Last week I wrote a fast, fairly emotional piece about Liege-Bastogne-Liege. A little more considered review is below.
It’s time to close the book on this year’s challenge. Just the one this year. The hard kilometres of preparation were done in the first three months of the year, getting used to the new bike and putting distance in my legs, well-wrapped up because of the cold in the early year. I was as ready as I could be, despite a back problem and the small issue of falling down the stairs four weeks before. A last piece on personal reflection before it fades in to the background completely.
Actually, before it gets too serious, screw rational reflection! It’s 150 kilometres! It’s over 2700 metres of climbing!
AND I DID IT! For the second year running!
I CAN Ride with Others!
I usually ride alone. There are a lot of reasons for that but primarily the issues that I have mean that I ride very conservatively. Slowing right down in towns, occasional long stops. Various reasons. Primarily I don’t want to be risk or danger to others.
Having ridden with around 8,000 others, I realise that is flawed. With that many people there is going to be an idiot factor. People overtaking and suddenly cutting in meaning a near touch of wheels at fifty plus kilometres per hour or overtaking and then sitting in front of you. That’s your vision blocked on somewhat treacherous Belgian roads.
The point? I am actually not dangerous at all! No way! I know my limits and operate within them, picking up good habits along the way such as looking far ahead to make sure I know what is in store. It’s also fun to ride with other people. Ignoring the idiot factor – difficult when it nearly causes an accident – it was good to engage with others around me, friends and strangers.
Even managed to use some of my ridiculously rusty French. Another personal achievement!
Too Much Focus?
Cote de la Redoute, the short, sharp and famous climb that is symbolic of this grand old ride, was all I could talk about in the build up to this ride and a source of enormous pride as I had climbed it the previous year without getting off my bike. The fall sideways had various causes. Heat, tiredness, the suspicion that my right side had decided that it was not going to help. Whatever. I went down. A low light.
A Sense of Perspective
But why focus on Redoute? The number of Personal Bests showed a marked improvement on last year. Fast (for me) times on the other iconic climbs. Roche aux Faucons, St. Nicolas, Ancien Barriere, Maquisard. All with some really quite cool names, it has to be said! Even managed to go over 60km/h, finally! The personal achievements outweigh one mistake. The only damage was pride.
I will never be a great climber but it is the thing I enjoy most, despite the issues on Redoute. I just feel my right leg more, hard to describe but true. Believe me. It feels great! Hello right leg, nice to know you’re there!
What goes up must come down. I will never love descending. To use a Dutch expression, the ‘prikkels’ are overpowering. Too much stimuli. My somewhat broken filters are simply flooded. I got some sensible advice from friends and used this. Just take it easy and use it as a rest. Slow the pulse a little. But still so much to take in. Wore me down.
The Swiss Couple
Around the 120km mark came the mental low point. I was braking more than planned. My usual habit of looking far ahead was made difficult by the less than perfect surfaces and the close proximity of so many others. I’d lost contact with my friends, my own fault through irregular speed, too fast and too slow. The day had taken its toll and Redoute was still on my mind despite having taken a similar climb (Roche aux Faucons) with no issue.
Then came the Swiss couple.
I assume they were Swiss, he had a Swiss national team jersey on. I decided to just sit on their tail, not so close that I was drafting them but using them as a kind of advanced warning system. It helped that they were very good at signalling potholes and other obstructions to other riders, a real bonus. Besides the practical element, their presence also helped my somewhat distracted mind settle, relaxed me. I overtook them on Cote de Saint Nicolas and never saw them again. But I’ll stay grateful to these people I never met. They’ll never know how much they helped.
Cote de Saint Nicolas
If Redoute was to be a low light than Saint Nicolas was the high point. The last of the frankly insane climbs that mark the end of Liege-Bastogne-Liege. It’s not in the most attractive area of Liege and the main landmark is an ugly apartment building that seems to have been the result of an exchange programme with Soviet architects some time in the 70’s. But it is strangely lifting. The locals are sat outside their houses giving encouragement whilst sipping beers (only 10 kilometres and you can have one!) and the kids high-fiving cyclists are out in abundance. Some are even throwing water on request, something welcome for tired and overheated riders.
Between the Swiss couple and the encouragement the rhythm came back. I took a full minute off of last years time and managed some overtaking despite an average gradient of 7.6%, maximizing at 13%.
At the top the I am not ashamed to admit the emotion got to me. A couple of tears appeared as I started a slow and easy descent. A little more to go. Just a long and steady climb to the professional finish-line followed by a blast of cobbles. At that stage you know you’re going to complete the course. Despite the fall.
For one person, an ugly suburb on the outskirts of Liege was the most beautiful place on the planet for an hour or so. The finish is near and I could taste that beer.
A Man’s Got to Know His Limitations
Dirty Harry is not the first person to go to for a deep, philosophical quote to close this post. But this line rings a little true following a last reflection on a what was a personally very significant day. Looking through the entry above, I certainly know my limitations and the compromises that I have to make. But that’s no bad thing. Being conscious of your issues, being aware of them, is something that is needed. It allows me to enjoy the day more, take in the sensations and enjoy them.
Being aware of my limitations is not the same as worrying about them and means I enjoy the moments more and can make the most of special days. Take in the moment and enjoy it. Nothing more, nothing less.
And it’s done. I don’t think I will do it again, although I did say that last year. No, next year’s challenges need to be different, perhaps involving mountains. Not sure. I will leave Redoute behind, allowing it the last word. Maybe one day I will climb it again but I doubt if it will be as part of Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
But I don’t think Redoute should have the last word. That goes to others. The friends I rode with. The people with whom I had the odd chat en route. The Swiss couple. The kids high-fiving a shattered and slightly demoralised rider, boosting him. The friends and strangers who supported this action so generously.
I have a medal and some great memories. The hill won’t take that away.
And that’s that.
This ride was a fundraiser for Stichting MS Research, a Dutch organisation that is one of many around the world funding research in to a cure and research to help those who have MS live better. Such actions have helped me and others to keep living life. The sponsorship page will stay open until 13th May. Please take a look.