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Team Rapha Continental
I saw the gravel and I knew exactly how this was going to end: with a lot of pain and, at the very least, a fair amount of blood. With 120 miles in our legs that included interminable gravel stretches, nearly 12,000 feet of climbing and at least one dirt roller that had more oil on it than actual dirt, our bodies were begging for a reprieve.
Any mental acuity, which is a prerequisite for riding these pock-marked gravel, dirt -- and occasionally paved -- roads, had been rendered dull and somnolent by the unrelenting terrain. We had run out of water a couple hours earlier and our reflexes were sluggish; to put it in the common parlance, we were cooked.
We had reached the point in the ride were you covet momentum the way a fat kid covets the last piece of cake even though he knows he has no right to it. It's as if your brain tells you that there is an electrical current running through the brake levers, and to keep your hands safely on the bar tape. Your mind betrays you in such circumstances, at a time when your reliance on its conscientious decisions is a priority.
I was sitting just off Dan's wheel as we coasted down the hill, not too fast to take the corner but way too fast to take a corner covered in gravel. Dan and I saw the rocky residue at the same time and since I was a couple bike lengths behind I was able to pull up and bail out of the turn. Dan wasn't as lucky.
He was already cutting a sharp right and he faced two choices: continue to turn into the gravel and wash out or straighten out and hit a drainage ditch at full speed. I heard Dan emit a yell, not of shock or surprise, but of pure frustration over how this ride was going to end. He chose the first option.
About five miles from the velodrome the Kapelmuur Independent team caught up with us and the pace gradually picked up until the ride felt more like the Tuesday Night Worlds rather than the final meters of a 134-mile ride. And as usual, Dan was at the front of the pack, pushing the pace ever faster. I don’t know where the energy came from but I like to think that he could smell the beer that was already being poured for us in the stadium.