(Richard invited me to post temporarily here, so I'm taking advantage of the opportunity! Normally, I post in CycleDog.....Ed)
The Tour de France always offers some great climbs, epic events that pit the greatest cyclists in the world against each other on long, relentless grinds over some of the most famous climbs in all of cycling. I hate ‘em.
I hate watching guys like Virenque or Armstrong spinning along, making it look so easy. I know it’s not easy, of course, but all great athletes make it look effortless, regardless of the sport. Ullrich, on the other hand, I can relate to because he looks like he’s suffering as much as I do.
Big guys are not climbers. Gravity finds us far too attractive, and in my case, the local bakery only adds to that attraction. I can’t walk by a donut shop without gaining a couple of pounds.
There was a time I had delusions of becoming a better climber. I rode with a guy named Oscar, who was much better at it, hoping that I’d improve. It never happened. Mostly, he just dropped me whenever the road tilted upward.
One hot summer day, we went out to Latrobe, Pennsylvania, to ride in the mountains. We parked in the Four Mile Run valley – a beautiful trout stream I’d fished many times – and rode up toward state highway 31 and Donegal. The road climbs the west side of the Laurel Ridge. I thought I was doing well because I managed to stay with Oscar all the way to the summit. Then the road tilted downward, gravity took over, and we screamed down the eastern slope.
We caught up to a car and passed it going down that mountain! It should have been a warning to me, but I was having too much fun. At the foot of the mountain, we lost speed and the car passed us. We turned north along the eastern front and eventually reached US30, where we turned back west.
I looked at the climb with a sinking feeling. It was straight up for only 40 or 50 thousand feet! The thing had the proportions of Mount Everest! There were hungry polar bears dancing in the ice on top! I expected it would be rope and piton work and we’d need oxygen.
Oscar dropped me almost immediately. The polar bears flashed toothy grins.
I am not exaggerating when I say that this was the worst climb I’d ever done. Between the heat and the grade, I was ground down without mercy. I think I fell 3 or 4 times trying to get up that mountain. To say I was cooked would be an understatement. I was utterly and completely destroyed going up that grade. Even now I look back on it with loathing.
I’d like to write something funny about it, like that bit about Greg LeMond’s head floating in front of another guy on an epic climb. But that didn’t happen. I could only focus on the bit of road directly in front of my wheel. My world shrank to one pedal stroke after another, labored breathing, and a desperate desire to keep my lunch down.
I hate climbing. Did I mention that?
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