The Summer Wind: By Mike Courteau

Photo By: Photo: Graham Watson

Now the Tour de France is over. Now we are wrapped in summer with sometimes stifling heat and a steady afternoon wind that can sometimes make it a challenge to stay upright on a bicycle.

I had bought my new bike, which I have begun to call Jolie, the day before I returned to work at the small, private arts college where I teach. The Tour de France had just begun, and the heat had just begun to intensify. Excited as I was to ride Jolie, all of these forces conspired to keep me off the bike for close to three weeks.

Oh, I’d squeeze in a ride here or there, but after 45 minutes of riding in a climate that has more closely resembled the tropics than the tundra lately, I’d turn around and head for the air-conditioned confines of home and the cool glow of my flat-screen LG to listen to Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen call the Tour de France.

The Tour ended on Sunday, and almost simultaneously the heat broke. I had turned off the T.V. and had donned my cycling kit even before the ghostly image of the Arc de Triomphe faded from my plasma screen or my memory.

I had only taken Jolie out for a few short strolls since I purchased her on July 6th. So on Sunday, I endeavored to push the envelope a little.

I set out on one of my favorite rides—from Longfellow over the Ford Bridge, then along Mississippi River Boulevard until it morphs into Shepherd Road, then down along the river itself through downtown St. Paul, until, eventually, I end up in Battle Creek Park.

During previous iterations of this ride, I’d learned to expect a head wind once I’d rounded the bend along the river that begins after passing under the Lafayette Bridge. With Basho, my erstwhile aluminum bike, I’d hunker down in the drops and plow my way through the resistance, but should the wind slow my momentum, I’d expend a great deal of energy getting back up to speed when the wind would dissipate.

Riding Jolie, the wind around the bend wasn’t any less heavy but the bike sure was. With ten fewer pounds to drag around, I was much less susceptible to the caprices of weather, and even though a stiff gale would still slow me, I found that I was expending appreciably less energy to maintain my cadence.

With the Tour still fresh in my memory, I would hear Paul Sherwen’s voice in my head as I’d churn my quads: He will not like that bit of wind, so he’ll be looking for an ally to work with. Courteau knows that if he can ride in the slipstream of another rider, he can conserve up to 30% of his energy.

But I had no ally. The only ally I had on Sunday was my new bicycle, Jolie, and together we put time into our rivals. The wind, the hills, the flats—none of them stood a chance as we worked together for a 30-mile ride in July the day the Tour de France ended.

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