Everything is ready. You have your matching kit on, found your shoes, co2, and spare tube; almost done pumping the tires. You’re off on the ride, luckily a few friends were capable of making it too. It’s a Friday afternoon, and nothing was on your mind all day, except making sure that this would go off without a hitch. You even stuck your waterbottles in the refrigerator overnight, so you could enjoy cold water on the climbs.
The group is passing mile seven, and everyone is taking their turn up front like a bat out of hell. It’s your turn. You do your pull, sweep off to the left, and fall back in. The ride continues. The turnoff to the planned road is coming up ahead; everyone slows down, anticipating incoming traffic up ahead.
Everyone seems to disperse from a paceline when facing the first steep hill climb. You can see the dread in some of the older rider’s eyes, luckily you are ready for this. You look back for a second, wondering if the rear tire is flat, or if the brake pads are rubbing the rim… something feels funny.
Several riders pass you.
You open up the indexed quick release on the rear brake, stand up, and start to slog after your peers.
What is wrong? I ate a well balanced lunch and snack, had enough sleep last night, I’m not dehydrated…
Going through your mental flow chart of routines before riding, you see that everything was done correctly, and everything should be going according to plan. The bike is in good shape, nothing is malfunctioning, but it is taking more effort than it should be to get up this hill. The group passes around a bend, and are out of sight; you try to stand and rush up to them, but your legs feel like Al Dente fettucini noodles. You just don’t have it today.
You wonder what is the IT that you are missing and come up with no answer. You suffer through the climb, and think about going home. None of this is making sense. You never feel like this; the last time you gave up on a ride was when your first bike was two weeks old. Even Old Man Scuzzlebutt made it up the climb before you; this NEVER happens. Something is wrong.
What you are experiencing isn’t listed in an episode of The Twilight Zone, nor is it capable of being diagnosed by any medical book; this is just a case of Un Jour Sans. A day without.
From the pages of le grimpeur:
Défaillance. A sudden weakness. A synonym: un jour sans. A day without. All cyclists experience it sooner or later, from the most hardened professional to the lowliest amateur pretender. It differs from the ‘knock’, when the body runs out of energy, and the remedy for the knock is simple: take on more sustenance. Défaillance is something else, more insidious, its symptoms like a creeping dread. On a climb, one struggles to find one’s rhythm, or settle into the saddle and spin, to find a gear that feels comfortable, to follow wheels as they pull inexorably ahead. The remedy is also not immediately obvious. Overtraining? Undertraining? A myriad of other possibilities, physical or even mental.
We have all had a case similar to this, where nothing is right; up is down, black is white, hot is cold. Its as if everyone else on the group ride found some kind of magical pill bottle with magic puncheur pills, and stormed off without you. We all know that cycling has more implications and second meanings than we all like to admit to, and it is humiliating and demoralizing being the last one up the pass. You would rather be riding a Huffy, or wearing some awful dayglo yellow jersey than be the last one up the hill, and your face shows every moment of your embarassment.
Don’t worry, this deficiency will only be with you temporarily, and will have you looking that much better when you have IT once again. Let them laugh now, because they also know it will be their day too, possibly sooner than they think…