This race was the kick off of the Pre-Event for CMWC in Sydney. Bike couriers from Europe, the US, Canada and elsewhere had arrived that day and now we were all clumped together on Foley Street in Darlinghurst, our bikes laid down in front of us waiting for Bart to yell go. I wrote a couple weeks before about panicking when I see a manifest before a race and can’t make sense of it, how it becomes something entirely different from work even though they’re the same addresses in the same city. That didn’t matter this time; it was an ordered manifest, everyone had to go to the checkpoints in the same order, you just had to go down the list.
I had been obsessing over the race, playing through variables of what could happen and building myself up into being confident I’d win by the time I got my bike to the front of the laneway for the start. I knew exactly how I was getting to the first checkpoint and the two after that. There wasn’t anything to think about other than going fast and not crashing. There were a couple people around me but we weren’t talking much and I was happy about that. I just wanted to hear Bart scream GO finally he did. I was riding up through the laneway with nobody in front of me. I got to the Coca Cola sign on the Cross just after Darcy but got out before him and led down Brougham Street to Harry’s Cafe De Wheels.
Lucas Brunelle was just behind me as I tripped up old stone stairs just behind Darcy now, heading towards Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, then leaving against traffic stupidly riding on the right side of the road, Max saving both of us with a last second swerve as he was coming in. Coming back from Luna Park I had no way of knowing if there was someone in front of me until I saw Tim coming down the hill towards me, then Darcy and Lucas on the stairs, then Andy and Joe on the bridge, so many people coming toward me, some yelling out to me, some silent and serious. My mind was jumping around in the magnified physical present, each ‘budump’ pedal-pedal-pedal-pedal- ‘budump’ of going over a section on the Harbour Bridge cycle path, my shoes so tight they were digging into the tops of my feet, courier bag done up high on my back feeling weirdly empty, inconsistent with riding that hard. And thoughts jumping around my head, ‘I’m going to win, I’m going to win’, over and over and ‘don’t mess it up’ on repeat too. But all juttering there and gone thinking, no steadiness, no pathway leading down a line like the bridge from north to south. Explosions and quick changes, imagining what it would be to drop my bike at Foley Street and win and than straight into MARTINPLACE-FOUNTAIN-PADDY’S MARKETS-CENTRAL PARK-FOVEAUX/CROWN-AND DONE, and thirst to shove away, and always sizing up a stretch of traffic ahead.
I knew I had a decent gap, and as I tore all the energy I could from my body to get across that bridge I was sure nobody was getting any closer, I was only getting farther away unless I took a bad route or crashed. At the checkpoints back in the city hearing ‘you’re in first!’ ‘you’re fucking smashing it!’, riding away with saliva on my face, wiping most of it off, feeling like I had a blow dryer shooting in my mouth it was so hot and dry. I’ve never been so arrogant or determined. I was leaving Paddy’s Markets in first place with two more checkpoints to go in maybe the biggest alley cat Sydney has ever had, finally winning. As the checkpoints started winding down, 3 and then 2 and then 1 left to get to, I knew I had it. Going up Devonshire my calves felt 3 times their normal size swollen with blood, I had a new stitch in my side, a sharp pain in my lungs, and I was frothing at the mouth like a lunatic, screaming out when I could feel myself slowing down just before Riley. I came up to the intersection of Oxford and Crown and pushed through it without a honk, without a close call, and dropped my bike where we had all left an hour or so earlier, I was happier than I have been in years. Finally did it, finally won a race and I did it at the perfect time.
I wasn’t lapping up the high fives and congratulations or people looking at me knowing I’d won. I was happy for myself but almost embarrassed to have to be that guy that people would be looking at and talking to. A few minutes later Darcy and Lucas pulled in. And then Andy and Joe and Aaron and a big gap before the first out of towners. When Aaron came in I stuck up my index finger with a grin and didn’t say anything, he completely lost it, he was so happy. Andy bear hugged me and shook me around yelling ‘you fucking did it!’. I’ve never seen him happy after not winning a race before that. I was satisfied and proud, this thing I knew I could do, I had done. I was thinking my Dad would have been proud of me. I stood there for a while with people talking at me thinking of riding home to North London in the winter rain, slogging away as hard as I could just for the hell of it, just cause it was better than going slower. I wasn’t surprised, I know I’m not slow, but like I wrote about a week earlier, I panic and mess up checkpoints. Or I miss them altogether.
I sat down beside Joe who must have already heard from whoever was manning the Opera House checkpoint. He half-congratulated me and said, ‘Did you go to the Opera House?’. I didn’t think and said a confident ‘yes’ and stood up. Of course I had, I came first, I won the race. That’s how I processed the question for 30 seconds and then it crept in like cold rain down my back in a crappy jacket. I fucked it up again. Idiot. The words ‘Opera House’, the place, the idea that I had to go there had left my mind entirely somewhere between seeing the manifest for the first time and going to the Coca Cola sign. I hadn’t thought of it as I went north or when I knew that I was leading. Hadn’t thought of it when I was the first one back or when I cracked my longneck to celebrate.
And then those 15 minutes of happiness were wiped away and the lame game of adding up the minutes started, wondering if I would have won if I did it properly and gone to the Opera House before 1 Alfred street. Maybe I’d have not seen the people manning the checkpoint and wasted time and Tim would have stretched out a big lead. Or maybe we would have been going over the bridge together on the way back from North Sydney. Or maybe Darcy would have crashed into me instead of Tim, or maybe Darcy and Tim and Andy and Joe would have all been in front of me and I’d have come 5th or maybe I would have caught them all for a glorious finish.
It took an hour to get over it. I missed them announcing the top three but could hear the yells. Sitting in an alley behind where the crowd was I realised it was perfect in a way, it makes for a better story. I didn’t win but I know exactly what it felt like. I missed a checkpoint, the most iconic building in the entire country slipped my mind and I rode right past it.
Sydney Opera House should be the one without a signature, I think someone signed the wrong one at Harry’s Cafe de Wheels