Once More Around The Bend

by maxabramson

Roger Stafield was the mechanic of the team, always distant in a way.  He was hard at work in the garage, finding that his bicycle tools were wearing down, not quite to the point of needing replacement.  With another round of funds coming in from sponsors, new tools had already been placed on order.  Lighter tires with carbon fiber spokes would be mounted on the team’s winning carbon fiber frame.  The amount of money that had gone into one racing bike seemed dishonest, he thought.  Already finger light, there seemed to be no reason that the world’s poor should want for sustenance and the most basic medical care, just so that his team could shave another 0.18 ounces off the frame and less than 25/100th ounce off of the driveline.

And yet, there it was.  Sitting there in the center of the room, still in pieces.  They had figured out exactly how many gears were needed based on their riders’ feedback and the profile of the upcoming course.  With so many steep hills and grades, their brakes would be inadequate for the race if they were not installed brand new.  Adjustments had to be made to every cable, shifter, and wire on their race bike.  The slightest error could cause the rear brake to suddenly touch down during the race, creating just enough friction on the rear wheel to cost them their shot at the win, and all of the international media attention and sponsor money to go with it.

“Penny for your thoughts?” It was Erin.  Beautiful at 23, her dark blonde hair was losing its old highlights.  Her hazel-green eyes and perfect light-brown skin a sight for sore eyes.  Holding a mug of steaming hot black tea, she maintained eye contact just a little too long, he thought.  Also an avid cyclist–though certainly not in Scott’s league–her navy blue USA sweater nearly hid her perfect physical form.

“Your father send you here?” Roger asked sardonically.

“No, but he sent you here,” she retorted quickly, then sipping from her mug.

“His company sent us here.” After a long pause, trying not to sustain eye contact, he continued.  “And he wouldn’t have gone along with that if he couldn’t get you out of the house as part of the deal.

“I’m not just part of the deal…” she rebutted, trying to retain her smooth composure.

“You’re absolutely part of the deal,” Maximus finished, entering the workshop and bumping Erin’s elbow with his own.  “Oh, you’re up,” barely feigning surprise.   Erin turned immediately, scorned, and stepped quickly out.  “Will she be up for the challenge?”

“So arrogant, Max.  You know you don’t win any friends that way.”

“You wanted her.  Why didn’t you go after her?”

Roger turned back toward the workbench without a word, now ignoring his teammate completely.  Amateurs, he thought.  What ever happened to professionalism?

The climb had been brutal, leaving Maximus in the lead, but completely drained in every way that an athlete can be.  Now coming downhill, squeezing the brake minimally, to keep control, he was losing his focus.  Worse, the love triangle with Roger and Erin was stealing his concentration.  With a bad entry into one downhill turn, he had to apply both front and rear brakes simultaneously to hold on, going to the outside too early and losing much of his momentum.

Now he was pedaling again just to retain his lead, now barely a second.  His bright yellow shirt covered in sponsors that had billions in market capitalization, with much of their winning high-profile appearance riding on teams like theirs.  Max pedaled harder to distance himself, but another hairpin turn forced him to give all of that energy up.

As he sweated and panted profusely, he could finally see the finish line in sight.  Seeing Erin standing too close to Roger in a large crowd near the finish began to overload his mind with questions and eerie possibilities?  Had they set him up somehow?  Were they just using him?  Was she just using him as one of her boy toys?

Thoughts racing through his mind, he missed the queue for the last hairpin turn before the wide acceleration curve.  Gripping both brakes tightly and trying to hit the inside, his tires locked, causing him to lose traction.  The expensive racing bike lost its grip, tipping over as rider and vehicle skidded off into the rocky dirt decline, scratching up the finished carbon fiber frame and Max’s legs at the same time.  Instantly, he sprang up and darted back to the asphalt road, holding the handlebars still.

Max reached the road just in time to see the second place rider swerve around him, losing speed but still passing him.  As he jumped back onto the seat to pedal as hard as he could, several other riders also used their momentum and a last minute sprint to pass him up.

He would finish tenth.

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