“How you doin’?”
About halfway through the race, Charles slid by my side while I was in the top third of the peloton. His question actually had a hidden meaning: was I ready to risk a breakaway?
“All good, the legs are solid”, I replied. In doing so, I had just volunteered for one of cycling’s most amazing and gratifying missions: a breakaway.
There are days where you just feel invincible. No one can touch you, your energy seems undepletable and even though everyone else seems stricken, even the overwhelming heat or inhumane cold have nothing on you.
That’s exactly how I was feeling, from head to toe and mentally: I was strong.
“Great! So on the next unpaved segment, you go ahead. Mario and I will open the way.”
The timing was right: I promised everyone we’d give them a good show.
You see, the St-Basile Grand Prix is a bit like home for me. It’s where my girlfriend grew up, where her friends and family still are. I know the place very well, including this upcoming dirt road section, where my brother-in-law lives.
This year’s modified route had two more unpaved segments, and the second, upcoming one where I was about to breakaway was by far the hardest of the three.
It was also, however, the best place to say goodbye to the peloton and explode ahead, as Charles had perfectly grasped.
Squeezed between two fields, this gravel and soft soil road was marked by two ruts replete with potholes, large rocks and a plethora of obstacles that only the first few riders could see coming. All the others had no other choice but to follow the wheel in front of them and pray that the rider ahead was on the right path.
Even the more prudent riders that traded in a better position for increased safety weren’t much better off: there is so much dirt and dust kicked up by the riders that they are basically all shrouded in a yellow cloud that obfuscates the road’s relief.
And since there are only two ruts, the peloton necessarily splits into two straight lines, and ideal situation for breakaways.
Charles rode to the front, leaving Mario to take me to the junction where I took off without looking back.
That moment when you breakaway — and the minutes that follow — are akin to a form of voluntary torture where you willingly immerse yourself in an ocean of pain, yet always keeping your head out of the water, bearing in mind that you will need enough energy to swim back to shore if someone catches up to you or if you have no choice but to keep on pushing, alone or with teammates.
I love to breakaway. I thrive on it even though it hurts. Without it, a race would be nothing more than a procession leading up to the final sprint. The very soul of road cycling revolves around this notion of breaking away, becoming free.
The fugitives are the riders who make the race about freedom, temerity, bravado, fighting; a hunt.
After that, within the breakaway group being hunted by the rest of the pack, anything goes. Sometimes, you are the leader, sometimes you’re the weak link. Sometimes you just ride along, knowing you need to save your energy because you know they’ll try to lose you later on, or because a team has more members in the breakaway peloton than others. Sometimes you argue with the others, sometimes it’s complete silence; it all depends on who’s in the pack and how things are unfolding.
We’re back on paved road. When I looked back for the first time, it felt like I’d broken away an eternity ago. My legs were on the verge of imploding, my throat was parched from the dust, which made my breathing sound more like I was choking, I could see them catching up to me: nine riders on my tail. We were going to breakaway together.
“We’ve made the gap: let’s go,” I screamed at the top of my lungs.
More screams, crashes, arguments, attacks, and misunderstandings would ensue; everything that makes a breakaway what it is — a chaotic aggregation of personalities, interests and talent.
I thrive on this chaos, it’s the adventure within the adventure. That day, the peloton broke down behind us, but if it had caught on to us, our enthusiasm would’ve been just the same. When you breakaway, everything is sharper, more intense. The taste of blood in your mouth, legs burning, calves that cramp up, lungs on fire, and that feeling your being tracked and hunted.
Although it is not fear, it isn’t an ego boost either. In the end, it’s just a game, but a game you want to win.
Text by David Desjardins.