There’s something cathartic about entering the hurt locker and riding hard. The silence that engulfs you, the lactic acid that burns in your legs, the taste of blood in your mouth and the constant battle to not give up. Just a little bit further, just a little bit harder.
Hang on, you’re thinking, checking that this is GRAN FONDO and not another solely performance-focused macho publication. Don’t get us wrong, what makes us tick about cycling is much more rounded than just smashing the hell out of ourselves but we will agree there is a time and place to ride hard. Pain, pushing your limits and suffering are part of what makes cycling great, but what is the best way to take a trip into your hurt locker?
FTP, W/kg, KOMs/QOMs and a whole host of other metrics can make a performance-focused ride a bit daunting (some might argue dull, too). But riding hard is fun – naturally, more fun in GRAN FONDO fashion, on our terms.
Don’t half-wheel anyone, don’t blank other riders, don’t attack your group without letting them know that you want to push on. A whole string of don’ts but when the red mist comes down and you’re swept up in the rush of riding full gas, it’s easy to be a bit stupid. Instead, be humble. Ride hard at the right time and please, please, don’t be a dick about it. There’s no prize for the first past whatever make-believe finish line you have in your head.
So what if you didn’t get a PR. Don’t feel obliged to make excuses in your ride’s Strava title: “Easy spin with mum”. “Got a fly in my eye”. “Brake was rubbing”. Keep those comments on a sub-par performance to yourself. If you battled 50 km into a headwind that ruined your average speed, we applaud you but you don’t need to justify it to anyone. Riding hard is only a small portion of what makes cycling amazing. Take your performance seriously but don’t get completely consumed by it.
If you aren’t a pro, semi-pro or really competitive amateur with a coach, a race programme and eyes on future greatness, riding a bike doesn’t have to involve a surly face. Smile when it hurts. Gurn like Thomas Voeckler. Sprint out of every roundabout. Those numbers on your screen? Beat them. Dig so deep that you impress yourself. Embrace the pain, but above all, never lose focus on the fun side of riding fast.
Go out and find solace in the silence. The whirr of your chain. Screaming lungs. The pure joy of speed. It’s not just racing, it never is. On rides like these, you turn up the dial and dare to pedal harder. You unleash pent-up fury from work or home. You may or may not have a goal, but who cares. Going fast is a big part of what makes riding a bike worthwhile. Open up the taps to see what you can do. A local climb or a lunch ride to destress. Get your heart rate up and the endorphins flowing. One week, two weeks… four weeks. By now you might be making inroads on those all-important Strava rankings. But who really cares?
Pedal yourself into a glorious, sweaty mess, then turn around, come home and enjoy the rest of your day. Scratch itched, you smug, well-trained b•stard.
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Words: Phil Gale Photos: Felix Unseld (Illustrations)