When I was writing Where There’s A Will, I spent a lot of time in the past, trying to reanimate my memories of racing across Europe in the summer of 2016. And as we all know, memories aren’t just in the mind – they can be tangible, physical things, held in the cracks of our skin, the folds of the landscape, the scent of the undergrowth we ride through, the notes of whatever song was winding its way through our brain as our legs pedalled.
Playing one of the following songs takes me instantly back to a certain stretch of European tarmac.
Austra – Beat And The Pulse // Strada dell’Assieta, Italian Alps
Like so many of the world’s great roads, the Strada dell’Assietta was built by the military, to help defend the loftier stretches of the Franco-Italian border during our last few centuries of conflict. I discovered it more happily, during the 2015 Transcontinental Race. Although I’d ridden in mountains before, I had never experienced the sense of soaring rapture I felt as I thundered along this narrow, unpaved road that seemed to trace the edges of the sky as much as those of the mountains. I sang loudly as I went, and the energy and full-throatedness of Katie Stelmanis’ vocals made this song a perfect choice. Even now, listening to it takes me back to that bright, beautiful morning I spent at 2,000m.
Bush – Comedown // Durmitor National Park, Montenegro
I was tired and hungry when I followed the winding road through the mountains from Pluzine and Zabljak – the previous day’s ride had been a difficult one, I’d been woken by rain on my bivvy bag after only a couple of hours of sleep, and I hadn’t had a square meal for over 24 hours. At first all I could think about was getting through the last few miles to the race checkpoint, where food and company awaited me. My exhaustion made every pedal stroke an effort, and anyone watching must have smirked at how slowly this so-called racer was crawling across the landscape. But I had never seen mountains like these before, and the higher I climbed, the more magnificent they appeared. By the time I reached Durmitor Sedlo, the final pass, I knew I didn’t want it to end.
Radiohead – Lucky // SH3 between Mushqeta and Bradashesh, Albania
My heart sank when I realised that I’d probably added an extra day to my race by going through Albania, while everyone else took the sensible route east to Turkey, through Serbia and Bulgaria. Everything I’d heard about this enigmatic Balkan country suggested that cycling through it would be challenging and difficult, and I knew I’d probably thrown away the race lead I’d held since day one. It turned out I was wrong. Albania proved to be friendly, highly conducive to cycling, and – as I discovered on this wild and magical stretch of road just south of the capital – quite astoundingly beautiful. “I’m on a roll,” sings Thom Yorke, “I feel my luck could change.” And mine already had.
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