Tao's diary: California love

29 May 2018

Tao's diary: California love

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In the latest edition of his diary, Tao Geoghegan Hart takes you inside his preparations for Tour of California and describes the scene as he played a decisive role in helping Egan Bernal take the leader's jersey on stage two.

Everything is quiet. The canyon, in all its specular grandeur, is completely empty. The ski-station the road leads up to closed last week, heralding the beginning of what the locals refer to as ‘mud-season’. They shut up shop for a while, taking a brief pause before the summer tourists flood in. I have just arrived, the tranquillity of mud-season perfect; no distractions, less people and empty roads. The local cyclist-owned coffee shop that gives a small discount to those ordering in kit remains open, that’ll do me.

It is warm today, especially now as I ride upward. I have just finished the last effort of my camp, 25 minutes of suffering, all aimed at going that little faster on one of next week’s many climbs. I gasp for air, the small screen attached to my handlebars reminding me that I am at almost 2000 metres above sea level. My eyes sting from the potent combination of sweat and suncream and my mouth is dry, but suddenly everything seems to glow a little in the warm afternoon sunlight. I could not be more content in this moment, everything I have left out there on the road.

I am all alone. I pull over to the roadside to take a moment before descending down, removing a jacket out from one pocket and my phone from another. I contemplate the journey so far and the ride back home. I still have some way to go, but it will pass quickly with the feeling of accomplishment that I am already floating upon. I am pleased with the effort. I am pleased with the past weeks. I am excited for the next ones. 
A solitary car passes by, eyes following me intensely as the vehicle snakes its way around the corner. I can’t help but think they must wonder why. It is hard enough for the average person to walk up here, let alone ride a bike. I picture what they see, a slender figure, stood panting and dripping in sweat, the long day written across my face. You could say that imagine is the goal of today. You could say I would be disappointed if I didn’t look this way.

As I ride home I notice I am holding onto my bars a little tighter, approaching each junction, downhill and corner with a little added caution and looking over my shoulder a little more. Everything has gone so well the last fifteen days that the last thing I want is for it to go wrong at the very last minute. Egan and I first spoke about trying to win this race in early March. It is now May and it is time to go...
Tao Geoghegan Hart

Tao Geoghegan Hart

Egan and I first spoke about trying to win this race in early March. It is now May and it's time to go...
[Sport Director] Brett says something on the radio. I don’t catch it all but I hear a few names and it sounds like he is listing off riders being dropped. At this point on the climb, almost seven kilometres to go, it is of little worry what is happening behind, it is the kilometres ahead that matter.
 
I wait in the wings, trying to gather myself for the moment when Seb [Henao] will pull off and my work will begin. I am chomping at the bit a little, but bide my time, there is still many metres of climbing remaining. Right now I feel in complete control, but I am wary how quickly that can change. I try to take in my surroundings for a second or two, whilst I still can. We take a large sweeping corner that is absolutely covered in fans, many waving giant cookies and dressed in wacky outfits. The sport here is in its infancy compared to over in Europe, but the locals still come out in their thousands and it is quite the spectacle.
 
This morning seven riders, two directors and one race-coach crammed themselves in to the RV. Brett presented the stage and we discussed our plan for today, for Mount Gibraltar. So far it has all gone smoothly. I have no idea how Egan is feeling, tucked in a few riders behind me, but I am confident he is ready. I am confident he will win.
 
I have been pulling for three kilometres now, immersed in the effort. We want to make this climb as hard as we can and I ride accordingly. I know there is a flat section just over two kilometres to go and I pace myself, as discussed hours earlier, to finish shortly after that. I remember the climb from two years ago and how much I suffered that day. Those memories give me extra strength with every turn of the pedals.
 
Much like last week’s canyon, I feel I am alone in this moment at the head of the thinning lead group. Nothing recognisable occupies my mind in this moment other than the singular thought of delivering what I have trained to do. It is as if all other systems shut down, surplus to requirements. In this state the effort is all that matters.
 
I think it is the utter simplicity of this this momentary existence, in a place whereby we find ourselves with one single obsession, that leads us to chase after this incredible feeling time and time again. It is freedom.
 
Almost exactly two kilometres to go and almost exactly as we had discussed earlier in the day, Egan flies past me, my job done. I stop pedalling for a few seconds, watching chaos ensue as riders’ scramble to follow his wheel. They cannot.
 
For me the last few kilometres of the day are the calmest, riding to the line, hearing the victory over the radio and knowing we executed our plan.
 
Once again, I couldn’t be more content in this moment.
 
And those inquisitive eyes wondering why we do it? This is why. 
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