Stage 6 details:
Miles: 58 mi
Results: 1st , 22nd, 30th, 42nd, 48th
Team Position: 6th
* * * * *
Clear water in a brilliant bowl,
Pink and white carnations. The light
In the room more like a snowy air,
Reflecting snow. A newly-fallen snow
At the end of winter when afternoons return.
Pink and white carnations – one desires
So much more than that. The day itself
Is simplified: a bowl of white,
Cold, a cold porcelain, low and round,
With nothing more than the carnations there.
Say even that this complete simplicity
Stripped one of all one’s torments, concealed
The evilly compounded, vital I
And made it fresh in a world of white,
A world of clear water, brilliant-edged,
Still one would want more, one would need more,
More than a world of white and snowy scents.
There would still remain the never-resting mind,
So that one would want to escape, come back
To what had been so long composed.
The imperfect is our paradise.
Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.
-Wallace Stevens, The Poems of Our Climate
Through the town of Waterville on a rainy morning, you can smell the sea salt from the N70. I know this as I rode it after the Commissaire turned me and a few stragglers around when we got gapped by the field 30 miles into the race. Like many of the mornings, the stage started out raining, but it only took a few miles before the sun fought through the clouds, and it did that thing it does of making the water look like someone threw glitter on it. I was alone, with a few behind, and the pack in some unknown place.
* * * * *
The morning had been exhausting. There’s no other word to describe it. Jo barely spoke. Anna was positive but quiet. Helen was disappointed with her results the previous day and was wondering what she could do today to make herself feel that she was racing again. Louise felt her own pressure to win a stage. Personally, I wasn’t sure if my legs would even move, since I had – in the past six days – ridden more than the past 2 months combined. But there we were, like the mornings before, doing the things we had done.
When we lined up, Ger and Tim gave us hugs, and I think I felt a moment of loss already. If there were tears during the entire race, that was when it happened. The miles ahead looked long on paper, but the days that had passed did so very quickly. And when we rode through the towns, I wondered if we’d ever be back, all of us just as we are.
It was somewhere around then when Helen went from being dropped in the back to moving through the bunch to straight off the front with a head wind. She stayed out there for a very long time, and while small groups tried to chase her down, I thought, “there she is, really racing. There’s our little Houdini doing her signature move.”
Jo’s finish was incredible. I watched her as she crossed the line only a bit after the lead group. In her last exhalation, I could see the bike wobble underneath her, and I knew she was using all her strength to just stay upright. Ger grabbed the bike from her, and on her face I knew she had seen the red sometime far earlier in the race but had pushed through it, perhaps beyond what she felt she could do. Anna’s finish was similar, and from her sprint into the line, I knew that she, too, had done all she could throughout the entire race. And then, our little Houdini crossed alongside another rider, proud that she had her radio time (“Number 32 has a 40 second gap on the field. Number 32 has a 50 second gap on the field…”), that she had made her move memorable to the entire race.
Of course, Louise won the stage.
* * * * *
As I climbed through Coomaciste with the sea to my right and the sun out, I began to think of Steven’s poem. My favorite is the first line, and I think nothing could describe the feeling of climbing up Coomaciste like those words, “clear water in a brilliant bowl”. And then I began to realize that although this sport is incredibly self-absorbed in its own way, it was also a distraction from the self. Those hours alone can be moments of introspection or complete moments of escape, the “evilly compounded, vital I”. It’s an odd combination.
I looked at the purple and yellow flowers growing on the rocks and at the sheep resting, oblivious. I looked at the water and the clouds, and I thought about the race. If I had not done this, as my original plan, I would never have seen those purple flowers. I may not have been greeted by the sun in the same way, and I wouldn’t have felt the tail wind that pushed me up past the crest of the hill and toward the long, 4 mile descent; it was like parasailing, it was like flying. I felt in that moment as I was riding – as I was racing – that I hadn’t moved this fast in a very long time.
Every moment there on Coomaciste, I think I found a little; I think I left a little behind.
Until the final wrap up, yours truly,
Pan Pan Fan
From Sneem, Co. Kerry, Ireland