Saturday, October 1, 2011

Ritt Der Panzerwagen

When it comes to content I’ve posted here, this is a major break from form. This was originally written in private correspondence, but it was suggested I post it to both share it and knock the dust off the Skunk Works lab.

As such, here comes some heartfelt melodrama. I'm going to talk about bike racing, and as a neophyte I’m going to make some serious assumptions about motivations and intentions, turning my personal feelings into generalizations about the greater whole that makes up the sport. This is an exercise in passionate poetic prose more than serious commentary on the nature of athletic motivation. One further, it is intended for an audience with an awareness of bike racing but one that is largely ignorant of its idiosyncrasies.

Tony "Der Panzerwagen" Martin dethroned Fabian "Spartacus" Cancellara for the world time trial championship (racing the clock, in this case, on a fairly technical 30 mile course). The nicknames probably seem silly; I'm going to fix that right now.

See, Tony Martin did it in a massive gear, a 58x11 if he’s in his most robust option. Essentially, one turn of the pedals would push his bike forward about ten meters. For the uninitiated, this is somewhere between daunting and insane. It’s not completely out of line to say that to someone not used to a road bike set up, let alone one with extravagantly serious gearing like that, would have a frame of reference they could draw on that involves maybe a 36x14 on the tougher end, which, at least on Der Panzerwagen’s bicycle, would be a little under half as difficult to pedal with five meters of gain per rotation.

I repeat for emphasis, his big ring was a 58, (this is how many teeth are on the chain ring up front near the cranks). Der Panzerwagen's big ring was, no joke, the size of a dinner plate, which brings a completely new weight to the common French cycling term, "sur la plaque." He did this 30 mile course by himself, in the wind, in a tucked, aerodynamic position, in 53 minutes, 43 seconds, averaging roughly 33-35 mph, which means most of the time he was actually cruising at around 40 mph, probably peaking at around 45 mph. One further, his cadence was around 80-85 RPMs (common wisdom puts 90 at an ideal, and I personally run a little hot at around 100), which means the mechanical assistance he was receiving from the gears were to push him to go faster, not to make it any easier. This day was about two things, pain and speed.

This isn’t even the best example from the race, but check out the face he’s making:
So, why should you care?

Because Tony Martin loves someone very much. And everyone should care about that because it makes the universe better by nature of its mere existence.

See, it goes like this:

The drive is external.

That’s what nobody tells you. That’s the trick. Eventually it comes down to how willing you are to hurt yourself; how willing you are to burn. However, one cannot burn for themselves, alone. This isn’t masochism, there’s no fetish to redirect it, no synesthesia to mask it, this is, pure and simple, self-cannibalization for something outside, because that’s the only way it works.

To do this, you have to look outside for a reason why. Only then, are you willing to reach deep within yourself for fuel you were too scared to look for. To find the parts of your soul that have long since gone black and rotten, compressed by layered acreages of Mesolithic mindscape, of impossible pressure of regret plus time. And to fling them into the furnace by the handful, reliving them as they go by in a flash, the once-slow burning scorching you as it rips by as high octane pain, driving you harder, deeper.

The drive is external.

Those that have realized this understand it to the marked exclusion of all others. He relived that pain, mouth gaping, drooling, and those that understand, some that have never been there, but others that have, they wonder amongst themselves, awestruck and mouths agape, eyes meeting each other through corner glances; the question is asked with a tremorous fear of trembling sincerity the likes of which outsiders cannot understand:

“Is he coming back the same?”

“Is he coming back broken?”

“Is he coming back—at all?”

His body became a physio-emotional scramjet that burned a highly combustible mixture of pain and more pain, the physical enters and blossoms and feeds back out, but before completing the circulation something dark is mixed in and absolutized, aerosolized, and weaponized, before igniting and propelling; exciting, defying, denying, decrying, and flying.

At the most basic level he couldn't go for himself. There are too many safeguards, too many survival protocols.

To crack the psychic-shale and burn that which lurks below?

This is racing. This is especially racing the clock, because you can't even be directly sadistic. Your only opponent is the yawning, pitiless gap between tick and tock.

And nobody does it without a profound love in them for someone else. The person may not want them to do it, or maybe they don't care, but Tony Martin is exploding from within, his heart and mind erupting offerings for someone, somewhere.

And that's pretty fucking rad.