the pain cave

Posted on June 14, 2011
Filed Under cycling | Leave a Comment

Every day brings the pain fest that is the Tour De France a little closer and makes the team here at likeithateit, just that little bit more excited.  Too celebrate and ease us all into the necessary state of mind for watching hours upon hours of small thin men ride 3000 kilometres in a variety of brightly coloured lycra, here’s an excellent article on Canadian cyclist Ryder Hesjedal by Richard Poplack, that describes with just the right amount of voyeuristic fascination the deep wells of pain that the professional cyclist draws upon in their pointless struggles.

From Walrus Magazine

A cycling team’s hotel floor looks like a geriatric ward: men lie prostrate on beds, pink feet pointing skyward. The hallway smells like baby shit, the eau de cologne of the endurance athlete — a day’s worth of fluid, food, and endorphins rinsed noisomely through the system. A cyclist gets up, eats, goes to the race, eats, races, eats while racing, eats once finished, returns to the hotel, eats, gets a massage, eats a lot, sleeps. There’s no outward sign that he is one of the best athletes on earth. If you came across him shopping for a Billy bookcase atIKEA, you’d assume he had just returned from an island survival challenge, which he lost. Badly.

The one thing all the statistics and studies and scientific assessments can’t deliver is cycling’s great intangible. By this I mean the transformation of agony into fuel, an alchemic process that is supernatural in its properties. For instance, to climb a fifteen-kilometre mountain pass at an average grade of 10 percent and a mean speed of twenty-five kilometres an hour is to sustain almost forty minutes of screaming pain without a second’s respite. The reward for being the best isn’t that one takes less pain; rather that one is able to absorb more. The nature of this process is revealed at the precise instant that we come to know ourselves completely: we learn how far we can push ourselves, and the true mettle of our character. But that knowledge isn’t properly intelligible, nor is it transferable. To mangle Laurie Anderson’s aphorism, writing about cycling’s meta-state is like dancing about architecture. It is a private knowledge, forged in pain’s stables, and belongs to men who are not served by articulating it.

All of which might explain the gravitas that blurs the edges of Ryder Hesjedal’s obviously sunny nature. It might explain why he can, at times, seem like a husk. Outside the Garmin camper, he takes a slow sip of his coffee, swirls the cup a bit more, tosses it into the garbage. I ask if he’s feeling yesterday in his legs.

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