My expectations were high coming into the big event. Endless hours were spent locked in my room, watching videos, reading magazines and gathering useful information on the internet. I convinced my parents that a locked door and closed curtains were essential when it came to doing “homework”. No one was allowed to invade my comfort zone.
Some of my friends had already done it, but I didn’t let that get to me. It wasn’t that I hadn’t had the chance or wasn’t capable. I was just waiting for the right moment. I’d been told that I had to be careful not to rush into it: patience is the key. Be safe, don’t be too eager, don’t be intimidated, and try to enjoy it because before you know it, it’s all over.
As the day of reckoning approached, my expectations and confidence had reached bursting point. So you can imagine my disappointment when the first thought that crossed my mind after having lost my virginity was: “Is that it?”
Comparing a three-week bike race to a three-minute endeavour is maybe taking things a bit far (mind you, both events were equally scary). Nonetheless, it was exactly the feeling I had on the last Sunday of the Giro while eating peanuts and drinking a beer in my airport hotel room. Was that really it?
I’d just spent three weeks desperately dreaming of the final stage of the Giro, and now I was having trouble admitting to myself that it all felt a bit of an anticlimax.
It was difficult processing that thought. My legs ached and my body was tired. I’d been longing for the feeling of relief to wash over me and numb the lactate-induced pain. Yet the overshadowing feeling was one of regret.
Some say sex is like pizza: even when it’s bad, it’s still okay. Doing the Giro was the same, in a way. Once I started digesting my first Grand Tour, and the three weeks of character-building that came with it, I eventually came to appreciate what I had done and the feeling of achievement was enormous.
During the last couple of weeks, it has only grown. When meeting family and friends, I have been constantly reminded of getting through my first Grand Tour. Regrettably, I haven’t been recognised by people on the street yet, even though the Giro got massive coverage on Danish TV. Could my new haircut be to blame?
I’ve enjoyed answering my friends’ questions about it, but I have to admit that summing up the Giro in a couple of sentences sounds a bit hollow. “It was great!” or “An amazing experience!” are generic answers. If I had had a pocket thesaurus, I could have mixed it up a bit.
“How was the Giro? What was it like riding three weeks?”
“It was a very arduous three weeks, but a tremendous and truly marvellous experience. I am elated and jubilant that I accomplished my goal.”
Not much better, I suppose, but still, thank you Mr. Roget.
But how can I possibly describe what the Stelvio stage felt like to someone who has no experience of bike racing? I would have to kick them across the shins to try and replicate the painful, icy chill clinging to my legs going down the Gavia.
Or riding up the Stelvio in eerie silence amongst the small group of riders I was with, the shared hunger and determination to pull through creating a special bond between us. The tempting thought of how a DNF would lead to instant relief was only followed by the realisation there’d be a never-ending disappointment if I pulled out without an ironclad excuse.
The unwillingness to quit is the fuel that powers every bike rider, yet the anticipation of enjoying all the things you miss once the race is over is like a carrot dangling at the end of a stick. Had I pulled the plug early, it would have been utterly demoralising going home and facing reality. All the ordinary day-to-day stuff, like walking round the supermarket, feels better than ever now.
At the beginning of the Giro, I was capable of doing stuff other than eating, riding and sleeping. Ah, halcyon days. I read a book. I wrote some postcards for Rouleur (they’re being published in the next issue). I even had an opinion on things and was aware of the world around me.
Then I started being lured into the Grand Tour bubble. It wasn’t obvious at first. My girlfriend would ask me a question and I would answer “yeah, that’s great…” and then tail off, disappearing into my own thoughts. Holy shit, Gavia and Stelvio tomorrow. I’m hungry, wonder what’s for dinner?
At this stage, I was so absorbed in my own world that not even an earthquake would have registered on my own personal Richter scale.
As for the postcards, every rider got a notebook in their goodie bag at the Giro’s opening presentation: the first non-edible gift I’ve been happy with. I used it to jot down things that sprang to mind, which I then transferred.
As annoying as it was at times, it almost became therapeutic. Expressing myself like that every evening made me understand that there was a real world out there, somewhere.
When I read through all of them now, it is obvious that I loved the race, then hated it, then liked it a little more, and then finished off loving it again. Bring on the next Grand Tour!
Chris Juul-Jensen’s "Postcards from the Giro d’Italia" will be published in issue 48 of Rouleur Magazine, on sale in late July 2014.