Your brain can’t remember pain. Of that I am glad. I don’t miss the pain. I’ll tell you what I miss though, I miss the weather.
Did I ever tell you about when I used to train in Italy in the winter? In the mountains the snow would fall for days, and the hillsides would be covered in thick blankets of white, their peaks looking like the hunched shoulders of giant beasts, faces bowed in shame. Those giant f**king mounds of rock were too scared to face me and too cold to move, and so I rode up them, and made heat of my own. I would catch fire; burning in my layers of clothes, cutting through the cold like an electric heater. Sweat would drip from my nose on to the white road, snow tingling as it melted on my exposed skin. The world was frozen, but I was roaring in flames, as if I was driving an open-top-car with the heater on full blast. I was my own nature. I was defiance.
Did I tell you about when I stood on start lines in Belgium? Freezing winds blew in off the North Sea, winds that cut through every layer that I had on, through every fabric man could make. Shuddering and desperate – the warm sweet tea in my bidon was the only kindness in this violently cold, apocalyptic wasteland.
Did I tell you about the misty days, when I could only see a metre of road in front of me? I stopped using my vision, blindly pushing along on memory alone.The air was thick with tiny droplets of water that would collect on the hairs on my arms which would stand up and turn ghostly white. The moisture would collect on my bony face and mix with sweat and run onto my lips and I would savour the taste, the taste of hard work.
Did I tell you about those stinking hot days in the Pyrenees? The heat would be so unbearable that the riders would sit up in the hotel chatting until late into the night, all friends, all the doors and windows wide open. When we raced over mountain passes the water in our bottles became too warm to drink, and our thirst could never be quenched. In a town on the Spanish border, we all got straight into the fountain after the finish, the crowd watching on in the shade as rider after rider dived into the fountain in their kit, laughing like little kids.
Did I tell you about the filthy black rain that fell in China? Rain that blackened our faces, and bounced off the road as riders strung out and tried so hard to see, mouths kept closed and nostrils flared.
I miss the weather now because it doesn’t isolate me anymore, or make me desperate or start to wonder if I’ll make it home. I miss the weather because it doesn’t blow in my face, making me bow my head and tell myself ‘it’s only making me stronger’, or cry and beg the wind to “give me a f**king chance”. I miss the weather because it doesn’t cook me in the heat anymore, and force me to stop in boulangeries to ask the women working there for water.
I still see the weather. I still look at it out of the window, and walk out into it, or sit in it. I cycle in it when it’s fair and we holiday together sometimes. But it’s not vital to me. When I don’t want to be out in it now, I don’t have to be.
My day is no longer decided by which way the wind blows. My fingers never freeze so much that I can’t work the gear shifter. I never get so sodden that I return home to find large chunks of my hands have blistered and worn away. My suntan is no longer deep from hours working in the sun. I’m not a shepherd, not a swain. No longer at the mercy of the weather, I wear a suit of lights.
I miss the weather because people live and work indoors, because the cars I ride in have air-conditioning, and the houses I stay in have double-glazed windows, and because the weather doesn’t scare me, or welcome me, or make me wonder if it’ll break me today.
I miss the weather and it is a terrible thing to miss.
Rigo Zimmerman is an ex-pro and DS and as a consequence is eternally pensive.