Stage One: 127 miles, 7927 vertical feet of climbing.
They called this stage "flat." We knew better, of course, having reviewed the profile the night before, but still. Flat? This is like a Rapha Gentleman's Race without the gravel.
One million things happened today and I cannot possibly tell you them all. In my head I made a list of ride notes: words to trigger memories to trigger vignettes to trigger things to share. They go like this:
Old man, good hat,
Poppies. Are those poppies?
Wrong turn, ride extra 6k.
We're going too fast, we're going to slow. We're arguing about whether we're going too fast or too slow.
Cumulus clouds and farm land and fences.
Good lord those cows are large.
Hey, that horse is nodding at us. Even the equestrian locals are cheering for us.
Where are the Flechage when we need them? They should come and find us with the neon yellow arrows that will tell us where to go. The Flechage travel in two big truck-vans with goofy sounding horns. Men in red shirts hanging out the window yelling support in French that we cannot understand.
They pass us at mile 60. Universal sign for "I Love You I love you I love you." I blow a kiss.
Kiss blowing, this is my new thing.
Hey, hey legs: This ride seems hard but we've only just begun. What's the story?
Here's the story: By 65 miles we've already climbed 5700 feet.
Right, flat stage. I forgot.
Old man, good hat.
Wait, I already got that one. There are a lot of those around. Some of them shirtless in dapper, well-tailored slacks. The effect is endearing. God bless the good-hatted men.
Today answered many questions for the team: How do we really feel? How will we really ride together? What will we eat? How will we drink? When will we stop? What is the best delivery agent for nutella?
Those are boring logistical answers but ones that we desperately needed. (Food: A lot. Riding together: we're not perfect yet but we're working on it. Drink: Our double soigneur team of Bart and Matthias kept the bottles flowing. Best nutella delivery device: in my opinion? Fingers!)
Biggest question answered: Is this really possible?
Yes. Yes it fucking is. And along the way there are camper vans full of people screaming allez! allez! Along the way there are people sending us even more love and belief on twitter and through emails. Along the way there is a crew of support staff here who look at us without a question in their heart: they're here to see us to Paris. We will make it to Paris.
It was a hard stage today. Nothing to dismiss easily. In the final 4k we turned straight up a 17% climb that narrowed and switched here and there through the town. Up, up, up, up. Unrelenting after nearly eight hours in the saddle. I cursed and stood on the pedals and bumped over cobbled roads and then it ended. I thought of the godlike men who will arrive there tomorrow, crushing up the grade in an explosive finale.
What we do on this course is an exercise in survival. What they do is pure magic and outright athleticism. The crossover of the two is where mortals are able to touch a little bit of that golden light. We will never match their glory, but we can feel the same roads under our tires and spend the day entertaining the idea of our bodies failing while our wills go on doing what they do best: overriding doubt and defining greatness in terms of risk and the willingness to attack life with uncompromising intention.
Tomorrow we ride 200k, mostly flat (really this time). That sounds easy compared today but could very well be harder depending on the wind. Everything can happen and usually will.
We'll just keep pedaling.