"...Bollé Adria Gazprom ooh Pascal Ackermann red socks green socks customised socks with names Controltech sound of wheels helicopter wind from helicopter motorbike - shit I'm panicking - ahhh - Mark Cavendish Mark Renshaw nice calves fantini selle Italia black socks Tadaj Pogacar gusto Slovenian flag - shit I'm still panicking - Scott bike Santic shoes Jerusalem castelli..."
Sometimes, if I'm on the edge of panic in a race, I will say to myself everything I can see or hear or feel. As soon as I note one thing, I immediately have to go onto another. It doesn't stop the panic, but sometimes, after a couple of hours I can settle a little more into the race.
I spent the first two hours of stage 3 in this manner. Fortunately a large chunk of the stage was on my daily training roads, so the legs found some kind of benefit from being able to predict the load they would face.
70km from home, it started to rain - I'd crashed on stage 2 and had some uncovered grazes on my arms and legs. The sting was sharp, I could feel my pulse in the underlying throb. Strangely, this was the best I felt all day, the most free from panic. I felt alive, I felt privileged to be there. Riding a twisting road up a gradual mountain as the rain poured down. The sting seemed to help divert attention from the panic, I was in the moment. That minute may well be what makes me able to look back at this race with fondness.
The rain died down and the road kicked up. Unfortunately, riding with panic takes a lot of energy, it saps your drive, eats your willingness to put yourself under further physical pain. This meant that it was always going to be difficult to find anything to fight on with on the climb. Rather, I was looking for the "disco group" to form. This way, I could take some stress off and ride in. This is a shame, as it means I did not climb anywhere near my capacity. This is perhaps one of my most difficult challenges with cycling. Racing requires you to put yourself under more and more physical stress. Yet, I'm spending my races trying to reduce metal stress - I have to do this in order to survive.
My effort is usually dictated by how hard I have to go to not get dropped and have my race over. On the final climbs of the day, it is different. The sprinters and support riders form at the back and ride in to the finish easier. Finding the will to fight all the way home in a higher bunch when you could take stress off by being in the "disco group" is hard. It's hard at anytime, but in days of acute panic it's exasperated. That internal drive is what makes top performance possible. Without it, you are hamstrung. I will never reach my physical potential in this sport. And that hurts. But, before I'm done there is plenty of stress left to try and face.
None of the stages finish on top of a climb, they all descend down into the town bellow. Yesterday's stage the last 15km was all flowing descent. A nice way to tick of stage 3!