It’s winter, and mind games are being played.
You’ve got the full-on-winter-miles brigade. Base training and proud of it. Revelling in the mucky mileage.
You’ve got the fair-weather types. The bike was hung in the garage back in November, its saddle has not felt the caress of a human bum-cheek for three months.
And then you’ve got the stealth trainers.
It begins with Strava silence.
“Been getting out much?” you ask. A loaded question. “Nah…y’know how it is,” comes the reply. You hold eye contact, looking for a flicker. Nothing.
They’re skinny. Maybe even skinnier. Not displaying the faint double-chin of days out with the family, poor eating, and overwork, or whatever their “excuse” is.
You consider looking for them on Endomondo, to catch them out, but your knowledge of Endomondo extends to the beginning of this sentence, and the words “looking for them on Endomondo…”
You pretend to believe they’ve barely ridden, but you don’t.
You know that they’re deep into their biggest, most structured winter of training ever. You can sense it. You can see it in the chiselled cheekbones and hear it in their chirpy manner.
If they had been off the bike for three months they’d be in possession of the kind of endorphin deficit that requires a pep talk and a gee-up just to meet you for coffee.
There’s a slight tension in the air. It hangs in the silence as cappuccinos are sipped and pastries, unbought, are uneaten.
“Of course he’s not eating pastries,” you think. Why would he? That’s not part of the training plan.
Even if it weren’t for all these clues you know he’s a stealth trainer. Because you’re a stealth trainer. And he knows that you know he’s a stealth trainer, and that you know that he knows you’re a stealth trainer.
The unbought, uneaten pastries are just a prop, a pretext.
The truth will out come spring, on the road, and in the pace being set and the pain dished out.
Unless it comes out before.
As you meet silently, accidentally, in the dark, along some wintry country lane. Both stealth training.
Exchanging a glance that says: “we’re brothers now…we share a secret…we must never speak of this.”