It seems so effortless! Fifty or sixty cyclists strong, the peloton sweeps along on a smooth, level country road in France. Although the cadence that the riders maintain is rapid (over a hundred revolutions per minute), it seems easy enough until Phil Leggett announces how fast they are going: 35 miles per hour. Wow!
To put this speed in perspective, on my solo ride today, I cruised over a paved trail along the Columbia River at 19 mph. In a peloton my own strength (or a little stronger), I could probably have pushed it up to 25, fast for me but significantly slower than riders on Le Tour. Over the entire route, I read somewhere–21 days of time and 2,200 miles in distance–they average 26 mph. On 10% grades, they can stay on top of their gears, continue a high cadence, and maintain a speed as high as 15 mph.
The best I can do on grades like that, is grunt and sweat my way up at one third their speed, probably stopping to catch my breath a time or two. Sooner or later, I would reach the top, since I have yet to find a hill so steep that I couldn’t walk my bike clear over the top.
When we get to heaven, a theologian long ago (Augustine, I think) declared, we’ll all be 26 years old because that is the age when human beings reach their finest level of physical perfection. Too bad, Lance, already you’re 38, well past that golden moment. No wonder that Alberto Contador at 27, and Andy Shleck at 25 can beat you any time they feel like it. Only a few years ago, you too could have sprinted past the old guy that you’ve become.
Imagine what it will be like in 40 years when you are as old as I am. Some mornings, I’m a little surprised that I can even swing my leg over the bike to start a ride. But so far, I’ve managed to keep going. I ride as hard as ever but have less to show for it. You know what I mean. Fortunately, our bodies help us settle in for the long ride of life. On the day when your effort to ride out in front of the breakaway faltered, Phil announced that because of your mature years you couldn’t sprint out in blinding speed but you could keep pushing at a steady pace and gradually pull yourself back with the group. Speed may lessen, but endurance holds its own. We place back a little from the front, but we’re still in the race and that counts for something; actually, as the years go by that counts for everything.
Well, almost everything.
Note: The image at the top [by keithwatkinshistorian] is one of the murals that adorn a concrete wall along the Monon Greenway in Indianapolis.