It's no wonder you see so many people of all ages, shapes, and sizes riding bicycles here in Europe. The bicycle, in all its glorious simplicity, is quite simply the cheapest and easiest way to move about. And everyone knows that the simple act of pedaling has the power to lighten any mood.
But then there are the professional cyclists. You can always tell the pros because they cease to be a man (or woman) on a bike – they become one with their machines. Their posture is perfect, their spin is round, and every movement is impossibly efficient.
It's the kind of fluidity that can only be achieved after a lifetime devoted to a single activity.
And that's the kind of smoothness you see in Jan Frodeno. Granted, he's a triathlete, so theoretically only one-third of his career has been spent on the bike. But that's still a hell of a lot more riding than the average cycling fan could ever hope for. And it's apparent even before he swings a leg over his bike.
This particular morning we find him in beautiful Girona, Spain, where he is the guest of honor for a very special ride. He and twenty select guests will be spending the day together riding the beautiful roads in the countryside surrounding the city.
The group meets up at The Service Course, one of Girona's most beloved bike shops. It's a gorgeous space. There are jerseys signed by names you'd recognize from the sports section of your favorite news source. A smattering of photos hang on the wall like screen captures from the daydreams of cyclists chained to a desk.
High-end racing bikes sit quietly, daring you to take a test ride. It's one of those shops that could be intimidating to a commuter with a flat tire. But to this crowd, who love cycling as much as they love watches, it's like going to church. Jan and his wife Emma, both consummate pros, take the time to meet everyone. Names are exchanged, stories are shared, and shots of espresso are pulled. Until finally it's time to take one last group photo, clip in, and head out.
Riding behind Jan is a bit like handing in your first college assignment to a professor who's been teaching for decades. And it should be – he's a two-time Ironman World Champion, and the first triathlete in history to win both the Olympic Triathlon Gold and the Ironman World Championship title. He is tall, sporting a thin and muscular frame. His broad shoulders cut a wide hole in the air, so the slipstream is excellent. His calves are very impressive. But what you really notice is just how rock solid he is on his bike.
There are no lateral movements, no wiggling hips, no rigidly held elbows. He is comfortable, completely in his element, and totally at ease. When he drops a hand down to grab a drink, he does so with nary a wobble. Just seeing it makes you want to be a better cyclist.
And he's a really nice guy, the kind you want to ride next to because he makes you laugh. He's taking it easy today which is appreciated because it's clear that if he hit the gas, things would get very intense, very fast. You'd like to think you could hang on, and maybe you could for a few minutes, especially with help from that fantastic draft. But deep down you know that eventually he'd hit his stride and achieve a velocity that mere mortals aren't able to maintain. And that would be that.
But putting the pedal to the metal isn't on today's agenda. "I love this," he says, his smile bright underneath those big sunglasses. "We have a coffee, we go for a relaxed ride, and then we have a very, very nice lunch." That's another thing about the pros – they always have their next meal in mind.
The light pace makes it easy to take in the scenery, and Girona does not disappoint. We have the roads all to ourselves as we cut a path between green fields fading brown in the warm Catalonian sunshine. There are mountains in the distance, but we won't be attacking them today. Instead, we keep to the foothills, dipping occasionally into wispy forest, before pausing by the emerald waters of Lago de Bañolas for a refueling break.
There's a light tailwind on the way back and it feels like we're gliding, until a few riders who just can't contain themselves launch an attack. It's all in good fun, and everyone breaks a sweat. A rider or two fall behind, so we ease the pace on the decent. This pack is destined to finish together today.
And we finish in style at a lovely little spot with three Michelin starts to its name. Twenty pairs of weary legs are happy to find a seat in the sunshine. Jan is still fresh, still smiling, still looking pro even as he lounges in the sunshine. "In a triathlon, we spend four-plus hours on the bike, and it's so hard. I just try to stay focused and remember that there are also days like this. Beautiful."
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