foss is boss
2022 men's elite world championship time trial
To lose is to fail, at least in the frustratingly rational sense.
Sport is a competition, a battle of those who succeed against those that eventually won’t. Everything is considered comparable, even if it shouldn’t be. Individual patterns of suffering are relativised and ranked by metrics we often try to forget – weight, height, or the inevitable passing of time.
The time trial represents a sort of fightback against chronological orthodoxy, an effort to unscrew the ever-turning wheels of history into a shuddering, incomprehensible barrel of pain. It seems somewhat corrupted therefore, that the ‘winner’ of such events is typically the one who suffers the most, the rider most able to balance the delicately uncomfortable posturing over mere grams of carbon fibre, with the omnipotent thrashing of mind and body and a vague sense of directionality. At its heart, the time trial is a glorious act of masochism which - at these World Championships – has conspired to undoubtedly change the life of its most successful victim, though it could so obviously have gone to another man.
Facing a technical, punchy course, Wout Van Aert may regret his decision to prioritise the road race this year. Instead, he had the pleasurable misfortune of watching his teammate, who had never won a professional race, beat everyone else in the field. Meanwhile, following the newly aggrandised Remco Evenepoel’s strong showing in the time trial, (yesterday was reportedly the first day since the Vuelta’s conclusion where he felt fresh) Van Aert may now have to once again race against his own teammate as much as his other rivals.
Sunday’s road race could be the antithesis of the time trial, an exercise in riders pushing themselves directly against one another, burdened not by thresholds but by violent accelerations and roadside character judgements of rivals’ psyche. It’s an explosive burst of colour, but it’s unpredictable. The outcome doesn’t sit remotely in one’s hands like a time trial could.
In The Rider, Tim Krabbé perfectly described the monochromatic hellscape of riding unrelentingly hard for too long, encapsulating the suffering it brings, the distortions it creates in your mind.
“On a bike your consciousness is small. The harder you work, the smaller it gets. Every thought that arises is immediately and utterly true, every unexpected event is something you’d known all along. […] A magnified anger at someone is enough to fill your thoughts.”
Ethan Hayter’s anger, if it has now subsided, was likely directed at an abstract imagination of a bike engineer. Having ridden through the first intermediate sprint third fastest, a mechanical cost him the 25 to 30 seconds that would have left him fighting for a medal with the new Vuelta champion Evenepoel.
In the immediate aftermath of winning his silver, every excuse Stefan Küng could have thought of was likely immediately and utterly false. That he had undercooked his negative split, or applied excessive braking on one of the countless corners. Perhaps his entire racing calendar for the season had been wrong, or he had instead wasted precisely 2.95 seconds of explosivity on a wretched slice of birthday cake last year. Time’s passing will heal these sore wounds, along with the strength and resolve that differentiates these athletes from the ordinary folk whose role is merely to observe, gawp, and occasionally scribe the actions of these professionals, sometimes with poetic license.
The truth that few imagined possible is that Küng was beaten by someone faster.