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The Crit: Or how I stopped worrying and learned to love the corner
WORDS: Collyn Ahart
Of course I’d overrun the corner. Zoolander couldn’t turn left. I clearly couldn’t turn right. This seemed an absurdity. My first 21 years were spent turning right, but in the short course of 7 years living on GMT, I’d managed to reverse my spatial hazard zone and couldn’t cut a righty to save my soul.
Sprinting from the back I’d put a nice little gap between me and my group, enough space to push up the hill and hopefully drop them. Or better yet, catch the girls I knew were only just out of my sightline up the road. All around us the crowd roared as we flew under the finish line inflatable. My teammates were there in the fray, the reassuring low-pitched rumbling …Collllllll…. rising up with each lap… cameras snapping and barriers clanging in the high afternoon sunshine.
Out on the open road, race jitters dissipate after a few minutes in the peloton; the twitching stops and the race is on. In a criterium, with its off-camber hairpin turns between narrow barriers, heat-scorched pedestrian crossings polished to a deadly sheen… everything is different. Each bend pricks the nerves, tenses the arms. Every barrier flashes over-sized logos in a rhythmic neon cadence, hypnotic and petrifying. Fixated on every turn, eyes torn between the wheel in front and the graphic patterns looming not but inches from one’s pedals… a little piece of sanity gets left behind.
Five of us had taken the short flight from London to race in the Channel Islands’ Jersey Town Crits, a 40 minute lesson in tarmac surfacing through the hellish and beautiful centre of St. Helier.
17 minutes on the clock, lungs burning but legs beginning to warm, I snapped. Through one, two, three, four, make that five girls… each leaving it all out there on the road. Sweeping through the gentle left-hand towards the finishing crowd, I was on the front, moving one, two lengths up. Kick.
These girls couldn’t hold me on the rise, but their cornering was ace. It was now or never, and it meant taking a hairpin almost at full speed, a clean exit, and a sprint up the hill.
My arms frozen, the barrier was too close. I was too far over. Too far to the left. Hitting my brakes a half second too late, my wheels shuttered and screamed in protest and agony. I was so small, so insignificant now, the buzz of the race flying past behind my total stillness smashed into the barrier.
The agony of contact pales in comparison to the silence of the crowd. I avoided eye contact with the whispers and groans of concern. Swearing to myself, shuttering, my whole body locked in a waltz of shock, fingers and arms shaking as I reached down to replace the dislodged chain onto its sprockets. You’re okay. Nothing is broken. No one else crashed. The humiliation compounded by my safety. At least I could pretend to feel sorry for myself with a broken bone or two. Accept the pity of the crowd. Go back to the hotel and take a bath. Forget my own stupidity by relishing in my pain. But no bones were broken, not even a bent wheel or twisted headset to reckon with. Take a lap out. Finish the race. It’s not over til it’s over. You’re a fool but you’re not broken.
Each turn leaves a little mark on your mind, a little thank you to the powers that be, a few wrinkles, a few grey hairs, a few missed heartbeats. But every corner presents an opportunity. Befriend the corner a lap sooner and it will give you an extra few seconds. A grounded pedal a friendly reminder you’re pushing hard enough, you’re not afraid any more. Arms relax and the neon logos start to blur. You start to look into the corner, stare it down, stare right on through the soul of the corner and over to the other side. Blind turns open into gaping valleys where blind luck transforms into a tarmac intuition.
Two weeks and a lot of soul-searching later I found myself with the familiar pangs of flighty reluctance. Another town-center… another start line… another national-level field of girls… another dozen corners to stare down and demand friendship. But any jitters were left on that barrier in Jersey, evaporated into the hot spring air.
Collyn Ahart is an American-born, London-bred brand strategist, writer and amateur road racer. She writes about design and culture on www.collynahart.com
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- Win today's Alpe D'Quiz prize: a Men's or Women's Classic Softshell. ‘A thing of beauty,’ according to The Times. → http://t.co/3n8XlqiNYq
- @tribryan Hi Bryan, that’s a discontinued Irish Country Jersey which is no longer in production, sorry to disappoint.