“Hey, how ya doin’?”
If you’re familiar with the colloquial vernacular of this part of the country (The Northeast—Ed.), you’ll find that this is but one of myriad varieties of mutual acknowledgment. Most are short, to the point. Some are legitimate; in most cases they’re manifested as a reflex, and can generally translate as, “I live in a social environment whereby announcing your acquaintance is a display of mandatory civil imperative.” And folks carry on, never really minding the level of interaction. Even daily associations, say, at work, where office manners are often observed and regulated with semi-military rigidity, never really get past the formality of generic colloquialisms. So you get to know how people are, or at least, they let you know how they wish they’d be.
But this is not the office is it?
One of the many unique quirks of our sport, and this applies on a universal level, is the way fellow athletes address each other. Of course you can start a conversation with whatever greeting you see fit: you can nod, quick blink your eyes, high five, flash complex gang signs, unfold your pinky to engage with another pinky, blow kisses, do a little dance, it doesn’t matter. But once you spend a few kilometers shoulder to shoulder with your companion, the outdoors soundtrack of whishing tires on pavement and the wind in your ears induce you to a slightly deeper level of communal understanding. Then, invariably, you hear: “How are you feeling?” That’s a question that condenses all sorts of scenarios into one single moment. If you know your bud well, you’ll get the gist in a second. A look, a snarl, a grunt (if you’re our James), a side to side tilt with a slight scowl may provide all you need to know. But those are small indicatives of something bigger. The context is so inextricably wrapped to every single nerve of the rider’s existence that little means a lot, and language barriers mean nothing. This struck me decades ago, when I had to cede my race registration to a friend. I was giving him info about the course while lamenting my default, when I asked how he felt. Over the phone there was a micro pause; in a few short sentences I knew enough. It was not about the words used. Rather, the tone he employed expressed accurately how he felt at the time.
Explanation is unnecessary to detail how many stars one sees during a huge effort, or how sour the mouth gets, followed by goose bumps (not the good kind), or that the stomach and entrails hurt. Meaning, you don’t need to be a multi-thousand watts, thick World Tour super hero to get it when Cancellara says, “I had lactic acid coming out of my ears”. That’s the beauty of it: the tangibility is such that it levels and resonates with all.
On the positive side, there is a paragon of truth that can never be questioned, for we know exactly what it means when a pro (any pro) utters those magic words: “…I had good sensations…” That alone puts us precisely in the realm of magnificent feelings regarding going fast. You may be hurting, but you’re moving. You try not to show your cards too much during a paceline or up a hill, lest your foes might bust your poker face. The good sensations, as quirky as it sounds when translated to English, are a rider’s last and best friend. How do you measure good sensations? It’s part magic, part fitness mixed with laser-guided mental acuity and a heavy dose of fearlessness. In other words, you just know. It’s all feet and drive, hunger and revenge, bike lunging forward with each pedal stroke, face covered in spit and salt, but you relish knowing your mates are suffering a tad more as their sensations don’t match yours. Notice that the actual guys with the right sensations are usually the ones giving the post victory interview. There’s a strong distinction between feeling good and the sensations being good. A racer may start the event overcome with nervousness, sick, not wanting to be there; stiff, puffy from that extra beer the previous night. He/She can claim to feel good, ok even, but that’s static, a still snapshot of the moment before the action starts. Once the flag goes down and the system gets going, you’ll find out. On the other hand, a good sensations’ worst enemy is that oldest excuse known to racers. Who hasn’t (mentally) booed when a certain pro says, after the finish, “yeah, I had great legs and was really confident, but didn’t have it in the end/missed the break/was on the wrong side of the group” ?. Exactly.
Well, all this talk of “feelings” gets me in the mood for riding. Wanna come with? Gotta warn you, I feel great.