Thriving on pain

They. Are. Freaks! Most all of them! I only started watching because of sleep problems. In the midnight, in the bush. And then I was interested, and then I was hooked.

The cyclists of the Tour de France rolled and whirled across and up my telly every night. They pushed through pain, they went past pain, into pride. Each night I saw the dedication, the sacrifice, the discipline, the hurt, all over their faces. The addiction.

Saw it in ways you don’t often see in a lot of sports. The sheer length of it puts all their hearts on their sleeves. The courage of pain in them, only matched by the strength of will, and nerve on the decent.

What do they think while falling down through bends and curves at 100kms an hour? Do they feel free? Angry? Strong? Or is everything, simply, focus?

There’s strategy, but that only adds to the human drama. The Spanish speaking riders helping each other, to me, is kinship. A beautiful thing, a natural force within the race, and challenge to the rest. I love the alliances with rivals and enemies. The way Evens had to go solo, pulling the entire pelleton along.

But, above all else, there is the pain. The effort. The pride and inner strength.

I have only been elite fit once or twice in my life. Everything revolving around intense training six days a week. And if there was one thing I learnt, is that such pain is addictive. Every race, every run, I would hit a wall about ¾ through, and try and think of excuses to stop, or back off, but, somehow, wouldn’t. After which the pain became a good thing. And the strength of it followed, and I’d think, when I stopped, I won’t go that hard again. But always did.

These riders live like that for 20 years. It must become what they are.

The drugs are heartbreak. I don’t want to think about them. I watch, while, outside, an owl does its thing, and hope for the best. For a simple thing. A race, where every single second counts, that goes for the better part of a month. Riders, from all around the world, who are like Gods. Who are a part of something primal and right.

I would love to be in the pelleton, not a team leader, just a work horse. The sort of rider who forms a wall for the team’s jet, giving him my back. Just to be a part of it. But, even if I could go back in time, with football, I have addictions of my own.

We have a game tomorrow, not five hours of sleep away, up in the fog and dead, haunted trees of a tier on the highland plains. Minor country league reserves. Mountain peeks everywhere.


I once had a coach, who was just a coach, but told us something great.

He had pride, played with it, burned with it. For a while, despite being small, he represented Victoria in hurdles, mostly, through force of will.

A friend wanted to come running with him. After two or three gallops, the friend puffed: “At what stage does the pain stop?”

My coach looked at him.

“Never,” he said.

The fitter he got, the harder he went.


Elite sportsmen and women, in any field, are a joy to watch.



  1. Elite fitness is a different level all together. Wendell Sailior, when he got suspended for cocaine while playing rugby, went back to park footy for a year. He said the best part was just having to be fit without having to be “elite level fit”.

    The only time I was elite fit was when I was about 10-12 and run around all day, like every other kid…

    The cycling is a level of pain that is beyond comprehension. I think it was Stuart O’Grady a fair while back who was doing the donkey work in the peloton with some other clown who was complaining about how hard it was. He said; “Shut up and suffer like the rest of us…”

    Can’t say how proud I am of Cadel Evans. Wish I could get more than YouTube footage of the race. It seems that cycling is not that big on tele here….

  2. Matt Zurbo says

    Yeah, Gus, I found, watching it, there is a rhythm to the sport that highlights could never capture.

    P.S. Just got back from cutting an extra load of wood on a Sunday. I guess
    you could say I have started saving. Haha!

  3. My Grandpa was a cyclist. Grandma would follow him to all the meets across Victoria and even to Tassie. He even got to be the Victorian Open Road Champion. Dad’s got a whole stack of old black and white photos and crumbling newspaper cutouts from the 20s of him. And a few of his old trophies. He was an amazing athlete. Then the Depression hit, kids came along, and cycling wasn’t an option anymore. In another life and another time I can imagine him making it all the way through to the Tour. Thanks for another nice piece Matt.

  4. I played against Hoffy. I was petrified.

  5. Matt Zurbo says

    Dave. Ha. yeah, I payed with him at two clubs and against him. When he first came to Otway he had a 4 game suspension hanging over him. We all thought he must be a tough nut. He was, for sure, but turns out he was playing a final and sick of a female heckler, so pulled his wang out and twirled it at her! How come you posted on the Tour de France entry? Worried he’d find ya?!

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