The saddles drip of water, the bikes are held waiting and they reflect themselves badly in the never firm puddles. Under the awnings there is the rollers’ noise, all round the buzz of the people that watch, with the umbrellas one on top of the other. The Lotto Soudal is used to this Belgian weather. On the rollers there is Sander Armee with the time trial’s suit twisted on the hips. He drips sweat like the rain out there, sometimes he lifts himself up again, he dries himself and he takes up riding again with the head down. Adam Hansen moves the bus’s tent away , he has the time trial’s helmet in a hand, he arranges it on the appendix of the bike next to Sander and then he gets on it too.
He jokes with a mechanic, he smiles.
He chews a chewing gum, he makes balls with it while he talks to his mate of the fixed rides. Then sometimes he lows his head, he sets his watch and again head down. Iron man, is called. He started performing the triathlon when he was seventeen, he won two Crocodile Trophy, an Australian mountain bike race that is considered the hardest in the world and in the last three years he has been the only athlete to finish the Giro, the Tour and the Vuelta. Adam wants to beat the record of twelve consecutive big tours completed that belongs to the Spanish Bernardo Ruiz. To do it he has to bite the bullet till the end of the Tour de France 2015.
At the Giro he won two years ago, in a day like this. A solitary arrival and incredulous after a breakaway, in Pescara, in a rainy afternoon. Around you the mechanics move with the frames, they unscrew something, they fix a saddle, the handlebars: a little travelling factory. Adam looks at his watch on his wrist again. Is almost the time. He dries his face with a towel and he ties the helmet.
He takes his bike and while he is going out to go to the start a guy that wants a picture gets close to him. The hand that hold the phone shivers, as usual in these cases. The camera never opens or maybe you can’t find it looking among all that excitement. The guy stays motionless under the rain and Adam hits his thigh with a hand joking. Maybe in English he asks him to hurry up because there is little time. But he stays till a mechanic takes the picture and gives the phone back.
“You are my idol!” says that guy while he is going away. He shouts, with an almost excited voice. ”You are the best cyclist in the world, Adam. For me, you are the best!” He smiles, he thanks you and he goes away. That voice in the rain remains in me. The voice of when you get courageous and you have to say something important. In cycling, the encounters between the supporters and the athletes are rushed and touching. You would like to scream everything you have always wanted to say when you watched them toiling in front of the tv: bite the bull, suffer, resist, win, lose and rise again. You are my idol. The excitement of having spoken to him, even just for an instant, he will never forget it. That’s why, maybe, the cycling is one of those sports that makes you happy, truly.
The team car goes into the little streets of Treviso to reach the starting dais where Adam waits the brief countdown. A foot on the ground, one already attached to the pedal. And the usual chewing gum that he use to play and maybe to soothe any tension. When he hears his name from the speaker, he smiles and he moves his hand towards the audience to ask for more cheer, more screams, more applauses. Three long acute sounds and then go.
Zero. Down the dais towards those solitary kilometres even if in the middle of a lot of people. The asphalt soaked by the rain reflects the wheel’s shape: a brief and irregular contrail. Regular is Adam’s way of riding, the left knee opens a little bit, but just a little. Against the straight road all alike of the first kilometres there is his strong figure, the legs of a long-distance cyclist and the haunches that seem to scan the time, with the windscreen wipers’ noise in the silence. Some muffled voices comes from outside. The people mill around on the turns, at the crossings and in the towns’ centres then, little by little, they pour.
Adam moves to the left and then to the right. Then again to the right. Is a thing between himself, the road that for now is straight and the rain that doesn’t stop even for an instant. It beats thick on his back, on the suit that is like a second skin. The wheels are like mills, they squirt water everywhere, continuously. They bring it up, and then down.
Rain that dilutes the thoughts and then it rebuilds them. Tic Tac like an insistent watch. Tic Tac on the shiny helmet: time that trickles on the visor transparent like the drops on the team car’s window. The deaf noise of the lenticular wheel in the silence of the road that runs. A sporadic scream: Adam. Go Adam. An applause and a child that runs along the roadway, wrapped in a green cape that makes him look like a wood’s creature. Or of the vineyard that now flows along the road: green hills, even greener because of the rain that takes the sun away and quenches the roots of this land that prepares its grapes. Grapes for the wine. Wine that warms up the eldest ones that wait for the passages sitting on the rickety garden’s chairs in this strange day almost autumnal. It starts going uphill. Adam rises on his pedals. It goes up a little but it goes up. Hills. And villages on the top. A belfry and the ancient houses of stone with the little windows and the courtyards and the little roosts and the verandas for the wicker chairs in the warm of the summer. It rains less, now. The screams are many more. Adam Hansen is Adam Hansen.
In cycling that’s how it works, before you cheer than you curiously look at the name on the team car that follows. Then you scream again, maybe louder. “Go Adam. Keep going like that, that you’re doing well” shouts a man. The music, grilled meat, fried and wine’s smells. Adam crosses the hill and takes the turns with care. Down there a shy sun seems to come out, almost invisible, but the asphalt is still soaked, it keeps raining. Still hills, still vineyards. The road goes up, he rises again on his pedals. There are even more people. Those are the last kilometres and they are even harder. Wings of a crowd that applauds, that screams on that spurt where you must go slower.
A bit you feel like crying because of that stupid sentiment that gets you when you go across the heart of this sport. Everytime. Today even more: following the rider’s contrail I can feel even more everything, even deeper. The last rising section, still people, even more. A bit of rain comes in from the ajar windows and the screams come in like a hurricane.
Adam comes, the next harshness is the one with written “Arrivo” on the top. The last one after a descent and a sharp bend to the left. He goes down and than he relaunches. The team car drifts and I don’t see him anymore. He will find the masseurs waiting for him and they will roll a towel on his neck, they will drive him and they will tell him to do the whole path to the buses. To the showers. Time trials. A little infinite travel into themselves. Always the same pedals like time’s needles. Behind the team car’s windscreen wipers that fight against the rain is easier to hear. To hear the silence, even closer. There is the secret. Hear the silence. In the calf’s shape of a long-distance cyclist against the horizon of a white sky you can read a bit of character, a bit of destiny.
Thanks a lot to the Lotto Soudal’s staff and to my dear friend Guy Kostermans that made this adventure in the team car possible.
Translated by Martina Meroni
Original version here → INSIDE THE HEART