Jeff turned left and soon the road started rising. It had been warm, almost hot in the valley with the strong sun and little cloud but as he climbed higher the sun slipped behind the trees and the temperature fell. Jeff didn’t mind; he wore a base layer beneath his top and the exertion of climbing kept him warm. He settled into a steady cadence and kept his head down, watching his Garmin and occasionally glancing at his feet. His right leg was stronger and he noticed that his left knee jutted outwards on the upward pedal stroke but he felt comfortable and believed he could hold this pace to the top of the pass.

The trees were thicker now; tall pines close together and he could see little as he glanced to right and left. A few other cyclists had passed him, some heading down, some up but he had seen no-one for the last 10 minutes and there were no cars. The road was smooth and clean and his carbon rims sliced through the air. Beneath his helmet he wore a cap facing backwards to protect his neck; the close fit also stopped the sweat from sliding into his eyes. The occasional chain rub and the squeak of tyre on tarmac was the only sound to be heard.

Jeff’s mind wandered; he loved this time – while cycling his mind could focus on a particular topic, turning it over and over or else it remained blank, all energy and brain power directed to his legs, heart and lungs. He reached down and took a sip from his bottle and reached into his pocket for a fig roll. The crumbly sweetness and sticky fig seeped into his blood-stream and gave a spark of extra energy. He watched his cadence and heart rate on the Garmin and scrolled through the screens – time, distance, speed, average heart rate, metres climbed, calories burned, so much data.

He felt a sharp bump beneath his front tyre and the bike started to wobble. As he always did when he got a puncture he refused to believe it was really happening – as if the tyre would plug the hole itself or he would ride on and it would miraculously inflate. But it never did and it didn’t this time. He stopped the bike and dismounted; his cleats clattering on the dark road. He looked around; the forest was dense and impenetrable, a carpet of leaves covered the ground. The sun was hidden and it was cold and gloomy.

He pushed the button on the Campagnolo brake lever to relax the brake blocks and undid the quick release lever; the wheel slipped out and he fell into his practiced routine. He found his tyre levers and levered the bead from the rim. He pulled the tube out and then pulled the tyre from the rim. He ran the tyre through his fingers, looking and feeling for whatever had caused the damage. He found nothing. He rotated it again, more slowly this time, the tips of his fingers gliding over the rubber, searching for a tell-tale flint or thorn. Still nothing. A voice came from behind him.

‘Y’all right mate?’

Jeff turned around. He was a tall, lean man wearing full Rapha Sky kit, a Kask helmet and orange lace up Giro shoes. He had mirrored Oakley shades, a thin face and a full beard. He was astride a black Pinarello with Zipp wheels and a full Dura-Ace group-set. No shortage of money there, thought Jeff.

‘Need any help?’

Jeff looked at him. The shades reflected Jeff’s own face; he couldn’t see the cyclist’s eyes.

‘Where the hell did he come from?’ Jeff thought.

‘Have you got a spare tube?’ he asked.

The cyclist unzipped the bag velcroed to his seat post, removed a tube and held it out.

‘Thanks.’ said Jeff.

Jeff put the tyre on the rim seating one side of the bead.

‘Have you got a pump?’

Wordlessly, the cyclist removed his pump from where it was attached to his frame behind the bottle on the down tube and handed it to him.

Jeff attached the pump to the valve and pumped a little air into the tube. He pushed the tube onto the rim beneath the tyre and worked it around. He began to roll the tyre onto the rim. The tyre was tight and stiff; the last few inches were always the hardest. Jeff bent over the wheel, rolling the tyre with his thumbs. He pushed his tyre lever into the remaining gap and levered the final section of bead onto the rim. He worked the valve up and down and waggled it to seat it fully in the tyre.

The other cyclist reached into his back pocket and pulled out a small Co2 inflator.

‘Here’ he said.

Jeff screwed the inflator to the valve and squeezed the trigger on the pump. The icy gas raced through the tube and left white crystals on his fingers. He removed the inflator and handed it back to the cyclist. The tyre was hard and ready.

Jeff slipped the wheel into the drop-outs and pushed in the button on his Campagnolo brake lever. He collected up the old tube and rolled it tightly and put it in his tool bag together with his tyre levers.

‘Thanks’ he said. ‘Wanna fig roll?’

The cyclist thought for a moment.

‘Ta’ he said.

Jeff reached into his back pocket and removed two fig rolls wrapped in foil. He handed one to the cyclist.

They stood together in silence at the side of the dark piney forest, leaning against their bikes, the only sound the chomping of dusty fig rolls, as the clouds drifted apart and the hard bright sun gradually emerged.

‘Tangfastic?’ said Jeff.

‘Don’t mind if I do.’

Jeff reached into his other pocket and pulled out a handful of Haribo tangfastics. The cyclist took two, a blue and green one and an orange and yellow one. He bit into them and twisted his lips as the sourness hit his tongue. He took two more.

‘I’ll have these later,’ he said.

A group of about six cyclists rolled past, all dressed in identical Sky Rapha kits and shiny blue Kask helmets, legs pumping on their shiny Pinarellos. A Jaguar XKE followed close behind and rolled to a stop.

‘Hey Brad’ called the driver. ‘You coming?’


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