I coulda’ been a contender…

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Just to be clear, I couldn’t.

Never, even on my most optimistic, wind assisted, coffee-fuelled days, could I have made it as a pro-cyclist.

I know this.

I missed that window of opportunity, as a teenager, to dial in my calf muscles, my aero position, and my ‘suffer face’ at an early age. I was also too lazy to learn French, and too hungry to embrace a diet of San Pellegrino and plain pasta.

Instead, I set my heart on a career in football.

Even in the 1980’s, you see, football seemed attractive.

It was more accessible than pro-cycling, which existed through grainy images of LeMond, Fignon, and Delgado doing battle to a set of archaic and barely logical rules.

I didn’t understand how I could end up doing that.

Growing up just south of Manchester, though, there was little doubt in my mind that the talent scout from one of the big clubs would turn up one Sunday morning and beg me to sign a pro-football contract.

It was pretty much a done deal; just a matter of agreeing personal terms.

I recall reading at the time that some footballers might earn as much as £2,000 per week.

“I’ll hold out for two and a half,” I thought, and began playing hard to get.

The years rolled by and no contract was forthcoming. By my late teens I was regretting my hard-to-get strategy, which was clearly more effective than my skills with a ball at my feet.

I gave up on my dream.

For a while I was convinced that, in some ‘Sliding Doors’ style twist, a split second decision here or there had sealed my fate. The only time, to date, I have experienced an affinity with Gwyneth Paltrow.

So far I have never felt the need to steam my nether regions.

I began to take cycling seriously in my thirties, which removed that early period when I might have deluded myself into thinking I could turn pro.

It’s the hope that gets you, they say.

My ambition was to resemble the local cyclists, be able to hold a conversation with them about bikes, and ride my local roads at a pace quick enough to avoid derision.

Job done.

I thank you.

*bows*

And yet, despite the twin pronged reality of logic and evidence, very occasionally I still wonder. I can’t quite shake the idea that maybe, just maybe, given a good early start and a fair wind, I could have made it.

But, as former pro Charley Wegelius explains in his fantastic book ‘Domestique’:

“In a very simple way the amount of pain that a professional cyclist goes through, even on a normal day, far exceeds what most people would experience in their entire lives”.

Or, in the words of the great Fausto Coppi:

“Cycling is suffering”.

It’s a life of physical hardship and psychological torment.

There are times when I get my fill of that coping with a nine-to-five job, a couple of kids, and a Sunday morning ride with my mates.


(Image: by Gocal83 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

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