Overtaken by a mountain biker, again

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James out for a ride.

Today I (James) got overtaken by a man riding a mountain bike while out training.

This isn’t something really worth thinking about. It’s not something I should have particularly noticed happening because it’s not the first time. But a very small part of my brain minded.

In fact, that small part of me was strong enough to make my thumb change gear and my legs pedal faster, wearing myself out in some absurd race to retake the fellow Sunday morning cyclist uphill.

It was a hollow victory because I immediately felt like a complete idiot and then knackered myself out keeping ahead of the mountain biker so as not to admit to the world I’d overstretched myself (I know, pride comes before a fall and all that).

I was riding my touring bike, with loaded panniers, in preparation for Pierre and I’s 2,000 mile ride along the west coast of the USA from Vancouver to the Mexican border. He was a bloke on a mountain bike minding his own business on a crisp winter morning in Richmond Park, London, which is a hugely popular training ride for cyclists, mostly road racers.

I’m not even a particularly competitive person. I much prefer taking time to marvel at the world’s wonders rather than trying to beat everyone in it. So why does this side of me show itself when I take to two wheels.

In my defense. I’ve spent the past few years whizzing around the six-mile ribbon of park road on a lightweight racing bike where overtaking other cyclists is regularly necessary. But the fleeting moment the mountain biker and I shared (and then shared again) made me think. Can I train that rather silly competitive instinct out of me before cycling the length of the USA for two months this summer. Surely its existence will likely lead to injury or exhaustion on such a long journey.

Or can I harness it into a positive force. When I’m exhausted, aching and the temptation to quit is strong, can I used that competitive streak to push myself on, to compete with myself rather than those around me. This has also made me realise that training for a long distance bicycle journey isn’t just about becoming physically fit. It’s also about preparing mentally, making sure you think a little about how to approach the ride.

So next time it’s cold and raining outside and Pierre is eager to go for a ride, I might just sit him down with a cup of tea and explain that he needs to train his inner cyclist as well as his outer one. At which point he’ll probably call me an idiot and tell me to put my cleats on!

And with regards to the mountain biker, whoever you are, I’m sorry. I love mountain biking and often thrash around on my GT. I’m sorry you had to experience the close up view of my lycra-clad bottom not once but twice. But thank you for being fitter than me, for overtaking me, for bringing out the competitive idiot in me, because you made me think. And in doing so, you’ve probably helped make the adventure of a life time this summer, even more fulfilling. Thanks.

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