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April 24, 2012

I want you to take a good look at this photo.

Forget the many black and white photos of model cyclists, mock grimacing to sell ‘suffering’ to the cycling masses, this photo shows real suffering, warts and all.

Most cyclists will recognise this. And if you don’t, I pray you never succumb to these levels of fatigue, pain and degradation.

66 miles previously my brother was a King of the Road, driving a break of 5 in the Sloan Trophy Road Race, riding strongly on his Viner Perfecta along the hard man’s route in Northumberland. The wet weather didn’t seem to bother him, after all he’d ridden in worse weather in the Northern fells. So as the freezing hail started to batter him on the last lap, he just carried on, plotting how he was going to beat his fellow escapees, and cross the line first.

Then the attacks started happening. Karl could go with them, but suddenly in the last kilometre, he’s legs felt weaker. He started crawling, the weakness enveloping him as the cold bit hard. Now it wasn’t about winning, it was about getting to the finish line in one piece. A group of three riders who clipped off from the chasing bunch pass him alarmingly quick. He’s now 8th on the road but he doesn’t care now. He needs food and the finish can’t come quick enough. He’s spectacularly crossed that fragile line that exists for every cyclist – the line that haunts all of us, where suddenly we cross from a superman to riding like a 5 year old child.

200 yards to go and the ‘bonk’ or hunger knock hits hard. He can’t lift his head, even his neck muscles have given up, and his eyesight starts to go. He wobbles over the line and collapses, seconds before the remnants of the bunch thunder through, sprinting for the remaining points. He’s then carried to a dirty wet patch on the side of the road, a blanket thrown over him and given sustenance. How the mighty fall. Karl now looks like a victim of the Great War, shivering with shell shock. There’s no comfy team bus to sit in. This is grass roots racing, where the hardmen survive. Karl’s a hardman, but today wasn’t his day. He crossed the fragile thin line.

Photos of Karl in the Sloan Trophy, driving the break and looking strong.

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