Easy stages are the hardest ones because you look at the profile and mentally dismiss them.
158K? Child's play. The terrain looks a little rolling. No problem. In your head, you're already done. Only problem is, well, you're not. 158k is still 158k and rolling terrain adds up to 8000 feet of climbing before you know it. And then there's the wind.
Stage 15 was like this and we'd spent the prior night dreaming of the rest day, not focusing on the job we had to do before Lourdes. It was the first time we found ourselves agonizingly counting down kilometers.
Miraculously, despite her bruised tailbone, Maria is riding well so we go at a comfortable pace and watch sunflower fields pass by. Maria's Dutch guardian angel, a whippet of a man named Frederick is ever-present, sometimes lending a wheel, sometimes riding on ahead a ways, always keeping a close eye on her. We share jokes with him and listen to his solid, Belgian laugh. In some ways, he has become an honorary member of the Reve Tour. His staunch insistence on staying by her side is both endearing and inspiring.
When we're in the mountains I'm often alone and I look forward to those moments. It's been more than two weeks of social living now. Shared meals and bathrooms and tiny closet-sized hotel rooms. Sometimes shared beds. In my normal life, I spend more than half my time alone: I work alone and ride alone and often travel alone. I like the quiet and calm of it all. In the van during the transfer at the end of the day I often put my headphones in and close my eyes to try to get a few more moments to myself.
We're five stages from finishing this thing. Five stages which seems like nothing and also seems like forever. Two mountain stages, one excruciatingly long flat stage, a TT and then the parade to Paris. Tomorrow we must pass over two above category climbs and two category one climbs. It will be a long day on the bike. Probably the longest yet.
Finishing is not a question anymore. So much invested in this goal, so much on the table, so much at stake. To come this far and then not finish? Inconceivable. And yet every day that we are on the bike it is a possibility. Maria's incident with the car reminded us of that. Everything can happen. One bit of bad luck can end it all. One mistake. I used to feel like I would be able to reconcile with myself if I didn't finish this ride, but now the thought of having my ride end early is terrifying. I'm doubling down. This is it. All or nothing.
Every day I wake up in the morning and know I will finish the stage. What else would I do? Step off the bike? Ride in the van? We came here to do one thing and we're going to finish it. There is a special kind of clarity that comes with goals that are so clear and simple. Pedal until you are finished. Rest. Repeat.
These days do not come without consequences. I'm tired and torn up: saddles sores, cramped feet, permanently numb fingers. That's just the daily stuff. You ride until it all goes away, replaced by a middle ground of calm and determination. Pain is just a sensation, like love or happiness or anything else. Experience it, ride through it, ride past it.
And tomorrow night you can ask me how all of that zen bullshit goes for me on the Tourmalet. Because we're about to slay some big boys. In an interview before we left I said that I thought if we made it through stage 16, we would make it to Paris.
Stage 16 is here.