DISCLAIMER: Paramount owns all things Star Trek. The other characters are my creation. I've been inspired by a movie by Manon Briand. No copyright or trademark infringement intended.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: I wish to thank TJ for kindly agreeing to beta-read this story.
Love at Speed
Rudy told her the news that same evening after the last stage of the Tour Feminine.
"You are not getting a renewed contract for next year Beatrice. I wanted to tell you right away, so you have time to decide what to do." Beatrice Thoreau just looked down into the floor. She was bone-tired after having worked so hard for the team during the three-week race. She was the team's sprinter. Her job was to be the first one over the line in that last mad dash for the finish. Now, it seemed they don't needed her anymore.
"Why Rudy?" she demanded. "Don't you think I can win anymore?"
"That's not it," Rudy responded. "Of course you can win. The reason is that we are reorganizing the team around Madeleine who we think can be a contender for a top ten placing in the general classification next year. She might even take the yellow jersey." Beatrice just nodded. Sure, she was a good sprinter but she couldn't keep up with the skinny climbers in the mountains or hold her own against the clock. Beatrice had a compact muscular body with dark hair and brown eyes. She really suffered her way through the mountains. Madeleine was her exact
opposite--Tall slender body with brown hair and blue eyes. She was good in the mountains and rode well against the clock. She was also younger. Madeleine was 21, Beatrice was 28. Madeleine was the future. But Beatrice couldn't hate the reason for being sacked from the team. They were good friends and they had shared countless hotel-rooms over the past year.
"What about my bikes?" Beatrice wondered.
"You can keep one," answered Rudy. Beatrice just got up and left.
Beatrice stormed into her hotel room and threw herself on the the bed. Madeleine appeared from the bathroom.
"Ca va Bea? Why the long face?"
"Rudy just sacked me from the team."
"You're kidding, right? After all you have done during the last three weeks."
"He wants to build a team around you for the big tours." Madeleine sat down on Beatrice's bed. She began stroking the smaller woman's back.
"I'm not in the mood!" snapped Beatrice.
"What are you going to do?" asked Madeleine after a moment's silence. "Are you going to look for another team or are you going to retire? I'm sure one of the sponsors would be more than happy to have you doing PR for them."
"I don't know Maddie, I really don't. I think I'm going to visit my brother in Quebec and figure out what to do with my life."
"Good luck," mumbled Madeleine.
Two days later Beatrice rang the door bell outside her brother's apartment. A young man dressed in only a pair of boxers appeared in the doorway.
"Good morning Henri," greeted Beatrice and gave him a hug. Henri just looked at her with his jaw hanging as they broke the embrace.
"This was quite unexpected," Henri managed to add as he eyed his sister from head to toe. "Eh... Come in, come in." He took Beatrice's large hard-shell suitcase and showed her inside. "I was just having breakfast. Would you like some?"
"What are you up to these days?" asked Beatrice between spoons of corn flakes.
"I'm still working on my PhD. What about you? Aren't you supposed to be riding the tour or something?"
"The tour ended three days ago. I'm on vacation. Is it okay for me to stay for a few days?"
"Sure. You can stay in my study. Just give me a moment to clean things up." He got up and disappeared into his study.
Beatrice went into the living room and sat down on the floor. She opened her large suitcase to reveal a disassembled racing bicycle. She re-attached the handlebars, pedals, saddle and wheels. She was making some final adjustments as her brother appeared carrying some bed linen.
"You brought your bike along for a vacation?" he asked in a surprised voice.
"I'm just going for a short spin. To have a look around."
"Whatever..." Henri carried the bed linen into the study. Beatrice re-inflated the tires and put a few drops of oil on the chain after protecting the floor with an old newspaper.
When the bike was ready she put on her cycling clothing. She decided against going in her official team kit, opting instead for a basic red jersey and black shorts without any sponsor logos. Helmet, gloves and shoes completed the outfit. She filled a water bottle and placed it in the cage and attached a small saddlebag containing a minimal repair kit underneath the saddle. Then she headed out the door.
Down in the street she swung her leg over the saddle and clicked into the pedals. She pedaled effortlessly and quickly got out of the city in the light morning traffic. She got into a nice familiar rhythm as she headed for the hills. The previous weeks of hard racing still lingered in her legs but she was nonetheless making good speed.
Charging up a small incline in a big gear she suddenly heard a sharp 'PING' and she felt her feet spin around without any resistance. She squeezed her brakes hard as she lost her momentum. She unclipped her left foot, put it on the ground and looked down. The chain had snapped. One of the connecting pins must have been weak or improperly fastened. It wasn't unheard of. She checked the side of the road cursing under her breath but the chain was nowhere to be found. 'At least the way home is mostly downhill,' she thought as she began rolling home.
On her way home she spotted a small bike shop lying on a side street. 'Dino's bike shop' the sign in the window read. A classic road bike hung in the window so Beatrice stopped and stepped inside. An elderly man dressed in a shop apron appeared from a back room behind the counter as Beatrice entered the shop. The shop owner gave her a stern look.
"I'd like a Shimano 9-speed Hyper-Glide chain..." Beatrice began.
"Campagnolo," answered the shop owner in a gruff voice.
"What?" gasped Beatrice at the strange reply.
"I don't carry Shimano," the shop owner clarified. "You have to go someplace else."
"But I've snapped my chain," groaned Beatrice. "I've free-wheeled all the way here." The shop owner raised an eyebrow at this and his face softened slightly.
"Let me see," he offered. Beatrice handed him the bike and he hoisted it over the counter and placed it on a repair stand.
"Hmm," he muttered, stoking his chin. "Do you have the broken chain with you?"
"No," answered Beatrice. "I couldn't find it."
"I think I can help you," the shop owner stated. "Can you wait a few minutes? I'm in the middle of something."
"I'm in no hurry," answered Beatrice. The shop owner disappeared into the workshop. Beatrice could hear him working. A few minutes later he reappeared and dove down behind the counter. He got back up holding a chain wrapped in plastic.
"I'm pretty sure this Powerchain will fit. Of course, I prefer their old name Sedis." He opened the package and began mounting the chain. After removing the correct number of links he closed the chain and shifted it through the gears a few times. He grunted his approval after making a few minor adjustments to the rear derailleur.
"That'll be 45 dollars for the chain," he stated while wiping his hands with a rag.
"Let's hope it holds," muttered Beatrice as she fished out her wallet from her jersey pocket and payed for the chain.
"I'm sure it will," answered the shop owner. "If I'm wrong, come back."
Beatrice waved goodbye and stepped out of the shop. Outside she just shook her head and began the ride back to her brother's apartment.
Beatrice arrived outside her brother's apartment. She opened the door and carried her bike inside. The apartment was empty. Beatrice took off her shoes and leaned her bike against the wall. She found a note from her brother on the kitchen table telling her he would be late. Stripping off her cycling clothing she headed for the bathroom.
After a nice shower Beatrice stretched her muscles thoroughly. She would have preferred a massage but at the moment she had no soigneur available. She then wiped her bike clean, carried it into the study and leaned it against the desk.
Returning to the kitchen, Beatrice cooked herself some pasta which she ate in silence while skimming through the newspaper.
Next morning Henri sat down at the breakfast table with a perplexed look on his face.
"What?" asked Beatrice.
"I just don't get it," sighed Henri.
"Would you like to explain that Henri?" queried Beatrice with a slight smile.
"Um..." Henri began, pushing his horn-rimmed glasses further up his nose. "I was in this bar last night and I tried to strike up a conversation with this girl but she got up and left after five minutes."
"What did you talk about?"
"Quantum Mechanics?" Beatrice's face got a funny look.
"Yeah, I tried to tell her about entangled states and Quantum Cryptography."
"Why the hell did you do that?"
"It interests me. I guess it didn't impress her though. She went to talk with some guy who could flip a cigarette into his mouth."
"Listen, Henri, let me give you a piece of advice. Try to begin with something you may have in common like movies or music. If the girl is interested she'll stick around. You don't need to learn some stupid trick."
"If you say so... See you tonight."
"Bye." Henri rose from the table and left. Beatrice could hear him close the door.
Heading towards the hills Beatrice spotted a group of cyclists further up the road. They were taking turns turns riding at the front in an orderly fashion. She got out of the saddle and quickly caught up with them. Several of the cyclists were dressed in identical jerseys so Beatrice concluded they belonged to the same club. She politely asked if she could join them.
"Of course," answered the cyclist nearest to her left and extended his right hand. "I'm Jim."
"Beatrice," answered Beatrice as she shook the offered hand.
The group were riding at what Beatrice found to be a comfortable pace and she had no problem keeping up. She tried to keep a low profile and kept a constant speed during her turns at the front.
As the peloton headed back toward the city Beatrice suddenly felt the pace quicken significantly. She patted Jim on the back to get his attention.
"Why the change of pace?" she asked.
"There will be a sprint for the city limit sign. Some of us want to make sure Oliver there doesn't win it. Again." He pointed to a tall guy sitting in third place from the front. The group got strung out into a single file and the guy behind Oliver choked and the group split in two. Beatrice gritted her teeth and closed the gap. Tucked into the slipstream behind Oliver she began scanning the road ahead for the coveted sign.
500 meters before the imaginary finish Beatrice saw Oliver get out of the saddle, turn left into the road and wind up the sprint. Beatrice dove after him and managed to get in behind his left shoulder. Powering toward the sign, Oliver kept glancing right toward his club mates. Just as he was about to raise his arms in victory a red jersey streaked past him and beat him to the sign by a good bike's length.
Beatrice punched the sky defiantly and turned around to look into Oliver's surprised face.
"Where did you come from?" he huffed as they slowed down to wait for the others.
"I saw you start the sprint so I got on your wheel. You kept looking right so I simply went left around you," Beatrice stated, breathing heavily.
"I'm impressed. Don't tell me you're a pro or something?"
"No. I just enjoy sprinting," answered Beatrice.
Standing in bathroom after taking a shower Beatrice heard someone open the front door. Wrapping a towel around herself she stepped out to remind her brother to get some more toilet-paper. She simply froze at the sight in the hallway.
The strawberry blonde in her brother's arms spat out a curse upon seeing the dark woman dressed in nothing but a towel, slapped her date which sent his glasses flying and bolted out the door.
Henri picked up his glasses with a frown.
"I think you should leave," he stated.
Beatrice stood silent for a moment before speaking.
"Ok, I'll leave. Would you at least allow me to find a place to stay first or do I have to check into a hotel?"
"I would prefer if you left as soon as possible," answered Henri. Beatrice just nodded. She then marched directly into the study and slumped down on the bed. 'Now I'm really in a mess,' she thought. Putting on a T-shirt and a pair of track suit bottoms she went out into the kitchen to help her brother make dinner.
"You should tell her you know," stated Beatrice as she looked through the 'For Rent' section of the newspaper. There wasn't much she liked or could afford.
"I don't think that would help," muttered Henri. "Do you find anything interesting?"
"Not unless I'd consider living in a warehouse or paying ridiculous amounts of money for a house," answered Beatrice flatly.
"You could always ask dad..." Henri offered.
"I'm not that desperate. Don't worry. I'll be gone in no time!"
Heading out with Jim and the others next morning, Beatrice wondered if she could bring up her dilemma casually when they asked her why she had come to Quebec.
"I'm just visiting my brother," answered Beatrice. "However, I am thinking of staying a while. Does anyone have anything to rent on really short notice?"
"Actually, I do," answered Oliver to Beatrice's surprise. "My nephew is going to Holland as an exchange student and I believe his parents wouldn't mind not having to pay two rents. I'll ask them!"
Beatrice was shown around the small apartment by Ada, Oliver's sister. Ada had long dark hair, brown eyes and a ready smile. The apartment was sparsely furnished but Beatrice didn't need much. Most of the furniture, save a few chairs, belonged to the apartment and was bolted to the floor.
"How much's the rent?" asked Beatrice after the short tour.
"500 a month."
"I'll take it!" answered Beatrice and began filling out the contract. She hesitated momentarily before putting down the name of her cycling team under 'employer.' She wasn't really unemployed until the end of the year. Ada simply eyed through the contract and nodded.
"Come by tomorrow to pick up the key."
Beatrice began personalizing her new home by buying herself a new mattress along with some bed linen and some crockery. Henri let her borrow his car without protest, and gave her a bottle of wine as a house-warming present. Beatrice tried to ask him about the redhead but Henri just shook his head.
Later that evening Beatrice had a quiet dinner alone with her thoughts. She flipped through her address book, wondering if she should start making a few calls to prospective employers, or if she should wait until after the World Championships in October. 'I don't even know if I'm going to ride the world championship!' stated Beatrice to herself.
A week later after the training ride, Jim reached into his jersey pocket and handed Beatrice a folded flyer.
"Our club is arranging this competition. It's the first of a small series. Oliver thinks you could do really well with that lightning sprint of yours. See you next time!" Beatrice waved goodbye, unfolded the flyer and began reading.
'Falling Leaves Cyclocross Race. First round of the Quebec Cyclocross series. 1st Sunday in October.' Below the text was a picture of a guy running with a bike on his shoulder.
That afternoon Beatrice walked into Dino's bike shop and slapped the flyer on the counter.
"Do you know anything about this?" asked Beatrice to the shop owner's slightly surprised face.
"Yes, I do," answered the shop owner with a grim stare. "Why?"
"I'm considering riding it."
"You want to race cyclocross?" The old man gave her a questioning look.
"And you want my help?"
"Come back tomorrow. I need some time to think about it."
"Good day!" Beatrice mumbled something inaudible before heading out the door.
Next morning Beatrice stood waiting outside the door, leaning against her bike as the shop owner arrived.
"Bright and early I see," mumbled the shop owner. "Please come inside." Beatrice followed the shop owner inside and leaned her bike against the counter.
"Well," she began.
"I've decided to help you," The shop owner responded. "For starters, you'll need a cyclocross bike. What's your frame size?"
"50 I think," answered Beatrice. "Why do I need a cyclocross bike?"
"You'll need to be able to fit wider tires and have a lower gearing compared to your road bike. You'll also need cantilever brakes for better stopping power."
"Ok," answered Beatrice. "Can you get me one?"
"I can and I will. Hand me your bike." Beatrice handed him her bike. He measured the frame size with a tape measure and nodded. "I thought so."
"What?" demanded Beatrice.
"Never mind. Excuse me for a minute." He disappeared into the workshop. He returned a few minutes later with a bare aluminum frame. It looked like a normal road frame except having room for wide tires and attachments for cantilever brakes. "This frame should fit you. It was ordered by an an amateur team ten years ago that ended up not buying it. It's been hanging in my workshop ever since."
"How much do you want for it?" asked Beatrice.
"Nothing. I'm giving it to you."
"But you don't even know my name!" Beatrice spat out.
"But I do, mademoiselle Thoreau," retorted the shop owner. Beatrice
just stared at him.
"May I have yours?" she managed to add.
"I'm Dino. The sign above the door says so."
"How come you know my name?"
"It's written on the top tube of your bike frame. Besides, I've seen you in the Tour this year on television." He pointed at a small television set sitting on a shelf in the workshop. "I wasn't certain at first but seeing your name on the frame confirmed my suspicion. Now, do you want the frame or not?"
"Of course I do."
"Good. I'll need a few days to build up the bike. Do you have any particular preferences in equipment?"
"I'd like the same saddle as I have now. Other than that I have no particular preferences."
"Fine. By the way, what does the 'B' stand for?" Dino pointed at the name on the top tube.
"Beatrice," answered Beatrice. Dino extended his hand.
"Nice to meet you Beatrice."
"Do you need to keep my bike?" queried Beatrice pointing at her road bike.
"No," answered Dino. "I just need to take a few measurements." He measured the saddle height from the crank bolt center to the top of the saddle, and the length of the reach from the tip of the saddle to the top of the handlebars. He wrote down the numbers in a small notebook. He then handed Beatrice back her bike. "See you in a couple of days." Beatrice nodded and waved goodbye.
Three days later Beatrice returned to Dino's bike shop. A guy was checking out one of the bikes standing in the shop as Beatrice walked in.
"How much is this one?" the guy asked.
"1900," answered Dino from behind the counter. "But you can have it for 1700."
"It's too expensive," answered the guy. "1300 tops."
"Not a chance!" exploded Dino. "Get out and stop wasting my time!" The guy got the message and disappeared in the blink of an eye. Dino sighed before lightening up slightly as he recognized Beatrice. "Did you bring your shoes?"
"Yes," answered Beatrice. "Is the bike ready?"
"It is," smiled Dino. He went into his workshop and returned with the bike. He brought the bike out on the shop floor so that Beatrice could have a good look at it. The green knobby tires caught Beatrice's attention along with the long-armed cantilever brakes and mountain bike pedals. The whole bike had a Spartan look about it with its silver finish and lack of fittings.
"There's no fittings for a water bottle," Beatrice remarked.
"I know," answered Dino. "You won't have time to drink anyway. Go on, try it! Just allow me to fit the cleats on your shoes first." Beatrice handed him her shoes and grabbed the bike. She knelt down beside it and inspected the front chain-rings. Dino had fitted a 48 tooth outer in place of her usual 53. "There is a 13-26 in the back," Dino added while tightening the screws fixing the cleat under Beatrice's left shoe. "Don't worry about that now. Just tell me how you like the fit." He fixed the other cleat and handed the shoes back to Beatrice. She leaned the bike against the counter and began changing her shoes.
Beatrice stepped out of the shop, swung her leg over the saddle and pedaled away. The handlebars were positioned slightly higher and the reach was slightly shorter as compared to her road bike so she was sitting a bit more upright. Otherwise she felt right at home. The only thing that annoyed her was the loud buzzing noise created by the knobby tires. They were not meant for riding on smooth pavement.
After a short ride around the neighboring streets Beatrice returned to the shop. Dino poked out of the work shop as he heard the door open.
"How did you like it? Was the fit okay?"
"It think the fit is fine for now. I'm used a having a slightly more stretched out position, that's all."
"Aerodynamics won't be that important in a cyclocross race. Bike handling, however, will be. I suggest we meet on Sunday morning so that you can try it out off-road. You will need to practice. Bring a pair of mountain-bike shoes with screw-in studs. Additionally, I would recommend wearing a long-sleeved jersey and long tights." Beatrice nodded.
The following Sunday Beatrice met up with Dino outside the shop. He was waiting beside his car when she arrived. An old Burgundy red bike was mounted on the roof of the small Alfa Romeo. Dino detached the front wheel of Beatrice's bike and hoisted it up on the roof rack beside the other bike and gestured for Beatrice to get into the front seat. As they drove away Beatrice cleared her throat before speaking.
"Where are we going?"
"We are going to a small woodland area just north of here in the Laurentian mountains. There are numerous trails there were we can set up a small practice circuit. It's not far from Bromont, where the actual race will be held."
"Will we be able to ride the course?"
"I don't think it's marked out yet. Don't worry. You'll be allowed to inspect the course beforehand. Today I just want to show you want you can expect to come across during the race. By the way, have you ever watched a cyclocross race?"
"I saw one when I was little. I don't remember much of it. Just a bunch of guys running around a muddy field with their bikes on their shoulders. Cyclocross wasn't really something I considered when I started racing bicycles as a kid. I learned to race on the indoor track. Besides, women's cyclocross wasn't very big at all when I grew up."
"It's good some things change. I guess we have the mountain bike to thank for that. Anyway, you will be acquainted with the techniques involved soon enough!"
Arriving at the trailhead Dino jumped out of the car and began lifting the bikes down. Beatrice gave Dino's bike a curious look as she re-attached the front wheel. It seemed at least 20 years old. The brake cables came out on top of the brake levers instead of being concealed under the bar tape as on more modern bikes. Other oddities included the pedals, which were the old rat-trap variety with clips and straps, and the gear levers, which were plugged into the ends of the handlebar. The Burgundy paint was chipped in some places but in general the bike seemed very well looked after. The chain was glistening with oil and the tires looked new.
"It's my old cyclocross bike, built by the master frame builder Ugo for me when I rode for a small Italian team," Dino interrupted.
"You were a pro?" gasped Beatrice.
"Yes. I was gregario, working for others. In cyclocross however, I rode for myself. Let's go!"
He swung into the saddle with surprising ease and pedaled away. Beatrice quickly joined him.
Beatrice followed his wheel for a while as he rode into the woods. Speeding down a narrow path Beatrice suddenly spotted a log lying across the path.
"Dino!" She called out.
"Watch!" The old man answered calmly.
Touching his brakes to control his speed as he approached the log, Dino suddenly dismounted his bike, jumped over the log while lifting the bike over the obstacle then hopped back on the bike in one fluid movement. Beatrice just stopped before the log and stared.
"Being able to quickly dismount, jump over an obstacle then re-mount is a necessary cyclocross skill. You can start practicing in the clearing up ahead. Just stop and step over this log for now on." Beatrice muttered something and did as the old man told her.
Beatrice practiced endless mounts and dismounts riding around the small clearing until Dino was satisfied. He then showed her how to pick up her bike and place it on her shoulder for longer running sections.
"Pick up the bike by the down tube and handlebars. Place the top tube on your right shoulder. Then snake your right arm underneath the down tube and grab the left bottom hook of the bars to keep the front wheel in control. Make sure the bike stays level on your shoulder. Your right arm can take some of the weight. Reverse the process when putting the bike down!"
Beatrice practiced all morning until her right arm and shoulder was completely numb. All this lifting and running was unfamiliar to her. She let out a sigh of relief when Dino grunted his approval.
"Good. Things are improving. Let's get back to the car and have some lunch. After lunch we'll set up a little loop you can ride and practice your skills."
Back at the car Dino retrieved a cooler from the trunk and and fished out two bottles of mineral water and a couple of filled panini from it. He handed Beatrice one.
"Here you go. I hope ham and cheese is acceptable."
"Sure," answered Beatrice. "Thanks."
"There are a couple with marmalade as well. Bon Appetite!" Beatrice hungrily devoured her sandwich without answering.
After finishing off the panini they had some fruit before heading back out. Dino showed Beatrice a short 3 km loop through the woods including a steep hill followed by a scary downhill. He then timed Beatrice as she lapped the short circuit. She took it really slowly the first lap but then steadily increased her speed.
Beatrice soon discovered that the fastest way up the steep hill was to dismount before the hill, shoulder the bike and run up before re-mounting on the top and diving downhill. The downhill was narrow and scary but relatively free of obstacles. It was more a mental challenge than a physical one.
After completing ten laps, including two under nine minutes, Dino asked her to stop. Beatrice stumbled off her bike and collapsed in the grass. Her whole body ached. This was different than anything she was used to.
"Brava," muttered Dino. "Well done. You have great potential, Beatrice. Now, Let's go home."
Driving back, Beatrice heard Dino clear his throat before speaking.
"Beatrice, would you like to have dinner? I'm no cook, but my pasta arrabiata is not that bad."
Beatrice hesitated for a moment before answering.
"I'd love to. But I'd like to shower and change first if you don't mind."
"Of course," answered Dino. "I'll show you where I live. It's not far from the shop. Shall we say seven o'clock?" Beatrice nodded. Dino pointed out the location of his flat before they arrived outside the shop. Dino brought a bucket and a sponge from the shop and wiped the worst of the muck off the bikes before they parted company. Beatrice rode home at a leisurely pace while her mind wandered.
Five minutes past the hour the door bell rang outside Dino's apartment. Dino lowered the flame to let the sauce simmer before answering the door. Beatrice had chosen to wear a simple green dress that accentuated her eyes along with a pair of low heel shoes. She pulled out a bottle of wine from her shoulder bag as Dino opened the door.
"Hi. I brought some wine," Beatrice began.
"You shouldn't have," mumbled Dino. "Please, come in! The food is almost ready!" He took the offered bottle and held the door open as Beatrice stepped inside.
"It sure smells nice," added Beatrice as she peeked under the lid of the pan.
"Sit down!" barked Dino. "You're my guest, remember." He pointed towards the set table complete with candles and a red and white table cloth. Beatrice sat down and Dino poured her a glass of wine before returning to the stove. Dino glanced at his watch before fishing out a piece of pasta from the boiling pot and tasting it. Mumbling something, Dino took the pot of pasta off the heat, put on a lid with holes in it and and poured off the water. "I hope you're hungry," said Dino as he tasted the sauce. "I made a bit much."
"Don't worry," answered Beatrice. "I can eat for two."
"Here you go then," smiled Dino as he put down a large plate of pasta before Beatrice. He added some Parmesan cheese as a finishing touch.
Beatrice wasn't kidding when she said she was hungry. She dove into the food with ferocious appetite and Dino soon had to bring more. The old man hadn't been kidding when he said he could cook. The sauce was wonderfully spicy and the pasta was cooked just long enough to be 'al dente.' It was a welcome change from the countless plates of overcooked pasta Beatrice had had in her past.
"This was really good," complimented Beatrice as she was finishing off her third plate.
"Thank you," answered Dino. "I'm glad you approve. More wine?"
"Yes please," nodded Beatrice.
After dinner Dino presented a bottle of grappa as Beatrice relaxed on the couch. Beatrice nodded and Dino fetched a pair of glasses. Sitting down in the chair opposite Beatrice, Dino filled the glasses. Beatrice downed the clear liquid in a single draught. Dino watched her reaction as her face contorted from the after-taste.
"How can you drink this stuff?" Beatrice gasped.
"Well, it's an acquired taste," Dino admitted, emptying his glass. "Would you like another one?" Beatrice just pushed her glass towards him. She figured tonight was as good a night as any to get totally wasted. Dino refilled their glasses with a grin.
Several drinks later the conversation turned away from the day's activities and towards life in general.
"So..." Beatrice began. "What's a retired Italian bike racer doing in Quebec?"
"Eh, well, I rode a race here on the Olympic circuit and during my stay I met someone who made me decide to return when I decided to hang up my wheels."
"Who?" Beatrice demanded.
"It was the the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen. I couldn't stop thinking about her."
"She disappeared. I never found out what happened to her. Still, I decided to stay and open a bike shop. The rest is, as they say, history. What about you? What brings you here?"
"I'm just visiting my brother..." Beatrice began.
"Don't try that with me!" Dino snapped. "Tell me the real reason!"
"I'm having a break trying to decide what to do with my life. My contract expires at the end of the year..."
"I haven't decided if I'm going to retire or look for another team."
"Well," muttered Dino. "I think it would be a huge waste if you retired from racing at this point. Whoever fired you is an idiot. You have several years ahead of you. Is there anything else?"
"Is there someone special in you life?"
"No," sighed Beatrice. "There was, but she couldn't handle me being away from home so much. We broke up." Dino just nodded. He held up the empty bottle towards the light before emptying the final drops into his glass.
"Sic transit gloria mundi," he mumbled.
"What?" asked Beatrice as she got up from the couch on wobbly legs.
"Oh nothing," answered Dino. "And where do you think you're going?" Dino asked.
"Home," answered Beatrice in a somewhat slurred voice. She was, in fact, quite drunk.
"No you're not!" protested Dino. "You're spending the night on the couch!"
"No buts! I'm not letting you leave in that state." Dino's voice was firm, despite his intoxicated state.
"Ok then," mumbled Beatrice as she slumped back on the couch.
Beatrice slowly woke up and surveyed her surroundings. Last night's drinking was reasserting itself by giving her an evil headache. She was lying on Dino's couch. She found a small hand-written message on the coffee table in front of her. The message was simple. 'I've gone to the shop. Feel free to make yourself some breakfast. Please lock the door when you leave. /Dino' There was a key beside the note.
Beatrice got up from the couch and made her way towards the kitchen. Opening the fridge she immediately found a carton of orange juice which she quickly emptied. She then retrieved some milk from the fridge along with some muesli from the pantry. She sat down at the table and made herself some breakfast.
After breakfast Beatrice grabbed a quick shower before heading out the door. She locked the door and put the key in her bag. She then made her way home. Arriving at her apartment she decided to go for a little spin and changed into her cycling attire. Beatrice brought out on her racing bike, and put on her cycling shoes. She suddenly stopped on her way out and reminded herself to bring Dino's key. She put it in her jersey pocket. Down in the street she jumped on her bike and pedaled away. Since she was alone she decided to head for the hills to do some interval training. Three hours and four intervals later she headed back home. Turning into the street where Dino's shop was located, Beatrice recalled the first time she had walked down that street.
Dino peeked out of the workshop as he heard the door open and his face lit up with a smile as he recognized his visitor.
"Nice to see you are finally up," said the old man with a grin.
"I've been up a while actually," retorted Beatrice with a smile. "I had a good time last night. Thanks." She handed Dino the key.
"You're welcome," mumbled Dino as he accepted the key. "Now, is there anything on your current setup you'd like me change before the first race?"
"I don't think so," answered Beatrice, wondering why Dino was so quick to change the subject. "I like it the way it is."
"Good. I suggest you practice your starts as well as mounting and dismounting. Perfecting these skills might be crucial if the conditions are against us."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You'll see. Come in next Wednesday. I'll have something to show you." Beatrice nodded and waved goodbye. She wondered what the old man had meant.
She got part of the answer the following week as she made her way to the shop on Wednesday afternoon. It was raining, or rather, it was pouring. Beatrice wondered what the course might look like if the weather continued.
"Good afternoon," greeted Dino her in an overly cheerful voice.
"Why are you so happy?" grumbled Beatrice in response. "The race conditions will be horrible."
"I know," answered Dino. "That's why I like it. It means the strongest rider will win."
"I suppose so," muttered Beatrice. "What was it you wanted to show me?"
"This," answered Dino and disappeared into his workshop. He returned with a brand new cyclocross bike. It looked similar to the one Beatrice was using except it had a beautiful blue-and-white paint job and carbon fiber wheels.
"What's this?" queried Beatrice.
"Your race bike," answered Dino. You are allowed to change bikes once per lap in a special pit area. This allows you to get a clean bike if your current one gets too clogged up with mud or has a mechanical problem. This also gives your mechanic time to clean the dirty one or fix the problem. You are also allowed to change wheels in the pit if you have a puncture."
"Why the carbon fiber wheels? I thought you said aerodynamics wouldn't be important."
"That's correct. However, these wheels cut through deep mud better and are easier to clean. Besides, they do not add any weight."
"I see," mumbled Beatrice.
"Make sure you rest well before Sunday," said Dino as Beatrice left.
That Sunday, Beatrice peeked out the window towards the gray skies as she was eating breakfast. It had been raining for the past three days. Fortunately, the weather seemed to hold up. She finished her meal and packed her things in a gym bag. After making one final check she had everything she left her apartment. She met up with Dino outside the shop and they drove up to Bromont. Dino easily found his way to the race course. It was situated in a small woodland area just outside the city. The designated parking lot was bustling with activity as racers and mechanics got ready. Dino lifted Beatrice's training bike of the roof rack. It sported carbon fiber wheels, in honor of the day.
"You can inspect the course while I check out the pit area. Try to memorize the difficult sections and where it will be possible to pass. Just take it easy and use it as a warm-up. Meet me here later for final preparations. But, first, we have to register."
"Ok," answered Beatrice as she hopped on her bike.
Jim smiled as he recognized Beatrice approaching the registration counter.
"Hello. Nice of you to show up." Beatrice showed him her license and payed the fee. Jim handed her her race numbers. "The showers are in that house over there. Your start is at 11 o'clock." Beatrice nodded and followed a racer as he went out on his inspection lap.
The race course started on a strip of pavement and turned off into the woods. The first obstacle was a small ridge with a steep run-up. Then came a tricky descent with several slippery roots. This was followed by a flatter section through an open meadow on the back straight before turning back up on the ridge again. Then came a section with three 40 cm high hurdles made of planks. After the hurdles was another fast section followed by the pit area. Then the course turned right back onto the pavement for the finishing straight. The whole course was clearly marked out with plastic tape and stakes. Advertising boards lined sides of the finishing straight. The muddiest parts were to be found on the steep run-up and the patches between the trees. Beatrice feared things would get worse as the race progressed.
Beatrice voiced her concerns to Dino as he was rubbing liniment into her legs. She was just dressed in a long-sleeved skin suit so she was shivering slightly. She wore a warm-up jacket on top to keep warm.
"Don't worry," Dino assured her. "You'll get warm soon enough. Just relax. I'll be ready for you in the pits." Beatrice nodded and stated to focus for the upcoming race. A hilarious figure almost made her lose her concentration. It was a tall guy in a pink rabbit suit, complete with long ears sticking out of his helmet, completing an inspection lap. Dark glasses and a scarf concealed his identity.
"Who the hell is that guy?" barked Beatrice, pointing towards the large furry animal.
"I don't know," answered Dino. "He shows up at local races all over Canada and the US. He usually does very well. No one knows who he is. Some people claim he is the former world champion Adri van der Poel but I don't believe that. Whoever he is, don't underestimate him." Dino made a few final checks to the race bike before handing it to Beatrice. "Good luck," he added, walking towards the pits with the spare bike and carrying an extra set of wheels.
Beatrice hopped on her bike and rode up to the start line. She observed the women and men lined up around her. The guy in the pink bunny suit was standing to her right. She could see several of the men glance nervously at the pink rabbit. It seemed Dino was right after all.
Beatrice looked at her watch. Two minutes to go. She removed her warm-up jacket and tossed it aside. She then clicked in her right foot into the pedal and put the bike in a good starting gear. Then she waited. A large crowd of spectators had gathered along the start-finish straight.
The entire field jumped at the sound of the starting gun. Beatrice launched herself forward and stormed away. The pace was maddening. Beatrice fought to get a position and ended up fifth from the front as the field turned into the woods.
Beatrice slammed on the brakes as she dismounted before the steep run-up. She heaved up her bike on her shoulder and sprinted up the hill using small strides. She gasped in pain as she landed hard on the saddle during the re-mount on top of he ridge. She gritted her teeth trying to ignore the pain as she clattered down the ridge over slippery roots in hot pursuit of the four in front. The annoying pink rabbit was among them.
Beatrice caught up with the four in front just as they turned up the ridge again. She powered up the small climb and stayed with the four as they hit the barriers. This time Beatrice made a fast dismount, jumped over the barriers while lifting the bike before jumping back on her bike, this time landing in her right thigh. She clicked into the pedals and had no trouble staying with the four others.
Approaching the pit area Beatrice saw Dino stand ready with her spare bike. Since there wasn't any problems so far Beatrice just stayed with the others. None of the others changed bikes either. The small group started working together taking turns at the front as they reached the paved finishing straight to complete lap one. The group consisted of Beatrice, the pink rabbit, a strawberry blonde woman in a red and black skin suit, a big burly guy in a green skin suit and finally a short guy in a blue jersey and black shorts. The two guys seemed to keep the pink rabbit under close surveillance.
"Time," Beatrice called out as they passed the pits.
"The gap is 30 seconds," came the answer from Dino. "Keep going!" The five in front kept working together to increase the gap. The two guys kept watching the rabbit and Beatrice felt the redhead was watching her.
The lap time was 7:39 as they crossed the line to complete the second lap. A board with the number '6' on it indicated that they had six laps remaining. 'Six laps to go?' thought Beatrice as she saw the sign. 'I'm on my anaerobic limit right now and I've only done two.' The pink rabbit attacked on the treacherous descent. The green guy had fallen, blocking the others, and this was the rabbit's cue. Beatrice tried to close the distance, but a muddy drive train caused the chain to skip and she was forced to watch the pink fluffy animal open up a gap.
Staying in her only usable gear Beatrice kept the rabbit within striking distance as ran up the small hill, jumped the barriers and approached the pits. She turned into the pit lane to change bikes. She saw Dino stand ready with her spare bike and she just had to hand her present bike to a nearby mechanic and accept the new bike as she ran past.
"He is just 15 seconds ahead of you," reported Dino. "You can catch him if you wait for someone to help you." Beatrice just nodded.
Two laps later Beatrice was helped chasing down the lone rabbit in front by two guys who had come up from the chasing pack. Their jerseys might once have been green and orange but now they were rapidly taking on the grayish tone of dried mud. Beatrice wasn't looking pretty herself. At least they were gaining on the guy in front. He had to be hurting by now. The gap kept coming down. The two guys and Beatrice worked well together and the rabbit was finally caught with one and a half lap to go.
Beatrice's only worry now was the three riders who managed to catch the three rabbit hunters on the final lap. They crossed the line as a group of seven. A bell signaled that this was the final lap. Beatrice gasped for breath as she sprinted up the steep hill for the last time. She charged downhill and heard someone crash behind her. That meant one less to beat in a sprint. She plowed through the ruts that had formed between the trees. The orange guy was still ahead of her along with the rabbit. That rabbit didn't seem know when to quit.
Approaching the barriers Beatrice decided to try attack herself but she was unable to get away. The pink rabbit chased her down with the others following closely behind. Everything pointed to a sprint finish.
A guy in a once yellow and black jersey wound up the sprint before the final corner. Beatrice dove after him and they exited the corner side by side. Beatrice gave it everything but had to see herself beaten by the guy in the blue jersey followed by the strawberry blonde. The damn bunny finished behind her.
Beatrice unclipped her feet and leaned heavily on her bike with her arms on the handlebar and her head down. Her whole body ached. Her shoulders, her arms, her legs. Her throat was so dry her breath was a coughing wheeze. To her surprise she saw a pale hand offer her an unopened bottle of mineral water.
"Here you go!" said a female voice. Beatrice looked up to see who the voice belonged to. A tall blonde with eyes as blue as the sky met Beatrice's brown. A shy smile covered the blonde's full lips. She was dressed in a long trench coat with a black beret on her head. Beatrice accepted the offered drink with a weak nod. She opened her mouth to say thank you as Dino's voice interrupted her.
"Congratulations," said Dino as he wiped the mud of Beatrice's face with a towel. When Beatrice turned around the blonde was gone.
"Who was that?" asked Beatrice as she scanned the crowd after the mysterious woman.
"A fan, perhaps?" answered Dino with a shrug. "Hit the showers. The ceremony will start in twenty minutes."
Beatrice managed a weak smile as she accepted her prize. Her mind was elsewhere. The mysterious blonde kept haunting her. Beatrice's eyes drifted through the crowd in search of a blonde in a beret, but the search was in vain.
Dino noticed Beatrice's absent mind as they were driving back home.
"What's wrong?" Dino demanded.
"Oh nothing," mumbled Beatrice.
"You did great. You obviously have talent. Just enjoy yourself." Beatrice just nodded and stared out the window.
As they returned to the shop Dino handed Beatrice her training bike. He had cleaned both bikes thoroughly.
"Be sure to relax today," Dino ordered. "The next race is in three weeks. I suggest you alternate between on-road training on your racing bike and practicing off road on your cyclocross bike."
"I will," answered Beatrice.
Three days later Beatrice decided to do some trail riding on her cyclocross bike. Since the weather had been good the past few days Beatrice mounted a pair of new tires with a file thread to allow for better speed on pavement and other hard surfaces.
After mounting and inflating the tires, Beatrice put a few drops of oil on the chain and changed into her cycling outfit. She opted for a wind jacket over a long-sleeved jersey along with long tights. Since she planned on being out for a while she put some food and a water bottle in the back pockets of the jersey.
Beatrice arrived at the trailhead after an hour of cycling. She had spotted the dirt road previously on one of her road rides and decided to return one day. She took a sip of water and headed up the trail.
The trail was reasonably smooth so Beatrice was making good speed. The trail was still challenging as it twisted around the landscape. Beatrice was quite certain she was alone on the trail when she suddenly spotted someone on a mountain bike further up the switch backs.
The tall figure climbed standing with the bike rocking gently from side. As Beatrice got closer she saw that the tall figure was a woman. She thought nothing of it until she noticed the blonde hair sticking out behind the woman's helmet in a loose pony tail. 'Could it be...' thought Beatrice as she shifted into a higher gear and got out of the saddle to close the distance with the woman ahead.
Beatrice caught up with the woman at the top of the ridge. Beatrice stayed behind to get a closer look. The blonde was dressed in a yellow wind jacket, black tights and a white helmet with a small visor. She was riding a blue and silver mountain bike with a suspension fork. Beatrice couldn't get a good look at the woman's face.
When the trail widened Beatrice rode up alongside the woman. The blonde gave Beatrice a surprised look. Beatrice almost stopped breathing. It was the mysterious blonde!
"It's you! Do you always sneak up on people?" gasped the blonde as she stopped.
"No," answered Beatrice. "I wasn't sure how to approach you, that's all. I wasn't even sure it was you."
"Well, here I am," answered the blonde with a hint of a smile. "What do you want?"
"I just want to say hello. I had no chance to do so last time. My name's Beatrice." Beatrice extended her hand.
"Anne," answered the blonde and shook the offered hand. 'She doesn't wear a ring' thought Beatrice as she felt Anne's hand through the cycling glove.
"Do you ride here often?" asked Beatrice as a way to gather her thoughts.
"Yes," answered Anne. "I like this trail and I'm usually alone on it on weekday mornings. I didn't expect any company."
"Neither did I," answered Beatrice. "Would you mind showing me around?"
"Not at all." The two women rode off.
Beatrice had to use all her cyclocross skills to keep up with Anne. The blonde hadn't been lying when she said she had ridden there before. Beatrice felt quite beaten up when they arrived back at the trailhead. Beatrice reached into her pockets and retrieved a couple of fruit bars. She offered one to Anne. The blonde accepted the food with a smile.
"I enjoyed this," mumbled Beatrice as she munched on her fruit bar. "I'd like to do it again sometime."
"So would I," answered Anne. "It was fun. Call me." Anne got out her wallet and gave Beatrice a business card. "I'm usually free on Wednesday mornings."
Beatrice looked at the card as Anne rode off. It read 'Anne Hansen' followed by some contact information. It seemed Anne worked at a computer company.
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