“Do you want your tea now Patrick?”
” You’ll never get anything done staring out of the office window on Lake Geneva, you’ve got that stack of artistic cycling TUEs to sign”
Quietly they came at first, humbly and slow, around the lakes, along the plains and over the mountains. We heard the squeak of chain, the clacking vibration of cable against tube, the crunch of cassette, the swoosh of air passing through bladed spoke, and the hollow, echoey scrape of carbon rim under braking. They are coming to see him, from across the world, from the plains of Kazakhstan to the oil fields of Russia, from the Appenine spine of Italia to the plains of Catalan, from the lush green hills of the Basque country to the pot-holed gradients of Bogota, from the enormous and gentle Alps to the forest of Arenberg, from the rain-damped tarmac of the Roche aux Faucons to the slanted Muur, from the narrow lanes that spread and jag outwards from Oudenaarde to the straights of the Texan desert, from the windswept and toughened peninsula of Brittany to the cobbled and drunken kermises of Gent, from the summit of Mount Baldy to the rugged and dusty Pyrénées, and from the streets of Beijing, Perth and Melbourne. They have come to crown him as reformer, statesman, politician, businessman, orator, and champion of cycling, dragging the tired old profession from its historic roots to the top of modern sport. He enters the ancient and renewed Vigorelli; swooping around him on the polished boards – hewn from the choicest Siberian pine – spin the blurs of quartets of green and gold; red, white and blue; and the silver fern on black. They ride for him, in homage, to give thanks for reinventing their world.
He started as an innocent, green, and wide-eyed Dubliner, stomping the pedals for that emerald isle, learning, looking and all the while remaining as innocent and soft as his white cotton socks. But like the hardened butted steel that he knocked his knees against every day he became toughened, straight, purposeful and true. After much struggle, compromise, revolutionary legislation, and brilliant bureaucracy he arrived as the president of the sport that he cared so much for and whose interests he pursued solely, as pure and modest as those cheap white cotton socks.
He came into the top only as Hein’s henchman, but now he is both the Sepp Blatter and Bernie Ecclestone of cycling – throwing the doors open to investors across the world, no questions asked and making sure everyone is rewarded and happy. They have come to crown him emperor with a rainbow-banded robe, woven by the finest tailors: the blue from Santini, the red from Castelli, the black from Rapha, the yellow from Le Coq Sportif, and green from Assos. Cancellara and Gilbert flank him as he enters the centre, wearing national jerseys zipped so high they come to their chins. Fanfare, cheers, and tears of joy from Indurain, Hinault, Roche, and Armstrong – he made them what they are. He is given Delilah, whom he kisses and returns, he has such nobility, such grace, like a Caesar. Lycra petals are thrown before his feet by podium girls from the Giro, Vuelta, and Tour, but they do not crumple underfoot, so dainty is he. He looks upon his subjects; with adoration, they love and thank him. A row of bicycles – each with official stickers and documentation, their geometry and saddles as level as his head – sit atop the stage, along with UCI blazers, tape measures, and measuring rigs.
The crowd falls silent, Makarov picks up the robe and hands it to Lukashenko, they unfold it together and each hold a side. He kneels before the altar, made by Wiggins on all fours, and bows his head, the Oligarchs approach and…
” You’ve done no work and look, your tea has gone cold; whatever are we to do with you?”
* * * * *
McQuaid is looking good, he’s sat nicely on the last wheel of his train, the others hang behind. The speed is high but he is comfortable and breathing slowly but deeply. He appears not to sweat, his upper body does not move and his pedalling style is the very definition of souplesse. His calves have had every last gram of fat chiselled away from between the sinews and muscles of his legs; he stares ahead, a picture of concentration, dedication, and unswerving self control. It’s the last mountain of the last Alpine stage and he has to put just thirty seconds into Contador before the procession on the Champs Élysées tomorrow. A sharp left and they turn onto the mountain, the crowds are three deep and the pace barely slows, McQuaid hears nothing, he is utterly focussed, the first domestique pulls off, then the second and the third. Riders exit the peloton at the rear door, pathetic and broken, their souls and bodies destroyed not only by the rhythm, but by the sight of the robotic, inhuman eddying roil of his legs. Soon there are just McQuaid, Contador, and one last lowly and loyal domestique pummelling the pedals in desperation for his beloved leader. His shoulders are rocking and his ankles are dropping, he swings from side to side and his tongue hangs out, he lifts out of the saddle for one final effort and pulls over. His work has been noted, earmarked for a later bonus, with a style in stark contrast to McQuaid, who metronomically coils his ankles around and around the bottom bracket. Only McQuaid and Alberto are left, the others will not return. McQuaid is composed, the perfect definition of a cyclist in profile.
Contador attacks but McQuaid barely flinches, he surges and follows, reeling the pretender back to him. Alberto tries again and again but he only tires; now it is McQuaid’s turn to attack, only he doesn’t, he waits. Contador doesn’t now what to do, he tries again and this time appears to get a gap, his confidence is buoyed, he appears alive and dances like a little pixie on the pedals. He is soaring higher and higher, looking upwards towards victory. McQuaid is not finished, he likes to give his victims hope before he crushes them. He gently accelerates as before and increases his speed, he approaches Contador, who is caught unawares. McQuaid flies past Alberto under his right side on the inside of a hairpin, leaving a spectator aghast at how close he is to his hero and how sudden is his appearance. The speed is too great for El Pistolero, and the flying Dubliner rises from the mountain, a fearless, torturous, and crushing opponent. His face shoes no emotion, Contador is broken now, toiling and making his own additional hairpins on the path he rides, McQuaid’s cadence increases and he holds the drops, he is so fast that he must coast for the corners now, he changes to the big ring and accelerates again. The crowd cannot see him now, he is just a blur, the gap is twenty seconds, twenty five. The barriers have begun and Patrick is allowed some space to savour his victory, he would zip up his jersey but it already is. He enters the finishing straight and…
“…McQuaid raises his hands wide in the air, the crowd goes wild…”
“PATRICK!!! Get down from that desk! You’re standing on all your papers!”