Lessons and Perspectives of Multi-Day Cycling Events
By CEO Robert Forster, PT
Multi-day cycling events can be many different things. They can be a most enjoyable and leisurely vacation offering a chance to experience a region, its people, food, and culture in a way that no other mode of transportation can provide; or it can be a grueling, competitive event offering big doses of suffering, self doubt, and personal insight. Either way, living on your bike for several days to weeks will leave you a changed person. The people you meet, the challenges you face, and the terrain itself will redefine your comfort zone — for the better.
They say that once a young rider completes any of the Grand Tours, including the Tour de France in pro cycling, they are never the same. It’s understandable that three weeks of grueling stages averaging over 100 miles a day with ridiculously long climbs in hot and often rainy weather will make one physically stronger. But the impact goes beyond that. After all, with extended time off the bike, the physical strength gained will fade but the lessons learned about human nature and oneself during such a challenging event will never be lost.
Riding through Italy for eight weeks as a young adult taught me how attitudes are local and arbitrary. From riding in the States, I was used to drivers honking their horn in frustration because somehow I was impeding their way to some all-important engagement. When they blow their car horn at you in Italy as you climb a section of road with an 8% grade, it means “Bravo!” At home, cyclists can’t help wondering why motorists are so angry with us. Are they pissed off because we are engaging in a frivolous pass-time that they have no time for? Or is it that they hate themselves for not getting out and exercising like they know they should? In Italy, they love cycling and respect the effort and beauty of the ride — so they respect all those who get out and try. Lesson learned: perspective is everything!
After six or seven days of an eight-day competitive event like the Trans Alp Challenge or the BC Bike race, you begin to learn firsthand how people react different to adversity. At first we are all selfish in our suffering and can focus on nothing but our own survival, ignoring everyone’s needs but our own. Over time, however, we begin to realize that we are all in this together. An encouraging word from another rider when you are about to bonk, or a young kid who has been standing on the the side of the road all day with a hose to cool off the riders, makes you realize that suffering, and wanting to relieve the suffering of others, is what makes us human.
On stage 6 of the second of the four Trans Alp Challenge events I have completed, the front wheel came off my mountain bike on a particularly treacherous downhill section. My life flashed before my eyes as I flew through the air and crashed hard into the earth. With the realization that I had nothing but a few scratches, I was relieved, but my mood quickly turned to one of anger. I could have been seriously injured because the race staff who placed the electronic chip between my front wheel and fork to track my progress through the day hadn’t re-tightened the skewer that keeps the wheel on the bike.
With the possibility of not being able to finish that day’s stage, thus being dropped from the race, and thinking of the time and effort wasted if that were to become reality, I was consumed with anger. With a front wheel that looked like a taco I carried my bike for three miles of uphill terrain to get to the nearest road for help. As I emerged from the forest there was a young German couple huddled in disappointment much like mine, minus the anger.
A knee injury had forced their young rider out of the race. As I came up the path in obvious distress, they realized my predicament. Suddenly, they rushed toward me holding out the young man’s bike for me to take in order to finish the day’s ride. In broken English, they explained that his race was over but that I had a chance to finish and should take his bike. I was moved quite literally to tears by their generous offer and the empathy it represented. Feeling foolish for my anger I quickly adjusted the seat height and was off to finish the stage. When I crossed the finish line, they were there with my bike — and a perfectly straight wheel, having had it repaired while I was still out on the route! Lesson learned: drop the anger and believe in mankind.
If you are a cyclist motivated by watching this year’s Tour de France, or if you know friends who have done a bicycle vacation with tour companies like Backroads; and you are thinking about doing a multi-day tour or race, you need to know that nearly all of us can train and complete this type of event. Even those with weight issues, joint problems, and other health concerns can train safely and enjoy bicycle touring and multi-day cycling competitions.
Contact PHASE IV to learn how 310-582-8212