I feel bad. Sat here. Not poorly – guilty. I really should pull my weight but at this time of the year that’s no mean feat. I’m not out of shape so much as not in shape, but I’m most certainly, yet again, tucked in. Sucking. Drafting. Feathering brakes. Concentrating. Wanting to be fitter.

I’m spending more time than seems decent sitting in, sucking wheels. I guess I’m out with stronger riders and it’s a win-win situation if they’re ok on the front. They get a workout and I get one too – clinging on to an alien pace. I’m hoping, as the season progresses, I’ll get to a level where I can do my turns at the front, but I worry that they’ll have only got stronger too and the gap will remain – between their ability and mine, their wheel and mine. I might well suck all year. Where will that get me? Well, I guess, sat here, concentrating on the wheel in front with a part of my head wandering off to ponder the situation; my ride partner’s choice of footwear, tyre choice and gear selection; his hub, his shoes, his calves, his arse; the little rear LED, switched off and pointing heaven knows where. The seat pack, with a spare tube and his emergency (full-fat-coke-and-a-mars-bar) fiver.

And me, my front tyre, the pressure within and the pressure to stay close – a safe distance but an efficient distance. To take us both down with a touch of rubber would be, at best, embarrassing, and unthinkable beyond that. I try not to think about it. I concentrate on staying put and staying safe. Spinning smoothly and staying calm. I await the suffering. It will come. The whole point of riding at this time of year, like this, is to get fit. Get some miles in the legs and this will involve suffering. And as a wheelsucker, I see the point as clearly as I will see the stars.

The end of a long ride will bring the drags I know and loathe. I worry too that I might break. Fear and loathing across the marshes. It’s an affectionate loathing. I like the work they involve but it comes with tunnel vision and sparkles before my eyes. I watch the wheel in front and it becomes everything. It’s a blur within a blur and everything else is peripheral. It’s not that zone of performance people talk about, I think that might always allude me but it is a zone of sorts. A cliff edge of concentration and lactic and souplesse. A slippery slope of crank-chopping chaos and ebbing resolve. I hide from head winds and mind fucks. Pain and pride fighting to an end that can’t come soon enough, but I so don’t want to come early. I bury myself to avoid a shameful death.

Starry-eyed. All these thoughts, filling my head as I’m sat on the wheel. Drafting. Working. Shirking. Working. I try not to think what he’s thinking up front. I daren’t. Best I just keep going. I am the sucker.

Jonathan Bacon



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