The blue hustings have come down from the hayshed down the road, and now the dominant colour all through the countryside is green. The willows have finally unfurled, there are scrawls of willows along the Ida Burn, in paddocks, beside ponds. The lucerne down the valley, where the rainfall is higher, is almost knee deep.
We thought to ride before the wind grew stronger, and head down the valley. Bartali points out the clouds massing over the top of the Old Woman Range and the Hectors. Rain about to come out of the west. The wind is from the southwest, strong enough to sound in my ears like white noise under my helmet. We head slightly downhill at a good clip.
“In a race,” Bartali says, you don’t just think about what’s happening in the present. Know your route. Know what’s coming up ahead, where the wind is likely to be and where you want to position yourself. In a wind like this, coming side on, the peloton would stretch across the road and you’d take turns out the front.” And that brought back memories for Bartali of the cycling nationals in Nelson one year, when the road was open to traffic and any crossing of the white line by a cyclist meant disqualification.
“I was in the front bunch, ten or twelve of us, in a sprint to the end, and I just couldn’t get out. I had it in to me to go for the front, and I was locked in.” The frustration is evident in his voice. To be fit enough to win and not get the chance to try.
We ride out to Boundary Road and back again. I have an eight hour shift at the hospital when we get home so no more hills for me. We ride through greenness. The roadside hums with growth and bright colours – yellow dandelions and pink flowers for now. The sheep in the fodder beet paddock are onto the last patch of beets, the paddock bare behind them and ready for ploughing.
On Margot’s Hill, Bartali takes off in a sprint. I stand on my pedals but he’s away over the crest.
When I catch up I tell him, “Awesome speed.”
“You don’t know the truth of it,” he says. “Halfway up I told myself, one more time, one more time.”
In comparison to Bartali I’m just pretending to get fit. Going through the motions without dedication or a plan. The only thing I’m committed to is saying yes, and getting on the bike. The main reason being I feel so much stronger and active by cycling than sitting all day at my desk.
The wind has changed and it’s a head wind coming up the valley. We begin intervals.
“Hold the wheel,” Bartali says, and I try harder and stay with him, sucking for breath. We ride into the village, where the hundreds of daffodil and tulip bulbs Pete and Jo planted on the verge are in bloom. I turn into my gateway but Bartali carries on, up the Ida Valley into the wind.