On Terms

Ronde Van Vlaanderen Tour des Flandres 2006

You know the challenge. You’re in a group and somewhere deep inside of you the river of time flows just as your blood surges through your veins. You are on one of two sides of an equation. Either you are watching and waiting for cracks to appear in the plaster of the other riders’ legs or you wonder, worrying, just how long you can hold on.

One of my favorite phrases for the math that goes on in each rider’s head is “on terms.” Are you on terms with the conditions? Are you on terms with the breakaway? Are you on terms with your roll? Are you on terms with your form?

On any given day there are at best two, maybe three riders who can dictate the terms of the pace. For all others the question is simple. “Can I meet the challenge?”

For all those who’ve had a relationship or two go south, there’s probably been an occasion when someone has asked about the ex in present tense terms. Maybe you’ve responded, “We’re not on terms.”

That’s not what we’re talking here. This isn’t a refusal to play the game, it’s a test to see how long we can last. How deep is our pain cave?

Were we spreadsheets, a simple formula or two would reveal who will pop, and when—one by one. But really, no calculus can plot will or factor adrenaline and what we achieve on any day is unpredictable as an earthquake.

On terms. It defines if you can meet the demands of the group. Or how many riders still seem up to the challenge.

Michael Boogerd was a master of the probing attack. Just a little surge to see who might be ready to pop off. Time after time in Amstel, he’d make a short thrust and leave others to parry. How many times did we see a rider make a surge at the Tour only to have Lance answer with a devastating acceleration.

For those who reach the middle ground, that is, neither destined to win, nor doomed to be the next casualty, on terms means something entirely different. It’s a statement not of will, but of one’s ability to set it aside for riding at threshold—or a tick or two above—isn’t a willful act, it’s surrender.

When you surrender, you turn your future over to someone else. It is the ultimate vulnerability. You’ve shown your cards. That existential statement—this is what I’ve got—is your box.

Anonymous fellowships know this state of being by another name: acceptance. It might seem ironic, their members have learned an important lesson handy for bike racing: Once you know what you can’t change, your choices become clearer.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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