The beauty of fatigue and the thrill of conquest

Gaiole in Chianti, 3 October 2021. Time 5:30. Old bikes creak their stories. Everyone tries the brakes as if to say: “everything will be fine”.

The faint lights of those who set off in the night don’t show much, but we are there. I look at this man next to me, who has a familiar face, he is so composed and silent. “Aren’t you going to turn on the lights?” I ask him. Yours are on, I'm don’t want to tire myself out. He is squeezed into a jersey from the 1920s that the moths have embroidered into an archipelago of holes. It’s difficult to say what his role is in the game of life, but now, like the rest of us, he's just a cyclist. He is just nerves. He is a collection of veins that reflect the exasperation of life bulging out. He is next to me. 40 km. An orange line appears on the hills. He looks at a fixed point ahead and closes his eyes. 80km. He keeps up with me, yet I'm sure he could disappear in a cloud of dust at any moment. 135 km. We keep going, straight up. Silence becomes prayer and our arms pull the bikes up, held back by the fragility of our bodies. One last push and we’re over the top. Our breath seems to have become entangled in the roots of the woods. Our faces are now a mask of sweat and dust. 200km. The asphalt is back, our legs are struggling. He wears the pin of a philanthropic association on his chest. “Why are you riding L’Eroica?” I ask, without turning around: “I'm keeping you company, same as you’re keeping me company. We all need someone to keep us company when we are faced with our limits. And just as it is for you, my limits are not in the Chianti hills”, he replies. 205 km. “It's almost over,” I say. He doesn’t respond. 208.5 km. We pass under the arch at the crossroads. Here we are. He beckons me with his hand to go forward, as if we were teammates. Then with a faint voice I hear him whisper to himself: “Spes Ultima Dea”. 209 km. It's over, I raise my bike up, happy that hope never failed me.

Cristina Rauso