The carrot…. and the stick


Cycling is a beautiful, but cruel, mistress.

It makes you work for the good times. And dishes out some bad.

The Tour de France is on our screens at the moment. All those crashes are spectacular, gringe-worthy viewing. But each threatens to extinguish an entire year’s worth of training, of hopes and dreams. An incident, over in the click of fingers, unravelling all those hours on the road.

Earlier this year, as I slogged out a long ride with qualification to the Paris-Brest event in mind, I got talking to a rider from my club. He’d long been an “audax-er” (or long distance) enthusiast – and had long held an ambition to ride the Paris-Brest. As we ascended a climb he explained the various life-factors that had prevented his participation both 4 years, and 8 years ago (the event is every 4). This, he felt, was his “last chance” – and the timing of qualifying rides meant that he had to finish that day. As he spoke, suddenly his legs gave way – and we saw that his rear derailleur had sheared in two. His ride was over. He could only smile: “So here ends my campaign…” He was going to have to get a (very) expensive taxi home.

Over the last few weeks I’ve allowed my hopes to get dangerously high. After 4 months of suffering MS symptoms, I’ve been feeling much better. And the “Etape du Tour” event in the French Alps has homed into view. This mountainous event has been a ride that I’ve targeted the last couple of years – ramping up my training and efforts to try and get my best possible time. 4 months ago I was hoping that I might be able to get to the start line… then slowly, over the last few weeks, it’s been dawning on me that I might actually be able to give it a proper go again. I’ve felt fit, and strong up hills on my bike.

Then 4 nights ago I woke up with intense pins and needles along both arms. Really powerful ones. That next day I had a couple of weird bouts of vision-distortions. I started needing the loo with dramatic urgency again…. pins and needles re-appeared in my feet.

Last night I slept for 12 hours and could barely get out of bed when my alarm went.

Maybe there’s an element of these symptoms being psychosomatic. But it doesn’t feel like it. It feels like MS is still there and does not want to let me ride the Alps. I thought the question was: should I race the Etape? But like always, it’s not necessarily the answer that’s the issue…. it’s whether or not you’re asking the right question. Maybe it should be: what on earth am I doing? What’s this life all about?


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