Feeling: IN FOR THE RIDE
One thing that really baffles me about these Europeans is their response to questioning if they speak English.
"A little," they always say. Then proceed to converse impeccably fluently with you about where the nearest cafe is, what country you are from and how they went to Bali for a fortnight with their Uncle Johan back in 1992. For a people who, as a generalist whole, are quite openly chuffed about their high points ("I know I'm a good looking guy" and "I am very funny") to not absolutely declare their English-able status is rather flabbergasting. I know I would should I share the conversational capability. (Well, to be honest, this morning I ran across to a cafe and to purchase The Pedaller and Marky Mark a piece of quiche apiece for them to jam on their ride. Upon presenting it to them, I proudly claimed I had gone through the entire exchange of the buy speaking French. In actuality, all I said was, "Bonjour. Deux quiche, merci." And my wild nod to her questioning had me return with two piping hot servings, rather than the cold I was after. But no matter – I spoke French).
Another thing I love is the family-orientated ways. Family is of extreme importance, as is keeping them in the know. Every single one of these guys have a What's App group going with their clan. (As do many Kiwi people too, I know, but over here is is insanely prevalent). I have instructed (ok, bossed about) each member of the Worts to download the app so I can kickstart one up to share family news, photos of Hendrik (baby, not Papa Henio) and general chit chat.
I shall let you know how it goes. Currently, Mummy Deb, The Brother Michael and I are the only members and banter has been minimal.
One more before we get into the cycling commentary: in this area of France, as it is bordering Swiss country, all the road signs and product and what not have both the French and German terms on them. It makes me laugh – the beautiful fluidity of the French language, with its accents and sexy sounds (and look), bang on next to (or above or below) the ridiculousness of the German. For some reason, I always think of the French as like a stylishly slick feather pen, while the German reminds me of a big bubble blown by a little boy chewing gum. Don't get me wrong, I love the German sounds; they sometimes are just so absurdly humourous. I mean, how good is it that a pram is a kinderwagen (child car), kuddelmuddel means chaos and they have a word for when a song gets stuck in your head – ohrwurm, meaning "ear worm".
Now, bike chat.
I have been making an effort to bond with each of the teammates in turn. Not in a, I-am-the-girlfriend-of-your-fellow-Pedaller-so-I-am-going-to-pounce-and-interrogate-the-shit-out-of-you light, but in a I-go-out-with-your-fellow-Pedaller;-you-and-I-just-happen-to-be-both-in-the-backseat-of-the-car-on-the-way-back-from-the-stage;-let-me-unearth-some-common-ground-and-find-out-what-you'd-be-up-to-should-you-not-be-cycling-and-how-many-siblings-you-have. (I find myself more and more like Mummy Deb as the days go by). And it's been great; so far, I've built some comradery with the Irish lad (dead on), the Dutchie and I had talked about Thai travel (he has an 18-year-old sister with Down's Syndrome who he is fiercely proud of and I find it absolutely heart warmingly beautiful) (and he won the most combative jersey for the second day in a row yesterday and gifted me with his prize bottle of wine; I said if he gets it again today, I will present him with a plethora of his much-loved macaroons) and the Pole has taken to calling me "Baby" and pats the chair by him every meal time. And Marky Mark and I are on Insta and FB meme tagging status now, with him titling me and The Pedaller yesterday as "two of my best friends". (Every a.m before departure and every night for a few hours following dinner, us trio just hang out in their room and banter and admin up and just be communal, it's lovely). Just the Spaniard I haven't yet cracked, but he's a quiet little soul who I feel I can content with sharing a smile.
I'm pretty in awe of these guys. The physical mountains they literally conquer each and every day is fucking phenomenal. Yesterday the finish was at the conclusion of a fairly steep 400m climb, and I found myself absolutely awestruck watching them battle their way up and over. To have not just the physical ability, but also the mental strength to just keep going and going and going even though the legs are burning to buggery and the stomach is churning with supplementary syrups and the shoulder is giving severe strife is almost beyond comprehension.
I guess that's why The Pedaller and his peers all come across far older than they are; years of competing and travelling around the world and keeping disciplined and on track and living the lifestyle makes them seem far senior and mature than many nearing 30, let alone in their early 20s.
And by fuck do I find myself insanely proud of wee Reg.
I'm catching onto some lingo too. "I was swinging" means said someone was finding it to be a struggle. I know the difference between the bottles, that being the whole isotonic and energy and such (quite easy really, identified with the letter either "I" or "E" atop the lid). I've figured out how to read the profiles of each day (not actually that hard; the infographics and English descriptions beneath sort of explain it enough that if you were swinging – see what I did there? – you'd have to be a bit on the slow side). And I've been party to each pre-race pep talk. ("Stay in a group. Bas is going after the 70km sprint today. We want as many as possible in the break."). I'm just fizzing it.
And it's a good way to see all the wee French towns. Yesterday we even crossed over into Switzerland for about five minutes (still blows my brain how you can drive to another country aye). All the Alsace areas have their wee French flags fluttering and bike adornments and crowds of kids. Yesterday at the first feed station, a set of grandparents had their young grandson (clearly a budding bike rider) ready and waiting for when the fleet flew by (a passing Brit chucked out an empty drink bottle which he claimed with glee).
It really is quite magical.
Today it's the hardest stage, about five hours of riding with eight climbs collectively totalling 4200m. (Fuck I sound in the know. This tour break down book is quite handy). It's hot, about 28 to 30 degrees. I'm currently en route to the first feed station in the camper with the swannys, where I'm going to swap into the chase car for 60km through to 122. (When the manager asked if I'd like to ride with him for the stint my head almost came off with the ferociousity of my nod. "I can't guarantee I'll be able to get you near Regan," he warned. "Mate! I don't mind!" I said. "I just want to see things in the thick of it. Don't worry about that.").
I'm absolutely frothing, with phone on flight mode to ensure optimal battery capability to capture some shit for Papa Henio.
(I fully reckon that when Papa Henio does eventually retire, he and Mummy Deb should totally come to Europe for some summers and he be a swanny. Actually, maybe not a swanny; while I can see him doing the to-rider handover at the feed stations, I can't quite see him buttering up sarnies for the post fuel or giving the cyclists' thighs a rub down in the evenings. Maybe a bike mechanic would be more up his street. Or one of the race officials doing the org-ing – organising, just to clarify, not orgying – he's good at that).
It's made me wonder about perhaps looking into some sports journalism of sorts. Not necessarily cycling as such, but perhaps a genre that I could work up a good name in to be the chief reporter for its results and what not. I mean, imagine rugby; if you got in with the goods, the travel and insights and all would be incredible.
But then again, then I'd have to actually learn the ins and outs so it may not be quite so glam.
I just cannot fathom how good The Pedaller is for my mental mind. The other day I received some news that slightly (ok, rather) upset me when I awoke, so I went for a savage runny-walk to slam the sense out of me. You see, what with this race going on and such, I didn't want to put that on The Pedaller. But when I got back he just knew something was on my psyche, so I told him. "Well that's just the end of it then isn't it?" He said. "Door shut and done. You can open another one now."
Honestly, where does he get this wise aptness to just simplify it how it is and make me feel insanely better about things? Straight out tell me it's not worth the dwelling and taking to heart, but letting it float through and not attach? I swear he's the Dalai Lama reborn. (Even though the DL is still alive).
Just as a wee sign off; I've found I've come to take great peace from the sound of spinning cycling wheels. Just that reverberation of spokes and chains and whatever else makes up a bike sends me into quite a state of relaxation. Quite fitting really, when you go out with a cyclist.
(And yet another add on: going to totally disown my Kiwi Tall Poppy, take on some European ego and claim that I nailed the car switchover like a pro. To be fair it 'twasn't hard; manager Neil pulled over, photog Morgane got out and I got in. But I was extremely apprehensive about the switch so to have it all roll minus any hitches was glorious. Next post shall elaborate on such front).