Monday, February 16, 2009

Race: Peloton

Again the entourage precedes the cyclists.

The road is still wet, but the rain has stopped.

Around the bend comes a moto, driver facing forward, cameraman on the rear facing the riders.

Strung out along the hill, the pack is a whir of shifting gears, whispering chains, rustling rain gear, tires hissing along pavement, multiplied by a hundred riders.

Somewhere in the forest of flailing legs are the riders you’ve come to watch: Lance and Levi and Chechu and Popo and Tyler and George and Mick and Carlos and all the others.

A fast eye familiar with every team color and distinctive cues on bike frames, or a faster eye with a knack for remembering every rider’s number, might pick out individual riders from the crowd.

Even on the uphill, climbing relatively slowly, they move too fast for a roadside spectator to recognize a face hidden under a helmet.

All you can do is wave and shout, “Go! Go!” and know that somewhere in there are your favorites.

As fast as they came, away they go, on up the road toward the next bend and out of sight again, on to the next stretch, the next hill, the next feed zone, the next sprint, miles away the finish.

Somebody has to be last in the bunch. Behind him come dozens of support cars, motos, more medics, officials, and everyone else.

Stragglers come along every few minutes after that, dropped on the hill climb. A couple of slower riders have let the team car catch up, so they can get fresh water bottles to carry forward to the rest of their mates.

Then comes a car marked “End of Convoy,” and it’s done.

You shake your head, and look down at your camera, and wonder what you just saw. Around you people are packing up their gear, unfolding umbrellas, buttoning jackets. And then you realize your brother is already a half-mile up the road with a freezing kid who wanted to be here and is trying desperately to be a rock star about it but won’t stop sniffling or shivering uncontrollably till he gets back inside the warm car. And you stuff your camera back into your jacket pocket and start hustling uphill on the rain-soaked pavement.

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