“Are you in shape?” he asks, looking me up and down. A loaded question. He hasn’t even said hello yet.
“Erm…yeah,” I reply, now not so sure.
He was mentally weighing me. Calculating my body fat percentage. Skin fold calipers for eyes. This is Italy, see, where the weight of a cyclist is an obsession. Back home I’m very normal; 1m 82 high, 78 kilos wide. Not skinny, like Italian skinny, but not bad. Slim. Healthy.
But among Italian cyclists, tubby.
We met up with a local group, all of whom greeted each other with jabs and jibes: “Amico, sei così grasso.” So fat. No punches pulled. These guys are tiny. Blade thin to a man. Ribs are poked and stomachs patted and we head for the hills.
This is all they talk about.
I’m largely dropped.
Riders fall back, kindly, to work with me.
I drag myself to the summit and decide face needs saving. Taking risks on the descent I roll through towards the front. We hit the flat and I’m full gas, making the most of my, ahem…weight, while I have the chance.
The climbers string out behind me. I could sit on and conserve this energy for the next climb but why? Might as well have my moment now; I’ll suffer like a dog on the hill either way.
“Eeessh, you can drive the peloton, eh?”
A backhanded compliment, but I feel better now. I have a job. A thing I’m good at. Kilometre after kilometre on the front, a massive turn, like a big Belgian pulling the leaders towards Roubaix. A dozen Italians single filed in my slipstream.
We hit the climb, I peel off, to nods, gestures, and the sight of skinny backsides heading up the road. Job done. I’ll treat myself to a big bowl o’ pasta tonight. A glass of wine. Maybe some Tiramisu…
Just to keep my strength up.
(Image: Dynamism of a Cyclist by Umberto Boccioni [Public domain])