three straight weeks you therefore need luck on your side or else, like me and so many others, you end up on your side. From there, bloodied, heartbroken, and ultimately pedaling asymmetrically, writhing with pain, you visit the rolling race doctor following the peloton. It’s truly an incredible job they have, providing life back to a deflated cyclist. They’ll spray some disinfectant and wrap you as effectively as possible while you hold onto a car window speeding back up to the peloton at literally 80kph, all the while assessing you for greater injuries that are masked with adrenaline. Now resembling a comical Halloween mummy — except that’s real blood and not Heinz ketchup — off you’ll pedal rejoining your colleagues like a lemming.
The human body has an incredible ability to heal, skin grows back, bruises fade, aches and pains subside. Meanwhile the punishment handed out daily at an event like the Tour is unlike anything else. There’s always some hyperbolic number thrown out for how many calories we’re expending. I can tell you factually that racing alone we are spewing through 4,000-7,000 calories daily on the bike — let alone how our basal metabolism shifts to high high gear for the other 18 hours in the day. Daily recovery and recuperation alone is taxing on the body to carry on like this day after day. For success at the Tour, therefore, health is the absolutely pinnacle. So to first add insult to injury, I’m racing injured for the past week. Next to really throw throw salt in my wounds, waking up two days ago on the first massive mountain stage my immune system was clearly taxed as I was felt as though I was breathing with one lung. Surviving that, I then woke up yesterday on the monster stage 10 where I was hacking up… well, sparing you details, it was something resembling the aftermath of Ghostbusters.
It’s an eerily unique, claustrophobic feeling: head to toe my body is screaming in pain from the crashes, I’m panting with all my aerobic might but only inhaling what feels like half the oxygen I need, plus I’m now facing what’s called the hardest sporting event in the world. This is everything I’ve worked for, dreamed of, yearned for over the past decade. It’s no lack of training or fitness or fortitude or desire…
Yeah, this one is hard. Really hard. The rest day today to recuperate and lick my wounds would have worked miracles.
I think one of professional cycling’s most fascinating attributes are the scars. They tell a story more than a paper cut you might sustain at work in a corner office. They say scars build character — plus chicks dig scars — so judging by the scabs on my back, shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee, and shin, I’m due for some story telling, character building, and chicks.
The support has been incredible already. Comments, texts, and phone calls truly mean the world to me. I’ll be back. I just might have to eat a lobster to restore some morale in the coming days.