Putting on a cycling kit before a race is a ritual.
If you want to do well, or hope you will, you pile up your kit next to your bed the night before. On a nightstand if the room has one or on top of your travel bag next to bed.
Pin the numbers. Fold a centimeter on each side and crease the race number against a table’s edge to make a cut rectangular. Then pin it. Four in the corners, another 4 in between. Eight pins all up, 16 for 2 numbers. You want them to stick to the jersey. You don’t want them to flap. Not a Fred.
Check if you didn’t pierce the pockets with the pins. Freds and idiots do that.
If it’s a new jersey you had never worn before, lay it on the floor and walk over it. Once or twice. Appease the cycling gods, it’s not new now, don’t crash me tomorrow. Please.
Lie down in bed and stare at your bike. Tomorrow, we race. Tomorrow, we show them what we can do. Tomorrow.
You wake in the morning from an alarm clock, wash up, brush teeth and go for breakfast. Could be an oatmeal or rice pudding, mashed potatoes or macaroni with meat patties. Barley meal. Follow up with cottage cheese and 2 tablespoons of sour cream, sugar or jam. Cup of black tea and bread with a chunk of butter covered by a slice of cheese.
Back in your room, boil a jar of water, add 4 teaspoons of tea and brew it. Watch the tea leaves saturate with water, watch them drown. A teafall in a jar. Watch the water darken from the tea leaves losing the tannin.
Check the time.
An hour or two left before you have to leave, you go back to bed and rest. You don’t want to walk or do anything. Lie in bed and rest. Don’t move your muscles. Digest the food and rest. It’s a magic time. It’s not a war you’re going to, but it’s kind of a war.
This hour before you start putting your kit on, suck it in. In peace. Because 2 hours from now, everyone minus the 5 teammates will hunt for your head if you dare to get in their way.
Stare at your bike from the pillow pressed against the wall.
The guy 2 meters away from you, your roommate, he’s sleeping. He sleeps anywhere, anytime. A python.
Check the time.
Fifteen minutes to go. Get up, take the clothes off, wake up your teammate. Gotta go bud, we gotta go.
Undershirt first then the knicks. Pick up the jersey, arms up, slide it on. A tint of rubber smell inside from the lycra fabric. This is when you know it’s a race day, that smell of rubber inside the jersey. It’s when the first dose of adrenaline kicks in. You feel it in your blood and the heart starts to knock but only for 2 or 3 seconds.
Pull out a 3-kilo sac with raisins from your bag. Grab a handful, put them in your jersey’s right pocket. Another one.
If it’s a long race, grab 3 oatmeal cookies. Maybe 4 just in case. Put them in the left pocket. Food sorted.
Now the socks. Snow white for when you know it won’t rain or something shitty, a pair that had seen dirt before when you suspect it might.
Tight the shoe laces and tuck the knot inside the shoe, a trick you learned from your first coach. It looks neat and the laces will never loosen.
Fill the bottle with the black tea and add 4 teaspoons of sugar. Drop in a tablet of ascorbic acid for flavor. Pause and think if you need a second bottle. Probably not.
Pick up your Cinelli helmet and shove it in the middle pocket on the jersey.
Gloves. These leather gloves, you hate them. You don’t want leather between your skin and the handlebar. Getting those raisins from the pocket with gloves on, pain in the ass. And you can’t wash them because you know if you do, they stiffen after you dry them these bustards and rub against your skin for at least 5 rides. You don’t wash them and now they stink from the sweat they sucked in.
Put them on in case you crash and land on your hand. New jersey or not, you never know.
Grab the bike by the stem, cock it on its rear wheel and walk to the door and listen to the freewheel’s tik tik tik song.
Tik tik tik. It sings for you.