Time is a strange thing. 1.2.3.
I often wonder whether people have the same picture of time in their heads as a cyclist does.
I look at time in many ways. “I’ll be there in 10 minutes,” is in no time at all, whereas “do a 10 minute VO2 effort,” seems like an eternity.
Ordinary time disappears with every second that ticks. A day can quickly vanish if I’m not occupied by my bike, but continue forever when I am.
I’m caught thinking about each second in every minute during the hours of my time spent cycling. Time usually stands still whenever you want it to end. I can feel the pain of a second during an effort.
And whenever I want the time to enjoy something, I often can’t because time runs out. Fifteen minutes after finishing this year’s Vuelta, I was already starting to forget it. As if the speed in Madrid blurred the whole experience of actually being there.
I tried to stand still on my way to the bus. Soak it up. But I had to leave. I didn’t have the time.
Doing a Grand Tour feels like being in a time capsule. It’s difficult to imagine what the last stage will look like when I am standing on the start line before stage one.
I don’t like to look that far ahead. The amount of time spent cycling for three weeks. I struggle to picture myself finishing without something going wrong. Which is why I find myself longing for the end as soon as the race starts.
It’s not that I don’t like being part of the race, it’s more because I know that a Grand Tour will involve a lot of suffering. It’s inevitable.
But that’s what I’m addicted to. We all are. We spend all our time on bikes voluntarily preparing ourselves to suffer. We have to want the suffering. Otherwise there isn’t any point in turning up.
In many ways it seems unfair. All the time I spend lactating and fighting with my bike and I usually always lose. Yet I continue to enjoy doing it. I always forget how much it hurt and how much I lost by.
Time erases the memory of pain and encourages me to try again.
I look forward to the suffering. I know it will end and that everything afterwards will feel that much better. It’s what comes after that we strive for.
Time spent cycling simply helps the chaotic world that we live in. Eventually I get there. To the end.
But what I find unfair is that in a flash of a minute, I’m already forgetting what I’ve been through. The feeling of being part of something exclusive is erased and replaced by normality.
It’s contradictory. I want to finish. Get home. But when I finally make it to the end and stand with the finish line behind me knowing there aren’t any more left to cross, it’s as though I don’t want to leave. In a perverse way, I almost wish for the race to last another week.
I feel robbed of not having the time to enjoy and really feel what I’ve just gone through. Especially when I have had nothing but time to absorb the whole experience. As if I need more time to recall what I’ve done.
It’s a little frightening.
Twenty-four hours after the final stage, I was walking through Madrid. The race that filled the streets and made what I was doing seem so important was already forgotten. A memory.
Suddenly I became worried that it was an experience that I’d also forget. It already felt distant. I suppose that only time will tell.
What I do know is that I spent a lot of time wishing for the race to be over and when it finally ended, I struggled to realise it. I needed more time than I thought in order to step out of my bubble and into the real world.
Time to go home.
Chris Juul-Jensen is a professional cyclist for Orica-Scott. In the 2017 season he rode the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España