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Rapha ex duris gloria


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Rapha Ex Duris Gloria Cycling

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Rapha ex duris gloria

  1. 1. 'i^anha. FX DURIS GLORIA GLORY THROUGH SUFFERING ANESSAYBYGRAEMEFIFE The history of cycle racing abounds with stories of endurance, willpower and sheercourage on an epicscale.The capacity of bike riders to drive them selves relentlessly, dayafterdaythrough the pain barrierand waybeyondmakes them a breedapart.They redefinehero ismin sport.The sufferingisgratuitous, the mileagethey coverHerculean,and both make a cruciblein which a unique character is forged: an apparently cheerfulindifferenceto the pain inflict ed by bike and road, suffused with the transcendentdesireto conquerboth. The greatestbatdeis not physical but psychological. The demons telling us to give up when we push ourselves to the limitcan neverbe silenced forgood. They must always be answered by the quiet steadydignitythat simplyrefuses to give in. Call no man brave,say the Spanish, say only that on a particular day he showed himself brave. Such strength of character radiates from every bike rider who has shown the requisitecouragenot to yield,has won hisdignity,dayafterday. The true test of any rider's mettle is the road. How much punishment can you take on a bike?Youwill only find out after you hear the voicein yourhead sa)dng,'No, you've had it, any more of tliisbatteringandyou'regoingtoweak en fatally',and yet,for some reasonbest left to God and guesswork,carryingon anyway. Everytime that happens,into a savage headwind...on the sharpknocks of the Chilterns... the will-sapping hauls of the Continental monsters, the experience is part of a continuum,the repeatedbattleagainstsurrender. No crowdscheer us lessermortals up the big climbs,but the mountains are open and mountains are rarely, if ever, finished withyou.No matterhowoften you climb them, you neverbeat them: eachtimeyoustart at the bottom,from scratch.Reputationwillnot takeyouup a climb.The physical battle has always to be repeated. Through every repeat, mentalstrengthaccumulates. The Tourmalet, lassoed by mist, 2,ooom up in the Circle of Death, where Apo Lazarides climbedoff one day to wait for the others for fear of Pyrenean bears. The dreaded Mont Ventoux, Domain of the Angels. Col du Galibier, the Giant of theAlps,'pre mier cm'to the 'vin ordinaire'ofthe rest. That's where you can followthe Tour, into the thin air,up the relentless hair pins,yourtyreshissing across the tar maccatalogue ofTour riders whomade the samejourney. Sufferingis one thing; knowinghow to suffer is quite another.You look at the dizzyingpeaksand sayto yourself: What? Up there? Mad notion... and the experience of the hardestmostex hilaratingcyclingyou can everaccom plish is on you.The great gauntlet on two wheels, the triumph of inner re solve over disbelief. For the mountains are the extreme case,where you reallyfind out about yourself, in thosescaryrealms of phys ical and mental exertion taken to the limit. Remote altitudes of geography, unplumbeddepths in yourspirit. Even localfolklorerecognisesthe weird forc es at work on the cyclist chancing his fateagainsthorriblegradients.Up here, they say, is where the black-hearted ogresof bad luck hang out: the Witch with Green Teeth and Hammerman, quick to pounce on any slip in your resolve. Bogeymen personifying the mysterious factors which can freeze your nervewith the lonelyprospectof failure.That's why we speak of heroism in cycling:it's elemental. This is the ultimate proving time. The spells of mind-numbing dysfunc tion when your head fillswith discon nected trivia and only the wheels, still respondingto the pedalstroke,like the cogwheels in yourbrain's clock, seemto have any logic about them. Mechani callyyoumutter:if the roadgoeson,so can I. As Brian Robinson, first Briton to finish the Tour de France (1955) said to RAP HAXC/KINGSOF PAIN himself: "I lookedat the other guysand thought, they're thesame asme- ifthey can do it, I can."Good reasoningbe cause there's no ducking the argument. It's simple:I can'tgo on. I must go on. I willgo on. And throughthe bleakperiodwhen your wandering mind gets obsessed with the idea that you're finished- oh, it happens - you persist and you are learningthe corelesson of cycling, just aseverytrue riderlearntit: on this road, in this duress,you livein the moment with allyourforce, in the intensity, the fullness of the moment.Do you knowa better definition of exhilaration? Riding up the Col de la Core one blistering hot afternoon (firstcategory, Pyrenees) I was passed by a string of Frattfaise desJeux riders. As their last man went by,danglingoff the back,he gaveme awave. Courage. We allsuffer. Keepgoing. But if something hurts so much, how can it be enjoyable? At the point wherephysical stressbeginsto takeyou beyondwhat you imagineto be endur able,you enter new territoryof under standing, an expanded psychological landscape. The camaraderie of the hard road is as much in sharing that insight asin the laughsyouhave,ridingingood company.The bikeisthe perfectvehicle to takeyoudown thosesecretcorridors of illumination. The pleasure comes whenyougraspjustwhat hashappened inside your head and spirit. It doesn't stop when the bike stops, when you reachthe topof the color peeloffat the end of the ride, so tired you can hardly thinkor stand straight.That'swherethe pleasure begins.The self-knowledge. Behind glory lies the misery of training, the slog of getting through bad days,the torment of going at less than your best and the absolute con viction that giving up is never an op tion. Herein lies the heroism of this beautiful sport, the inner revelation that makes the cyclist impervious to ordinary weakness because every ride he has ever made exposes him to that defeatist voice; he has known it, faced it and conqueredthe fearof it, againand againand again. ® 69 0