Be Realistic Ask the Impossible: Go Your Own Way
In a protracted period of denial I've put of writing this entry for long enough but I suppose it's time to face facts... the Etape dream is over.
Well, that sounds awfully melodramatic, but for this year at least I will not be able to realise my ambition of elevating my cycling fitness level and riding the same roads as some of the Tour de France's greats in the Etape du Tour.
Since my chance encounter with the sharp end of a speeding BMW in deepest darkest Essex in May I've been quite literally knocked sideways-a collision that's left me with not just physical scrapes and bruises to deal with but also placed me in a fair bit of existential trauma not to mention some quite serious financial considerations to contend with as I'm only really getting back into my stride as a self-employed fine art technician. It's a long way from the initial exhilaration and optimism that I felt putting my name down to tackle some of the toughest and most emotive climbs in cycling lore back in November in the belief I'd be kick-starting some positive momentum in my life.
Regardless, after being carted off in an ambulance on a spinal board after the accident, in the 2 months since I've been equally knocked around trying to deal with getting myself healed and life back on track. It's not just a simple case of road rash healing and hobbling to the team car like you see on tv as there is a whole lot of the more banal real life stuff that gets put out of kilter when you find yourself hobbling about like a spider with 8 broken legs. It has been somewhat surprising that the fracture to my pelvis was far less problematic than the whiplash injuries to my back and neck, which although improving with diligent physio and some ridiculous stretches, still leave me with restricted motion in my neck and persistent pain and discomfort in my lower back... This is unfortunately even more evident after even short stints in the saddle. I've gone back to the turbo in the last few weeks to try and keep my legs topped up but even an hour at a moderate pace seems to put a lot of pressure on my spine and as much as I want to be skipping up the Alpe like a mountain goat, it's time to face facts that it's simply not happening and that pressurising myself to realise these goals would be stupid in putting longer term recovery in jeopardy, not to mention risk further damage to both body and bank balance.
Even if I were to be fully recovered now, I've still missed 2 months of prime training time and forfeited being able to ride training checkpoints that were intended to let me gauge improvement and gain confidence in the the Easter Classic, Ronde Chelmsford, Etape Caledonia and Dragon Ride. My new carbon steed, helmet, and Garmin were written off which also means I'm relegated back to squeeking about on my rather arthritic 1987 Mercian professional, which as much as I love it, I don't want to charge down the Galibier on in the same way I wouldn't want to give an 80 year old a cocktail of viagra and Cointreau... and as much as I love the looks and heritage of vintage bikes, a few days of owning carbon and a modern groupset has perverted my tastes for good. Finances have however been equally depleted due to being unable to work for almost a month, putting at risk much more than my travel plans, so I can't even conceive of being able to take the time off work to actually do the Etape now anyway.
Despite an instinct to try and give my fellow man the benefit of a second chance, I have to confess that it is more than a little galling to learn that the chivalrous driver who set about trying to blame me for the incident as I lay bleeding and incapacitated on the road, has since (unremarkably and without explanation) had his charges reduced from 'Dangerous' to 'Careless' driving (oops, sorry I almost killed you mate, whoops) and will most likely get a few points and a fine. I'm intent on ensuring he'll get the maximum penalty for this however and will be following it up with a civil suit to hopefully recoup my losses, though that process can take over 2 years I'm told so there will be no replacement carbon bling for a good while yet.
In all, that split second of bastardly behaviour has done me out of really much more than a few hours in hospital and a bike, but I still have to try to look past the disappointment and anger to take whatever positives I can from it and be thankful that unlike many others, I haven't been left with more permanent damage. I've used my subscription for the Etape to motivate me to take training more seriously and learn about the biology of becoming a better cyclist, not to mention spur me out of bed on cold January mornings and onto the roads, or encourage me to seek out local clubs and sportives in order to make my riding more fun and varied. Though not the mile crunching big ring hero I hoped I'd be by this point in the calendar, I am fitter, lighter and (slightly) better adjusted for it, even if there's been some bleak moments to endure over the last few days and weeks.
I've also greatly enjoyed writing for road.cc and found the experience and response very positive, which has carried over into my enjoyment and appreciation that only something so simple and beautiful as riding a bike can give you.... so never one to be discouraged I'm planning on striking out to France sometime in September to ride the route by myself, which though a more solitary prospect without some 10,000 other puffing and sweaty amateurs, will be all the more satisfying in light of the travails endured to get there I think! Stay tuned for updates as and when I get back to actually doing some riding worth mentioning...
Co-incidentally, if anyone is looking for accommodation for the Etape Alpe edition I've reserved a studio flat from the 9-16th July in the resort of Alpe de Huez proper and am trying to find someone else who might take it as it will do me a favour and hopefully help me recoup my deposit whilst doing service to anyone struggling to find somewhere. Anyone?
In the meantime I'll be getting on with my physio and hopefully getting back onto the road in earnest, if a bit more cautious of the traffic! Hope to see some of you out there... take care!