The Rider, Kilometer 61-67

2010-04-23, , Comments

The Rider, book cover

The Rider is Tim Krabbé’s account of the fictional Tour de Mont Aigoual, “the sweetest, toughest race of the season”. It’s a short book weighing in at around a page for each of the race’s 137 kilometres. I’m reading it as slowly as I can.

The central character is a rider named Krabbé. The other characters make up a fictional peleton — Barthélemy, Kléber, Reilhan, etc. — and their interrelationships build with the rhythm of the stage, overtaking, falling back, regrouping. Lebusque punctures at 55km, but I’m sure he’ll be back. At 61km the first descent starts. Krabbé reflects on the downhill specialists.

In the 1977 Tour de France, the Frenchman Rouxel was the best downhill man. During a descent of the Tourmalet that year, he bridged a gap of four and a half minutes — in terms of distance, more than five kilometres!

Rouxel says: “I love going downhill. It’s like skiing. You have to stay loose the whole time, never lock your knees — they’re your shock absorbers. You have to stay down on your bike, to keep your centre of gravity as low as possible. Sure, sometimes when I’m doing ninety and both wheeels leave the ground, it gives me goose bumps too.”

Unlike Lebusque and the rest, Charles Rouxel is as real as the Tour de France. Certainly he rode the 1977 Tour, though apparently he was eliminated on stage 17 for failing to make the cut-off time. The Tourmalet featured in the second stage of the race which ran from Auch to Pau. Rouxel may well have made up time on the descent but Lucien van Impe went on to take the stage.

Charles Rouxel

I understand what Rouxel has to say about technique, and I too love to go fast, but I’m no descender. There’s something terrifying about hurtling towards a bend you can’t see around. Krabbé puts it better:

I don’t have that kind of looseness. I take the curves like a wooden puppet, afraid that my centre of gravity is going to wind up in the ravine.