USA Pro Cycling Challenge Stage 5

Words: Jeremy Dunn | Photography: Jake Stangel | Date:


We roll up and over Rabbit Ears and James Selman takes his place at the front. If anyone is fit enough to be on the front of this group it will almost certainly be this man. For the next three or so hours, he will not have it any other way.

Jon Cariveau, our de facto ride leader for the morning, has at last turned and pointed his bike back toward Steamboat Springs and the yearly Moots Cycles camping trip. Moots have been great hosts and surely our heads were filled with dreams of titanium bicycles as, the previous night, we slept directly above their shop. And so it is reluctantly that we start rolling in opposite directions.

Ryan Thomson looks on from the passenger seat of ‘Big Jan’. The Mercedes Sprinter van aptly named in honour of the Kaiser not only houses our spare tyres, clothing, sleeping bags and Clif bars but also a broken bike and shattered helmet. And the Rapha kit that had to be cut from Ryan’s body. He feigns a smile, points at his grossly swollen lip and with a shrug turns back to the road in front of him.

So do we.

There is a bit of guilt that we’re allowed to continue on our adventure while our riding partner and pal must now watch from behind tinted glass. We are now five on the road and that uneven feeling will remain for the rest of the trip. Stuck in the back, Ryan is left with only vague snippets of conversations, observing hand gestures without following them and possibly the notion that when we stop, Greg should tighten his seat bag a bit.

As James takes his place at the front of our group, I know from personal experience that he can dig down into that place that most never go. He has been there before, the suffering department, but he has also been here in Colorado before. You don’t come back to the Leadville 100 mountain bike race year after year and not get some sense of how to deal with the conditions that Colorado has to offer. Namely, the altitude.

But the make-up of this man is more complex than simply being able to hurt. Last summer, James was riding his bike through Wisconsin when he was hit from behind by a car. I can’t imagine what that must have been like, to wake up in a strange hospital and not know what happened to put you there. But it gives me some comfort to think that, at this moment, with him up front pushing onwards, we have his back, so to speak. And as he works it out on the front while we’re feeling less than sprightly, he is not only our engine but also our inspiration to keep digging.

I ask him whether or not the accident has effected his riding. Maybe I’m feeling sentimental, or maybe I’m hoping an intense line of enquiry will keep James from pushing the pace up any further. “Do you think about your family, your kids, when you’re out on the road like this?” He doesn’t understand the question; he thinks I’m just asking him about the task at hand. He replies with a quick, “Yes, of course”. Onwards.

So, I try another way.

“What is it about being on the road that makes you think about them?” Again, I’m not saying it right but we come to some sort of understanding. James tells me it’s the senses, the smells, sounds and songs, anything that makes you feel something when you’re riding your bike, which is a hell of a lot when you’re putting in the miles we are.

We talk of the sounds of laughter that only a father can understand. Of smells that trigger memories faster than any story. The talk quickly becomes as rapid as the pace.

And then a short, low whistle and ten antelope look up at the same time. Their necks snap upright at seemingly impossible speed. They do it exactly in unison, as if they’re little marionettes connected by an unseen strand of string. They have become so accustomed to the sound of the truck tires on the highway that our little skinny bicycle tyres have no effect on them. It is only when something breaks their train of thought (“chew, chew, chew”) that they look up from what they are doing.

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