“The man with the hammer”
Cycling is a sport set aside from most others in the sense that sufferance and pain are our reward for hard work. Chris McCormack said “When your legs scream stop and your lungs are bursting, that’s when it starts. That’s the hurt locker. Winners love it in there”. Eddy Merckx once said “The race is won by the rider who can suffer the most”. And one of my favourite quotes “Cycling isn’t a game, it’s a sport. Tough, hard and unpitying, and it requires great sacrifices. One plays football, or tennis, or hockey. One doesn’t play at cycling” – Jean de Gribaldy
At a base human level cycling is about challenging the boundaries in your body and mind. We choose to suffer because it stretches those boundaries and frees our minds. Like one of my favourite cyclist Jens Voigt once said “When my legs hurt, I say: “Shut up legs! Do what I tell you to do!” Now thats the mind and body working on separate levels.
Cycling seems to thrive in the sunlight of suffering in the saddle. During the grand tours spectators line the streets to watch the men and women racers go by. But when it comes to a hill or mountain stage the roads are 10 deep. People wanting to urge their hero’s through that suffering and ultimately to glory at the top of the mountain. These men and women who take part in the tours are suffering, sometimes for 21 days on the run. The women who take part in these races are at exactly the same level of sufferance as the men, pain does not discriminate. The weather can be cruel and the terrain punishing. All this is undertaken in a effort to be crowned the G.C winner.
Through all this suffering we as cyclists develop a strange relationship with our legs. We tend to stop calling them “my legs” and begin referring to them in the third party as “the legs”. I have found myself on a climb struggling along and announcing “the legs have gone I am struggling here”. We seem to consider our legs as something we have to tame like a Tiger, but not control. Now our minds are a different matter, we can control our mind….but hose pesky legs!
Cycling folklore speaks of “The Man With the Hammer”. He is a man who lurks around any corner and will unexpectedly smack you on the neck with his hammer. He will cause you to go from smoothly spinning your pedals to pedalling squares and putting the anchor out on your bike”. The Man With the Hammer strikes when your mind takes more from “the legs” than your body can provide.
Most endurance sports refer to this as “bonking”, but a bonk is something you can control by eating and measuring your effort. But in cycling – because we don’t control our legs – we perceive this to be out of our control.
Most cyclists will encounter him at some point or another in their cycling journey. Just remember Simon Yates in the lead of the Giro this year lost the lead and 40 minutes on stage 19. he looked invincible until the Man with the hammer came to visit.
It is the way of the cyclist to suffer, then afterwards take a wry smile to oneself at the achievement we have made.