Froome is in this race.

Oh, they’re catching them fast now. The gap is only one minute twenty-three.

Hey Dad. You know Froome is the guy that was second in the time trial in London. And was second in the Tour.

He’s pretty tall. Taller than his teammates.

Oh that guy in blue from Spain is attacking now. Look how steep the hill is. Sky is chasing.

The commentary continued as passengers formed a line, waiting to board the plane. Dressed in Barcelona Football Club shirts, flip-flops, and dark with tans, most were summer tourists at the end of their vacation in Spain. Now, they were going home to Canada. I was on the same flight as I am scheduled to race in the GP Quebec and Montreal, two one day races which would mark my return after a month away from racing due to another broken arm and another surgery.

Sitting in a row of grey chairs, I listened to the boys who were sitting behind me with their parents. They gave a play-by-play commentary about the race that was being broadcast on the muted Samsung flat screen television. I already knew the outcome. It was a rerun of the Vuelta stage I had seen fifteen hours earlier. While packing my suitcase, I had watched it at home, folding my jerseys and rolling up my cycling shorts. As the splintered peloton raced the last five kilometers up the steep ascent, attacking each other, I screwed a new pair of shoe plates on my cycling shoes and then packed them in my carry-on bag for the trip.

Of course, the racers I watched were friends, rivals and teammates. Mine is a biased view of a bike race. Sitting at the gate, watching the race again with a different commentary, my perspective shifted: it was now an enthusiastic child’s.  And, through their eyes it became a far more interesting race to watch.

A boarding announcement was made and slowly the line shuffled forward down the bridge and into the plane. The boys, who I now realized were from two families, made no move to get in line. They were fixed on the race as were their fathers. One, who was about my son’s age, seven, knew more about the riders and racing than the others. Occasionally, one of the fathers pointed out the riders’ gearing or explained who was in which group. But, it was the boys who animated the action we watched.

Their voices had a naïve purity that was lovely.  The essence of our sport is often clouded and lost.

In the middle of the peloton we are focused on the goal and our attention is to the details that will get us to the line first. The profession eclipses the purity of sport. From a child’s perspective there is little on the screen but bike racers sprinting up mountains. Very likely, the boys didn’t know two of the four riders they were watching had been suspended for doping. They didn’t know about the internal dynamic within the breakaway, which teams were likely to lose their sponsors, which directors were dishonest, which riders rode dangerously, or even, who would be the likely victor. At home, the boys would ride through their neighbourhoods pedaling like madmen on their far-too-heavy mountain bikes as if they were Froome spinning away in a time trial.

When the broken bone took me away from the bike, a surgeon said that I could race six weeks later. In the hospital bed, sipping on tea and eating cookies, I poked at my iPhone, and studied my race calendar. Eneco was out. San Sebastian out. Denmark out. But in seven weeks I could race in Quebec and Montreal. I had a goal.  Experience had taught me that a plan and a goal help me heal.

The crash, the surgery, blood loss and forced time off my bicycle would consume most of the fine form I had developed in the previous two months. My rehabilitation had to be gauged and progressive. First, I went for short hikes with my wife. Then longer hikes up a mountain. Then I began running and riding on the trainer but without holding the handlebars. As the pain in my armed abated I was able to push myself on the bike, feeling a different pain that would bring back my fitness.

Watching the stage at the airport gate, I massaged my arm in the way a dog licks a wound or a child plays with his loose tooth. The ache was almost gone but it still somehow felt soothing. I smiled to myself, as the boys commentary continued, as their voices rose with each attack.

It isn’t the job that drives my desire to get back up from each crash to race again but the sport, the fans and the youthful feeling of freedom we all experience when pedaling like madmen.


13 thoughts on “At the Gate

  1. Thankyou. This is the most beautiful and inspiring thing I have read for some time about our sport. I want to do nothing more than pedal like a madman. At 40 I’m still the skinny kid racing around the block.

  2. Thank you Michael Barry. This beautiful piece has brought me back to why I love cycling. I will continue to love this sport through my ‘child’ eyes that had been long lost. After reading this, my vision of this sport is no longer ‘clouded and lost’…it is pure and exciting. If that is naive, so be it. Best of luck in Quebec. Ride like a madman!

  3. Yet again, I’m in admiration of your writings. Greatly enjoyed yet a different slant on things! Best wishes and 100 % better luck in the Canadian events. Go, Mike, go Team Sky :-))

  4. Great to read something so well-worded from someone who’s been close to the heart of the sport for a long time but still with a sense the magic can shine through in spite of all that has been going on around the cycling world recently. It’s easy to get cynical with much of what has hapoened but I for one would like to hear more from such a voice.

  5. Michael,

    Good luck in Quebec. It should be a fun race…….to watch. I remember seeing you ride away from all of us in Hamilton in 95 while I was taking my bike out of a dog pile. I was able to watch the rest of the race and see how graceful you were at such a young age. Tall and skinny but strong and determined. Have a great race in Quebec and may the wind be at your back.

    Peace Brother.

    LA

  6. Hi, Mike,
    Further to my post above, I have just seen that you are going to retire at the end of the Season. I just wanted to say that we Team Sky fans will miss you badly, you have done so much for the Team over the years. I would like to wish you and your family very best wishes and good luck in the years to come. If you are anything like my husband (now 69) you won’t be hanging up your wheels, so I hope you enjoy injury-free cycling in the future!
    Cheerio, from a Team Sky fan in Jersey, Channel Islands!

  7. We were that family in the Barcelona airport! We didn’t recognize you initially, but when you stood with your Team Sky bike bag at the baggage pick up in Toronto, we knew immediately who you were. We were too shy to come up to you in the airport, but would like to now wish you luck on your remining few races and congratulate you on a wonderful cycling career!

  8. Hi Michael,

    I think that was your best piece of writing ever.

    Best of luck in your retirement! Wherever you go, I hope that we will still continue to hear from you.

    Duncan

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