We’d a rough day today in the Dolomites; single digits and rain…all day long.
It’s hard to get going on a day like that, not when Accuweather tells you there’s a 100% chance of rain, it’s not likely to get any better and morale is low.
But no matter how bad it got – and descending 20% gradients in that was sketchy, I afforded myself a wry smile because I know it was never going to get as bad as Easter Sunday in Ireland back in 2013.
That day is still the reference for me and I’m sure a fair few of the other 23 riders in that sorry bunch.
It was the third stage of the Kerry Group Ras Mumhan, a cracking four-day event held every Easter, and whenever I meet the guys who comprised that cluster of stragglers it’s often the first thing we talk about.
It was probably no better than 3 or 4 degrees with strong wind and rain all afternoon and if merely cycling in those conditions by yourself is hard, racing is entirely different.
We were out the back early and on a 142-kilometre stage it made for a long day; 4 hours and 24 minutes to be exact. We were a whole 27 minutes behind the winner.
I remember a few things very clearly; Patsy Crowley driving up the outside so he could get up to service (eventual winner) Paidi O’Brien, splashing us on the way. Beside me was a shivering Mike Storan of the same team, too demoralised to make an effort to ask for the jacket he’d put in the back seat.
There was Nigel Forde demonstrating how banging your already-frozen hands on the bars could bring the feeling back.
There was Bryan Long (genuinely) trying to convince a few of us it was actually a grand day for cycling but when I saw him sprint clear of the group to get a jacket from his father’s car on Valentia Island I knew we were in trouble.
I gave serious thought to jacking the race and joining the legion of others (26 called it a day early) who turned around on the road – only Mark Quigley convinced me I’d regret it.
I remember (very clearly) the shaming we all got as we had to wait for the race to come off Valentia Island so we could go onto it.
I don’t know how big that lap is but I’d guess 7-8k with a climb. That’s a LONG way out the back. There were riders in our group who never rode again that season and by the time we got back to the finish there were team cars already packed and loaded and headed home.
It was a beating of biblical proportions and to see the jersey presentations long finished and the stage taken down was embarrassing.
But Quigley was right; that day has stood to me in more ways than I ever thought they could or would.
I’ve still not experienced cold like that and I know that until I pee on my hands to get the feeling back I’m not truly frozen.
It has made me a better ride too and tonight, at a light-hearted nightly function we have here on tours, I got presented a pair of balls (fake ones) because the group deemed I showed the most on Monte Zoncolan!
Cycling is truly a case of mind over matter and one anecdote I am often drawn to is one pointed out to me by the aforementioned Long.
It was when Joey Barton was giving an interview to the Sunday Times once and he was discussing positivity and negativity.
He said (quoting a well-versed parable) the battle between both emotions is between the two ‘wolves’ inside us all.
One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
The other is good. It is joy, peace love, hope serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.
He was then asked by the interviewer, “well, which wolf wins?” to which he replied, “the one that you feed.”
I know the mind is capable of pushing aside negativity and self-doubt but only if you’ll feed it some positivity.
So, moral of the story? To give out beatings, you have to take many of them – though maybe not as bad as a stage race in Ireland at Easter…