The alarm clock sounded at 6.15 a.m. as planned. But my body had been awake for some time already. Nerves and adrenaline had me alert half an hour before it went off. My body knew that today was a big day and it was not going to let me sleep in for anything in the world. As excited as I was nervous, I put my two feet on the floor. Had I chosen the right route? My wife ratified the thought by kissing me and saying, “You’re mad”. And she wasn’t wrong. At 62 years of age, taking on 190 kilometres and four mountain passes seemed just that: madness. But she knows me, she knows how I feel every time I get onto a bike, what it means to me. And she smiles back at me when she sees me getting out of bed.
I have what was planned for breakfast. Everything is measured out. The kit I carefully laid out last night is in the sitting room. The clothing, bottles, bars, gels and, above all, a whole load of enthusiasm and excitement.
At 7.15 a.m., I leave the house. It is not quite daylight yet, although the sun is starting to rise. It is 8 kilometres to Valencia Marina and I make the most of the distance to get my head in order and start warming up.
As I get closer to the seafront, the megaphone grows louder, and the big red tide of participants appears before me. I locate my pals from the Lo Rat Penat cycling club and see that they are feeling the same as me. That combination of nerves and worry mixed with excitement and strength. Nervous smiles, a few nervous ticks. We wait for the starting gun. We see the great Miguel Indurain cutting the tape. I’m so proud to be participating in a sportive that he is an ambassador for. Yesterday I was able to have my photo taken with him and I’ll treasure it like gold. My idol and example to follow.
It’s time and we start. Carefully, until we leave the city behind us. The groups form and we start cycling. We are heading towards l’Oronet and I don’t know about the rest, but all I can think of is a monster that’s coming to see me today: Segart. I am familiar with it and I know that you have to save your strength to avoid putting a foot on the ground on its difficult slopes.
The heat makes itself known. My Achilles’ heel. I knew it would be hot, but that doesn’t make it easier. It’s strange how something that you are used to living with can still make you so uncomfortable. It was a bad moment and I found it very difficult to get through the pass. But I did, brimming with pride.
After Garbí, we cycled down towards Canteras. I needed to top up on water, as I had enough food supplies. On the way to Olocau, with the heat rising and wreaking havoc, we joined a group where I had to work as hard as anyone. We were gradually picking up cyclists who dropped out of a front group along the way. Pedalling on and on, seeing the suffering and commitment of your colleagues, you felt that you were part of something bigger than yourself. That sensation was an impetus to keep going, to not give up.
At the foothills of Chirivella, I began to feel strange. Suddenly, I went into ‘reserve’. It was a feeling like none I had ever had before. ‘Hitting the wall’, as they say. A feeling of emptiness, of not having anything left to give. It took all my patience not to get off the bike. It would probably have been the more intelligent thing to do. I don’t know. The thing is that, one turn of the pedal at a time, like life itself, I kept going – right to the top.
The fruit and water at the refreshment point revitalised me. It’s incredible how you can go from a feeling of total emptiness to feeling your strength return, your legs starting to respond again.
Then it was the descent to Altura. A reparatory descent. A big group of us joined up. Relaying with each other, all participating in the suffering. Until we came to the other side of l’Oronet. Calvario, at 1.40 p.m. Scorching heat. Death on a bicycle. But what is it about this sport? I’ll get the answer when I finish. It’s the last pass. After it lie 40 kilometres of descents and flat land all the way to the finishing line.
Renewed strength in my legs. It’s our mind that’s really difficult, the way it plays with us and makes it so hard to get along. I drink as much as I can and get ready to complete this challenge.
On the way to Massamagrell, I join a group. I think we all have cramped muscles. There is silence. All that can be heard is the sound of the wind and the tyres. I imagine that we are each writing our own story in our head. Fighting our own demons. Trying to answer that question: what is it about this sport? Thinking about the sacrifices, the effort, the suffering.
I feel like I’m flying, like the wheels aren’t touching the ground. Nothing hurts. I’m not sweating. I am detached. I see myself cycling, along with my brothers in arms, in the trenches. They are as crazy as me, as unaware at times, as stubborn. What do we want to prove? Who are we trying to convince?
The sea, the beach. The light, the smell. Alboraia, la Malvarrosa, Las Arenas… We reach the port, where it all began a few hours ago, although it seems like days. Last kilometre. Last gasps of air. Last turns of the pedals. Smiles, cheers. I hear my name over the loudspeaker, and I see my wife excitedly greeting me.
She who has put up with so much. Who has supported me so much even when she didn’t actually support me. Who has made me ask myself so many times if this was advisable at my age. The voice of my conscience. The one who questions me and is also the first one at the finishing line waiting for me. That finishing line that is not just the finishing line of a cyclosportive. It is the finishing line of life. Where you test your value, your determination, your courage.
And that damn question rattling around inside your head again. What is it about this sport? Shit, I don’t know. But I’m coming back next year to find out.
José Muñoz Martinez’s story.