Sometimes going slow adds to the flow
Mountain bike stage races don’t need to be completed in a flat-out panic; for some riders, the thrill lies in taking their time.
During a mountain bike stage race a few years ago, in true huffing-and-puffing middle-of-the-pack fashion, I arrived at a water table and was immediately swept up in the frenzy of water-bottle-filling and mouth-stuffing. (And when I say middle of the pack, I mean front-of-the-back-of-the-pack).
Riders swarmed the table and clambered for Marmite sandwiches, wine gums, and water refills. With frantically gulped Coke dribbling down their chins, and cheeks stuffed with marshmallow fish, the frenzied pack sped off into the distance.
I would have been among that manic group, hunting down an irrelevant 765th place, if it weren’t for Jonno, the Prince of Procrastination aka The Master of Munching, The Duke of Fork, the Sheik of Steak.
Jonno’s entire reason for entering stage races is to devour everything in sight and ride as slowly as possible to the next water point in an effort to let his appetite build up again.
While the feeding frenzy was underway, and while riders stood impatiently in line for the portaloo queue, I noticed Jonno serenely pacing up and down the water table, like Sherlock Holmes assessing the scene of the crime, contemplating the food and drink on offer.
His jacket was half off, half unzipped; one arm was in the jacket sleeve, the other arm somehow tied behind his back as if a ghostly policeman were escorting him off the premises.
Distracted by the variety of jelly sweets and mini chocs, he appeared to forget about the jacket altogether and started calling me over excitedly, using his elbows to point. Here was a man in no hurry to ride away, never mind the fact that we were technically participating in a race.
Our dear friend Andrew, already exasperated at Jonno’s languid bathroom break upon initially arriving at the feed zone, stood at the water table exit, his bulging eyes and head indicating towards the departing cyclists in the manner of a man who had just dropped a toaster into the bath.
“Just go,” I mouthed. “I think Jonno is still deciding if he wants the green wine gums and then marshmallows, or the marshmallows and then the green wine gums.”
A few minutes later, satisfied that he’d sampled every dish on offer, Jonno saddled up (after a short search for his bike, naturally) and we set off, immediately jumping into a discussion on what treats might be in store at the next water point. (Much to Jonno’s delight, marshmallows drowned in condensed milk were to found here).
Prior to the event, our only agreed-upon tactic was to get to the finish line. But Jonno’s wisdom at the first water point of the first day informed our strategy for the next few days of riding, and indeed our future stage race and riding strategy overall – go slow, eat lots, go slower after eating, eat even more.
Ever since, every time we’ve ridden together, it’s been a sedate and serene affair – with discussions on food stops, coffee spots, and how many pancakes is too many for a pre-ride breakfast. (Answer: there’s no such thing as too many pancakes).