DISCLAIMER: see part 1.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: I wish to thank TJ for her beta-work.
Love at Speed
Beatrice watched as Anne quickly rode away. Gazing up, Beatrice got a possible answer as to why the blonde was in such a hurry. Dark clouds loomed above, promising rain or worse. Beatrice put Anne's business card in her pocket and headed home.
Beatrice spotted Anne further down the road as she got out on the main road. Anne appeared to be in a hurry indeed. The blonde kept her upper body in a low aerodynamic position with her arms tucked in underneath her torso and her hands gripping the center of the bars. Her feet kept spinning as fast as they could.
Beatrice made an effort to catch Anne but she was making slow progress. After 10 minutes she gave up and sat up. She was not going to catch the blonde on the slight downhill with a following wind.
As they neared the city, Beatrice saw Anne disappear down a side street. A few rain drops confirmed the brunette's suspicions.
The rain was bucketing down that following Wednesday. Beatrice found herself huddling behind the counter in Dino's shop as the old man was servicing her cyclocross bikes in the workshop. Seeing the phone on the wall gave Beatrice an idea.
"Dino," she called out, "can I make a telephone call?"
"Long distance?" asked Dino from the workshop.
"No, local," answered Beatrice.
"Go ahead! Nobody calls here anyway." Beatrice got out the business card she kept in her pocket and made the call.
"Starburst inc.," answered a male voice. "How may I help you?"
"Bonjour, my name is Beatrice Thoreau. I wish to speak to Anne Hansen."
"One moment, si vous plait..."
"Hi, it's Beatrice. Are you in a hurry?"
"Hello. You are not considering riding in this weather?"
"I have, actually," answered Beatrice.
"Well, I don't like riding in the rain," said Anne with a hint of a smile in her voice. "Besides, I'm a bit busy at the moment."
"I would like to see you," stated Beatrice honestly.
"We could have lunch together," offered Anne after a moment's silence. "Come to the office around noon."
"I will. Au revoir."
Beatrice exited the elevator in the large office building. The floor consisted of a large open office area with desks scattered all around. A young man sitting at the desk nearest the elevator got up as Beatrice entered.
"Hello," the young man greeted her. "You look like you're looking for someone." Beatrice recognized his voice from the telephone.
"I am," answered Beatrice. "I'm here to see Anne Hansen."
"She's sitting over there," answered the man, pointing to his right. "Go right in."
Beatrice was greeted with the sight of the blonde kneeling on the floor beside a dismantled computer as she came around a free-standing note-board. The blonde was grumbling something in a language Beatrice didn't recognize as she wrestled with a wide wavy cable.
"Worthless piece of Micro-Borg crap," barked Anne as she replaced the metallic cover and tightened the screws. Then her face lit up as she recognized her visitor.
"Oh, hi there," greeted Anne as she plugged in some cables. "I didn't hear you coming. Have you been standing there long?"
"No, I just got here," answered Beatrice. "Should I come back a little later?"
"No no, stay. I'm just going to see if this works. Then we'll go." Beatrice nodded.
Anne turned on the computer and watched as the computer beeped and began filling the screen with messages.
"Finally," exclaimed Anne triumphantly. Then she turned to Beatrice.
"Let's go." Anne walked over to a coat rack and retrieved her trench coat. "Andre, I'm going for lunch." The man sitting beside the elevator nodded. The two women stepped into the elevator.
"What would you like to eat?" asked Anne as they went down. "Pasta?"
"I've had pasta all summer," confessed Beatrice.
"Chinese then? I know a nice little restaurant not far from here."
"Sounds good to me."
"What do you do besides riding bicycles?" asked Anne as she scooped up more rice.
"Nothing," answered Beatrice. "I'm a professional cyclist."
"Really?" gasped Anne. "What brings a pro cyclist to Quebec?"
"I've been visiting my brother who lives here. What about you?"
"I've been living here since childhood."
"Pardon me, but Hansen doesn't sound very Canadian."
"It's not. My father was from Norway."
"I see. What brought him to Quebec?"
"My father was a marine biologist. He came to Canada to study the marine wildlife outside Baffin island."
"What about your mother?"
"She accompanied him. They had met at the university. She was anoceanographer from Sweden."
"Where are your parents now?"
"My parents are dead. They died in a diving accident off Baffin when I was six."
"I'm sorry to hear that. What happened to you?" Beatrice put her hand on top of Anne's to offer some comfort.
"I was adopted by a friend of my father's who worked at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. He had promised to take care of me should anything happen."
"Didn't you have any other relatives?"
"I don't know. Apparently my parents left for Canada in secret. I suspect my grandparents didn't even know I existed." Beatrice just nodded and concentrated on her food. "Enough about me," muttered Anne. "What about you? Why do you race cyclocross?"
"I wanted to try something different," answered Beatrice.
"Where is the next race?"
"In Drummondville, in two weeks time."
"I'd like to accompany you." Anne lifted her hand and let her fingers intertwine with Beatrice's.
"I'd like that," answered Beatrice with a smile.
Beatrice leaned over across the table only to be interrupted by someone clearing his throat. She heard Anne mutter something under her breath before speaking.
"Thanks, we're fine. Check please." The waiter returned shortly with the bill. The two women paid for their meal and left the restaurant.
Standing in the elevator Anne wiped a wet stand of hair away from Beatrice's face before leaning in and kissing the shorter woman on the cheek.
"I'll see you later," Anne whispered. Then she exited the elevator and disappeared.
"I hate it when she does that," muttered Beatrice.
The following week the weather improved somewhat, and Beatrice was able to get some valuable speed training on the road. The fact that she was over a minute faster on her favorite training loop was a sure indication she was on form. Beatrice made one last sprint for the city limit sign before winding down and heading for Dino's shop.
"Good evening," greeted Dino as Beatrice stepped into the shop. "How is everything?"
"I'm fine," answered Beatrice. "Listen, I was thinking of making some changes to the cyclocross bikes for the race on Sunday."
"What do you have in mind?" queried Dino with a raised eyebrow.
"I was thinking of using a 12 tooth top sprocket instead of the 13 I'm using now."
"As you wish," mumbled Dino as he started rummaging through a box of sprockets. "What bottom gear do you need?"
"I think a 25 should suffice. I've never used the 26 I've got now during the race."
"It's no problem. I've got the cassettes in stock. Was there anything else?"
"Yes. I was thinking of inviting a friend to the race..."
"Sure. Does he or she wants to help?"
"The course in Drummondville has an extra pit beside the main one where you are permitted to change wheels. I could use an extra pair of hands to man that pit."
"I'll have to ask her."
"Bring her to the shop on Friday if she's interested so we can have a little chat." Beatrice nodded. "See you on Friday, and bring your training bike!"
That Friday afternoon Beatrice returned to the shop with her training bike followed by a tall blonde in a beret. Dino unsuccessfully tried to hide his surprise as he recognized Beatrice's companion. He quickly collected himself, wiped off his hands with a rag and extended his right hand in a greeting.
"Hello. I'm Dino."
"Anne," replied the cool blonde and shook the offered hand.
"Pleased to meet you Anne," answered Dino and gestured for her to sit. "I suppose you know how to change wheels..."
"Yes. I can fix a flat in less than a minute if I have a CO2 cartridge," Anne responded.
"You just have to change the wheel if Beatrice punctures. I don't imagine we'll get more than two punctures, even in the worst case. We'll bring two pairs of spare wheels. Now, I'll just have to change the sprockets on the rear wheels. Is there anything you want to ask?"
"No," answered Anne. "I think I know what to do."
"Good. See you on Sunday morning, outside the shop. Shall we say... nine o'clock?"
"I'll be there."
"Be sure to bring warm clothes. It might get cold." Anne just nodded. "Arrividerci." The two women left the shop.
"Is he always like that?" asked Anne as they walked down the street.
"No," answered Beatrice. "He's usually much grumpier. I think he likes you."
"Well, I'm taken," whispered Anne before quickly kissing Beatrice goodbye.
"I think I'm in trouble," mumbled Beatrice as she ran her fingers over her lips.
Dino was just fixing the bikes on the roof rack as a small white Honda pulled in on the street. The car stopped and Anne stepped out. Beatrice remained seated in the front seat of Dino's car.
"Good morning," greeted Dino. "It looks to be a fine day."
"I'm not sure I agree," answered Anne as she watched the gloomy sky.
"So, how do you know this girl Anne?" asked Dino as they drove towards Drummondville with Anne following behind.
"I met her on the trail one day," answered Beatrice. "She rides a mountain bike."
"I see," muttered Dino. "That explains why she can fix flats. Does she race?"
"I don't know." confessed Beatrice. "I don't think so. She's very fit in any case..." Dino just nodded.
Dark clouds loomed overhead as they arrived at the race course. Beatrice went over to the registration office and paid the fee. She got her race numbers and a short description of the course. She then headed back to the cars.
A light drizzle was falling as Dino made a final check of Beatrice's bikes. He hummed as he worked and Anne wondered what the old man was so happy about.
"What's he smiling about?" muttered Anne to Beatrice as the brunette headed out on her inspection lap.
"Dino likes the rain," answered Beatrice. "He believes it makes the race more decisive."
The course proved to be both fast and challenging. The long start-finish straight was followed by a sandy run-up into the woods followed by a section of barriers. A long slippery downhill followed before hitting the back straight and the main pits. Another run-up followed up a long set of stairs and down a ramp before turning back up on the pavement for the long finishing straight. The best places to attack seemed to be at the barriers or just before the stairs. Beatrice's only concern now was how the course would hold up. The sandy parts seemed very soft.
Beatrice sat quiet as Dino rubbed liniment into her legs. He used a stronger oil this time which made her skin burn. She knew she would need the heat though. When he was done he patted her on the shoulder for good luck and put the leg warmers back on. Beatrice then headed for the start line and Dino headed for the pits.
Beatrice looked around at the assembled racers. As she turned around she saw a familiar pink rabbit. He raised a furry paw and waved. Beatrice just nodded. However, most racers seemed unfamiliar to her. Beatrice spotted Anne's black beret at the second pit further down the start line. Suddenly the blonde turned around and blew Beatrice a kiss. Beatrice just hoped no one else saw that particular good luck gesture.
Two minutes before the start Beatrice removed her warm-up jacket and tore off her leg warmers. She wore a long-sleeved undershirt and a wind-proof vest underneath her skin suit. Full-fingered gloves and a fleece head band underneath her helmet completed her outfit. Beatrice then clipped into her right pedal and waited.
The start was pure mayhem; everyone fought for positions as they charged down the long straight. Beatrice found herself caught up in traffic as the large bunch came to almost a grinding halt at the bottom of the sandy run-up. Beatrice made a clean dismount and sprinted up the hill.
Beatrice fought her way through the bunch before establishing contact with the lead group of about ten riders, which included the ubiquitous pink rabbit. She caught them alongside the main pits. The leaders increased the pace to establish a gap and Beatrice gasped for breath as she ran up the stairs.
Wet, sticky snow started to fall as the lead group completed the first lap. Beatrice almost fell as she slipped in the loose sand. She hung on with grim determination as the group jumped over the barriers and stormed down the slippery descent. The gap to the chasing bunch seemed to increase and no one except Beatrice had managed to bridge that gap.
The gap was 47 seconds as the leading eleven riders completed the second lap. Five laps remained. A thin layer of snow was beginning to form on the pavement. Beatrice was barely able to hang on the next time up the sandy slope. The mud and snow were starting to cause problems as her chain started skipping on the clogged-up sprockets. Beatrice pulled into the pit lane.
"The sand is killing me," gasped Beatrice as she changed bikes.
"Step into the footprints of the rider in front of you," answered Dino as he handed her a clean bike. "Go on. You're doing well."
The gap had grown to over a minute as the lead group completed lap three. The pace settled down somewhat as the three riders pulling hard at the front seemed to be satisfied with the present time margin. They urged the others to cooperate and Beatrice took her turn on the front as the group approached the sandy run-up.
Beatrice was thankful the pink rabbit had large feet as she followed in the bunny's footsteps. She had no troubles this time. 'If only he could take smaller steps things would be perfect,' thought Beatrice as she matched the long strides.
The first attack came just before the barriers as a rider in a blue and white jersey decided enough was enough and tried to get away. The rabbit had anticipated his attack and jumped after him in hot pursuit. Beatrice saw the move and got on the rabbit's wheel down the slippery descent.
The leading trio had formed a narrow lead as they completed lap four. Beatrice tried to keep the pace up as she powered down the finishing straight. The cold was biting her cheeks and she wondered if she would be able to beat the other two if it would come down to a sprint finish.
Half a lap later Beatrice decided to go for it. She attacked as the other two turned into the pit lane to change bikes and pedaled away, opting to change her bike a lap later. Beatrice charged up the stairs and down the ramp. She could hear the cheer from the crowd as she started lap six in a solo breakaway. She had two laps to go. Beatrice charged up the sandy run-up, never looking back to see where the chasers where.
She rode as fast as she dared down the slippery descent. A black, narrow rut had formed through the white snow. Dino was ecstatic as she changed bikes in the pits.
"Bene, molto bene! Allez!" Dino shouted.
Beatrice glanced back as she turned up on the finishing straight to complete lap six. She couldn't see anyone. A bell rang as she started her final lap.
The brakes screamed out in agony as Beatrice braked for the nasty s-bend at the bottom of the slippery descent. She was coming in too fast. Moments later she slammed into the ground as the front wheel lost traction. Beatrice landed on her left shoulder and hip as she slid down to a rest at the bottom of the hill.
Beatrice got up just in time to see a group of riders pass her. Beatrice picked up her bike and quickly straightened the handlebar stem before jumping back on her bike. The left pedal was filled with mud but the bike was still ridable.
Beatrice struggled on alone but to her surprise no one else passed her. She wondered where the main bunch was.
"Just go!" shouted Dino as he handed her her spare bike. Beatrice hopped on and charged up the stairs towards the finish. She gritted her teeth as she powered down the finishing straight to cross the finish line. She coasted into Anne's arms as the blonde welcomed her with a hug.
"You did very well," whispered Anne into Beatrice's ear.
"What do you mean?" asked Beatrice, shivering with cold. "I didn't even beat that darn pink rabbit."
"Yes you did," answered Anne with a smile. "I saw him stop after lap six and remove his race numbers. He abandoned. I guess his batteries ran out."
"Batteries?" mumbled Beatrice as she stumbled off her bike.
"Never mind," answered Anne. "Hit the showers. Your lips are blue."
Beatrice accepted her gym bag and walked away to the showers.
"The damned showers were out of hot water," muttered Beatrice as they met on the parking lot. "I barely got the mud off. How did it go, anyway?"
"Not bad, not bad," answered Dino. "12th place out of 15 finishers. Over half the bunch abandoned, due to the bad weather. I guess that's why the hot water ran out."
"Well, I could really use a hot bath and some rest," mumbled Beatrice in response.
"I have a big bathtub and a comfortable bed," stated Anne with a small smirk.
"That sounds like an offer you can't refuse," stated Dino as he finished fixing the bikes to the car roof. "Have a pleasant evening."
Beatrice dropped her gym bag in the hall and took off her shoes as she entered Anne's apartment. Anne gestured towards the sofa.
"Please have a seat." Beatrice slumped down on the couch and put her feet up. Her aching legs reminded her of the recent race. Beatrice looked around curiously as she lay on the sofa. There was a large shelf filled with books on the opposite wall and a computer standing in the corner. Beatrice could hear the sound of water running from somewhere else in the apartment.
"Your bath is ready," stated Anne from the bathroom. Beatrice got up from the sofa and walked across the hall and into the bathroom. A strawberry scent filled the room and Beatrice froze momentarily as she took in the sight of the huge inviting bathtub. "Enjoy," added Anne as she stepped out the room.
"What about you?" queried Beatrice as she began stripping off her clothes.
"I can't join you at this time," answered Anne with a quick smile. "I've got to make us some dinner. I'm starving." Beatrice just nodded as Anne left.
Beatrice heaved a long sigh as she submerged herself in the hot bubbly bath. She felt her aching muscles relax as she leaned her head back against the side of the tub. She felt her mind start drifting and she closed her eyes...
"Dinner is ready!" Beatrice's eyes shot open at the sound of Anne's voice and she realized she had fallen asleep in the tub. Anne was standing beside the tub holding out a robe.
"Thanks," mumbled Beatrice as she accepted the robe. She could feel Anne's eyes on her body as she stepped out of the bath and pretended not to take notice. She then realized she hadn't been looked at like that for a while as she wrapped herself in the robe and followed Anne out of the bathroom.
"You're spoiling me," stated Beatrice as Anne poured her another glass of wine.
"Not at all," answered Anne as she put the bottle down. "It's not every day I get a bike racer home for dinner."
"Well, I'm not used to being pampered," answered Beatrice and took a sip of wine.
"Really? What about getting a massage then?" asked Anne with a raised eyebrow.
"A massage would be great," mumbled Beatrice and felt her cheeks flush. The wine was starting to go to her head.
"One massage coming up," answered Anne with an evil smile. "More pasta?"
Beatrice just nodded. Even though she had eaten enough pasta to last three lifetimes she was more than happy to get a second serving. Anne was certainly a competent cook. The sauce had been a simple affair consisting of fresh cherry tomatoes, olive oil and some fresh herbs. Beatrice found it delicious.
"What's it really like riding as a pro?" queried Anne, as she traced a vein on Beatrice's sculpted calf with her index finger.
"What do you want to know?" replied Beatrice softly. She was laying on her stomach across Anne's large bed with a towel draped over her bottom. Anne was kneeling beside her and massaging her calves.
"Is all that talk about doping true?"
"No," answered Beatrice shaking her head. "The media have blown things out of proportion ever since the infamous 'Festina affair' a few years ago. After that everyone was accused of using illegal substances."
"How much of it is true?"
"I really don't know. It's a closed world in some sense. You mostly keep things to yourself. I've never used anything, but sometimes you get suspicious of others when you see how well they are doing."
"Well, when someone suddenly improves tremendously there is always a suspicion they might be taking something. Furthermore, if that rider happens to come from eastern Europe there are even more rumors even if the rider in question now lives in Italy."
"Let's talk about something else," stated Anne as she began massaging Beatrice's muscular thighs. "Does everyone have this particular tan?"
"With the tan lines across upper arms and thighs the you mean?" remarked Beatrice with a chuckle. "The answer is yes. It comes with the territory if you spend your summer in the saddle. Besides, there is a rule which states that the shoulders must be covered."
"What happens if you break the rules?"
"You usually get fined. If you break a rule a second time you might be excluded from the race."
"I see," answered Anne as she moved up to massage Beatrice's back. "Have you crashed a lot? asked Anne as she examined the bruises on Beatrice's left shoulder.
"It's inevitable if you want to be part of that final sprint," answered Beatrice bluntly. "You learn to fall softly. The trouble is that you may have some trouble sleeping if you get a lot of abrasions. There is also the risk of breaking your collarbone."
"Have you broken it many times?" asked Anne as she massaged Beatrice's shoulders.
"No, I've been fortunate. Usually, it just snaps."
"Turn over." Anne caught a brief glimpse of Beatrice's body as the brunette turned over on her back. Anne quickly covered Beatrice up with the towel.
"I don't mind if you look," mumbled Beatrice as she raised her head.
"The towel is for my modesty," answered Anne as she resumed massaging.
"Come here," mumbled Beatrice as Anne finished the massage. The blonde closed the short distance between them and climbed into bed before Beatrice wrapped her arms around Anne's neck and before placing a hungry kiss on the blonde's lips. Beatrice felt Anne's lips part to deepen the kiss.
"I've never done this before," gasped Beatrice as they broke the kiss.
"Done what?" asked Anne as she threw off her shirt.
"Kissed a masseuse," answered Beatrice before kissing Anne on both cheeks and starting to trace the blonde's jaw and neck with a trail of butterfly kisses. Meanwhile she felt Anne's hands roam all over her back, gripping her buttocks.
Beatrice paused momentarily to remove Anne's bra before kissing the bare shoulder and licking the collarbone all the way from shoulder to neck with the tip of her tongue. Anne let out a soft moan and ran her fingers through Beatrice's hair.
Straddling the blonde's legs Beatrice began exploring Anne's luscious breasts with her fingertips, lips and tongue. A tiny whimper was heard as Beatrice took a rosy nipple between her teeth and bit gently.
Turning her attention further down Beatrice kissed her way down the pale skin of Anne's flat stomach, pausing to leisurely explore her belly button. A pair of hands gripping her shoulders caused Beatrice to stop her ministrations.
"Please, let me..." begged the blonde in a husky voice.
"No," whispered Beatrice, wrapping her fingers around Anne's. "You first." Anne simply nodded in response and raised her hips as Beatrice slipped off her panties.
Beatrice repositioned herself between Anne's parted legs and could not help admiring the beauty beneath her as tiny droplets of arousal coated the silky folds. Beatrice inhaled sharply before diving in and savoring the taste of the beauty before her.
Beatrice placed another kiss on Anne's trembling lips before slipping two fingers inside. The blonde raised her hips to match the rhythm, and soon Beatrice felt Anne grip her fingers tightly as she screamed.
Beatrice held Anne close as the aftershocks washed through the blonde's body. When Anne had caught her breath enough to speak she turned towards Beatrice.
"Now it's my turn!"
Beatrice woke up to unfamiliar surroundings. A warm body was pressed against hers and she felt Anne stir slightly. Moments later the piercing sound of an alarm clock demanded attention. Beatrice turned towards Anne as the blonde opened her eyes.
"Good morning," whispered the brunette softly.
"Tell that to the alarm clock," mumbled Anne as she got out of bed to terminate the annoying beeping. "Care to join me for breakfast?"
"Sure," answered Beatrice as she reluctantly left the warm bed. "I'd like a quick shower first to wake up."
"IIHHH!" was heard from the bathroom.
"I should remind you it takes a while for the warm water to arrive," added Anne with a giggle.
"Thanks," muttered Beatrice in reply.
"Breakfast is ready."
"These cereals were really nice," commented Beatrice between spoonfuls. "Where did you get them?"
"I don't recall," answered Anne. "I guess I bought them because I like them."
"You have good taste." Beatrice watched as Anne got up from the table. The blonde looked somewhat different now, with her hair up and dressed in her work clothes.
"I've got to get to work," Anne stated as she put away her plate. "You are more than welcome to stay."
"But I don't want to impose..." Beatrice began.
"It's no trouble," Anne interrupted. "Do you think I would kick you out after having you in my bed?" Beatrice just shook her head.
"No," she managed to add.
"I'll leave you a key in the hall," stated Anne was she left. "See you later."
"Bye," answered Beatrice as the blonde left.
Beatrice spent the morning cleaning her muddy race clothing before returning to her studio apartment to pick up some clothing and other paraphernalia. The sight of her racing bike leaning against the wall reminded her to pay a visit to Dino.
Dino was in the process of demonstrating different saddles to a customer as Beatrice walked in. She saw Dino lift his head slightly to acknowledge her presence. Beatrice browsed the store silently until the customer had made his decision.
"Some people take forever to decide," muttered Dino as the customer had left. "How is everything?"
"I'm fine," answered Beatrice. "Are the bikes okay?"
"They are both fine. I just needed to clean them thoroughly. There was no real crash damage, just a few scratches. They will be ready for the next race. What about you?"
"Did you have a nice evening with Anne?"
"Yes. Very nice."
"You and Anne are friends, yes?"
"We are more than friends," answered Beatrice and felt she was starting to blush.
"I suspected that," answered Dino with a slight smile. "Take my advice, follow your heart. Don't make the same mistake I did."
"The next race is in two weeks, in Mont Royal in Montreal. It will be an important one. The best will be there."
"I'll be ready."
"Good. Now off you go!"
Beatrice stopped at a store to buy some food on her way back to Anne's apartment. She wasn't the world's greatest cook but she had gathered enough experience from living on her own.
"You made dinner?" asked Anne with a raised eyebrow as she stepped through the door.
"Yes," answered Beatrice from the kitchen. "I hope you like fish."
"I do," answered Anne. "It smells delicious."
"How was your day?" asked Beatrice as they were sitting at the table.
"Challenging," answered Anne with a sigh. "Things didn't work and no one seemed to know why. It was... interesting. How about you?"
"Not much to tell. I washed some clothes and payed a visit to Dino. The next race is in two weeks, in Mont Royal. It's an important one."
"I see," answered Anne with a nod. "I want you to be ready for it."
"Oh, I will be," answered Beatrice in a determined voice. "But that doesn't mean I wouldn't mind a little company. My life gets so boring otherwise. Just ride, eat and sleep."
"You've managed to pick up some cooking skills though," added Anne with a smirk. "I liked this."
"Thanks," mumbled Beatrice. "Would you mind if I brought my racing bike here?"
"Not at all, as long as you use it and don't turn this place into a version of Seinfeld."
"A comedian. Don't you watch television?"
"Not very much. I told you my life was boring." Anne just smiled.
Beatrice went for a short run the following day to explore her surroundings. She found a short steep hill where she did a few intervals sprinting up and down it. Running was easier without having a bike to carry but she was still a bit unused to it. After ten intervals her legs were screaming in protest and she headed home.
"Would you like to go trail riding with me tomorrow morning?" asked Beatrice at the dinner table that evening.
"Very much," answered Anne. "Just let me e-mail my boss to check if it's okay. It should be since we finally solved the problems we were having."
"Please do. I'll clear the table."
Anne went off to the computer as Beatrice began clearing the table. A short while later a triumphant cry was heard from the living room.
"YES! We're clear. Now let's hope it doesn't rain."
"It looks to be a fine day tomorrow," answered Beatrice. "Clear and cold."
"I had a nice time today," stated Beatrice as they were soaking in the big bathtub."
"So, did I," answered Anne as she was rubbing the brunette's shoulders. "It was great. Crisp, cool air, great scenery and nice company."
"I don't mind this part either," purred Beatrice as she leaned back into the blonde's arms.
"Is that so?" queried Anne as she gently rolled Beatrice's nipple between her fingers. "Let's see about that shall we?"
Beatrice went on a long road ride the next morning. It took a bit of extra time getting out of the city as she was starting from a different location than she was used to. She soon found herself in familiar territory as she headed out on her four hour training route.
Beatrice had to smile slightly on her way home as she passed the spot where her chain had snapped and somehow brought both Dino and Anne into her life. The thought kept her smiling through the pain which kept reminding her she should be getting home.
"Wait a minute!" screamed Anne as Beatrice powered away from her on the steep climb. "I can't keep up with you!" Beatrice slowed down upon hearing the blonde's plea and stopped at the crest.
"I didn't mean to make you suffer," excused Beatrice. "It's just that I feel so strong. My legs feel great!"
"I realize that," huffed Anne. "You're like an animal. You are definitely on form for the race on Sunday."
"Seems like it," answered Beatrice with a smile. "Fruit bar?"
"Yes please," answered Anne and accepted the proffered food.
The race was three days away and the two women were heading back home after their Wednesday morning ride. Beatrice rode up along side Anne and placed a hand on the blonde's lower back.
"Just keep pedaling," instructed Beatrice. I'm just sitting here for company and wind protection. Don't worry if we bump shoulders occasionally. Just keep your eyes down the road." Anne nodded and visibly relaxed. The two women continued on their way home.
Beatrice and Anne had rendezvoused with Dino in this shop that Friday evening before the race. Dino had restored both cyclocross bikes to top condition and finished off with little touches like putting on fresh handlebar tape. Dino had asked Beatrice to come in order to discuss final preparations.
"I'm unsure of our tire choices for this weekend," Dino began.
"Why?" queried Beatrice.
"Well, the race course goes up the Camillien Houde path before turning off into the trees and heading down. I believe the race will be very fast, but also very demanding. The only flat part will be the start/finishing straight."
"If that is the case, I'd like semi-slick tires with a file thread," answered Beatrice after a moment's thought.
"I concur," answered Dino. "But the weather will also be a factor." He added his last comment with a slight grin.
"I've learned that," answered Beatrice dryly. "Was there anything else?"
"Yes," nodded Dino. "I have a request..."
"I'd like you to wear my old racing jersey, underneath your skin suit... For good luck." Beatrice nodded.
"Sure. Will it fit me?"
"I think so," answered Dino with a smile. "I was a bit slimmer back then." Dino disappeared into his workshop and returned with a long-sleeved Burgundy red and white wool jersey on a hanger. He handed it to Beatrice. Beatrice removed her jacket and pulled the jersey over her head. It was a remarkably good fit.
"What do you know," remarked Dino with a chuckle. "See you both on Sunday."
Sunday dawned with clear skies as they made their way to Mont Royal. The weather was clear but also cold. Dino drove his old Alfa Romeo as usual with Beatrice beside him and the back seat crammed with tools and wheels. Anne was following behind in her white Honda.
Upon arrival, Beatrice immediately made her way to the registration office to pay the entry fee and receive her race numbers. Beatrice was slightly surprised to see a separate start for the Elite women. That meant there were enough racers registered to justify one. This, in turn, meant stiffer competition. She then returned to the others. Anne attached her race numbers while Dino prepared her race bikes. Beatrice then jumped into the saddle of her spare bike and rode out on her inspection lap.
Dino had been correct concerning the course. It was brutal. The paved start-finishing straight was followed by a steep paved climb towards the top of the mountain. The course then turned off the road and into the trees. This was followed by a fast downhill section on a narrow gravel path. A section of barriers followed before hitting a grassy section. The grassy slope was followed by another double section of barriers followed by the main pits. A steep run-up into the trees followed before hitting a third section of barriers followed by a another fast downhill section. Another grassy area followed before finally hitting the pavement again and returning to the start-finishing straight.
Beatrice rode the course at high speed while trying to memorize its features. An obvious place to attack would be on the paved climb and then storm down the scary downhill. The downside was that this move would be easy to anticipate. She need another trick up her sleeve.
Beatrice returned to the parking lot as Dino was readying his tools to head for the main pits. There was just a single large pit this time but Dino was pleased to note that it was equipped with pressure washers, making bike cleaning a lot quicker. Dino picked up the a bottle of liniment and a wash cloth as Anne stopped him.
"I can do that. You can set up the pit." Dino nodded.
"As you wish." He took Beatrice's spare bike and gave her a pat on the shoulder for good luck.
Beatrice inhaled sharply as she felt her skin burn as Anne rubbed in the liniment into her legs. A sharp clang of metal against pavement caused both women to look up.
"It's her!" exclaimed Dino. Beatrice followed his gaze and her eyes fell upon a woman making her way towards the start. The woman's head was covered with a scarf but Beatrice caught a brief glimpse of her face. She seemed about Dino's age and that was when the revelation stuck Beatrice. She knew who the woman was. Dino picked up his dropped tools and hurried after the woman.
"Who was that?" muttered Anne as she put Beatrice's leg warmers back on.
"I think she is someone Dino met 20 years ago," stated Beatrice.
"I see," answered Anne with a smirk. "Good luck." Anne placed a chaste kiss on Beatrice's cheek before picking up a spare pair of wheels and running after Dino. Beatrice sat alone for a minute and gathered her thoughts before hopping on her bike and heading towards the start line.
Beatrice watched the racers assembled at the start line. She recognized the strawberry blonde in the red and black skin suit from the race in Bromont. Two other jerseys caught her attention. One carried a red maple leaf and the other the stars and stripes. The reining champions of Canada and the US were there to ensure fierce competition. However the annoying pink rabbit was nowhere to be seen.
Beatrice removed her warm-up jacket with two minutes remaining. She then picked her favorite starting gear, clipped in her right foot and waited.
The entire field exploded at the sound of the starting signal as if shot from a cannon. Beatrice fought her way to the front and gritted her teeth as the Canadian champion forced the pace up the steep climb. The US champion was shoulder to shoulder. Beatrice and the strawberry blonde followed immediately behind.
The strung out field turned off the road and dropped into the woods, still headed by the Canadian champion. Beatrice tucked in behind and flung herself off the bike as they hit the barriers. She jumped the barriers without losing speed and quickly re-mounted her bike in perfect sync with the two leaders.
A small lead group of seven formed after the field had forced the second set of barriers. The group consisted of Beatrice, the two national champions, the strawberry blonde, a rider in a yellow and black skin suit and finally two riders in black-grey jerseys.
The group stormed by the pits at full speed and charged up the steep run-up. The chasing group still had eye contact with them so they pushed on. Beatrice assisted the two leaders in developing a gap.
Their lead was still marginal as they completed lap one. Beatrice pushed a bigger gear as she kept the pace up down the straight and up the steep hill. She was determined to open up a bigger time gap.
Beatrice headed the small group as they negotiated the narrow downhill at terrifying speed. Beatrice glanced backwards as they jumped the barriers. She saw no one.
One of the black-clad racers called "Time" as they passed the pits. "12 seconds," came the reply. Everyone seemed to agree that wasn't enough so the pace was kept high.
The gap was 20 seconds as they completed lap 2. Beatrice and the others kept forcing the pace and one of the black-clad racers seemed to begin to crack as they once again rode up the steep hill.
The ever present mud on the grassy sections mixed in with some wet leaves gave Beatrice and the others good reason to change bikes as they passed the pits. Clogged up pedals and sprockets were becoming a problem. Dino handed her the spare bike with a nod as he caught the dirty one.
The gap had grown to 31 seconds as they completed lap three. A sign informed them they had four laps to go. The time gap was still a bit to small for comfort so Beatrice pressed on, aided by the two champions.
The black-clad racer finally cracked on the steep hill. The lead group now consisted of six riders, all from different teams. The small time margin still forced them to cooperate though.
Beatrice was yet again the one leading the group down the scary downhill. The others were following just behind her so Beatrice concluded that this was not a good place to attack.
The gap was 46 seconds to the main bunch and 20 to the lone chaser as the group of six completed lap four. Beatrice could hear the US champion mumble something to her Canadian counterpart as she finished her turn at the front. Beatrice couldn't make out the words but she was determined not to let the two of them run away with it.
Beatrice's hunch was correct as the US champion attacked on the steep hill. Beatrice looked over her shoulder to call their bluff. The strawberry blonde stomped on her pedals to close the gap. They caught up with the fleeing champion on the downhill.
Beatrice decided to wait until the next lap to change her bike but a colorful curse behind her told her someone was having a problem. Beatrice glanced backward to see the yellow and black rider pull into the pits.
The gap was still 45 seconds as the lead group started the penultimate lap. Beatrice spat out a curse as the Canadian champion refused to take her turn at the front. Beatrice had to think of something unless she wanted to pull these other four along for a sprint finish. She already knew the strawberry blonde was a good sprinter and she didn't want to find out about the two champions. The black-clad one was, well, a dark horse.
The expected attack from the Canadian champion didn't come. Everyone was watching everyone else this time up the climb. The group carried their speed over the barriers and towards the pit.
The group lapped a couple of riders as Beatrice changed her bike in the pits. One rider slipped on the run-up and Beatrice saw her chance. She stayed on her bike and powered up the small hill. She managed to inch her way past and pass over the crest in first place. She sprinted away and approached the third set of barriers at high speed. She made a clean dismount and stormed over the barriers before attacking the downhill with reckless abandon.
The voice of the speaker and the cheer of the crowd was ringing in her ears as the bell signaled her final lap. Beatrice got her head down as she powered down the straight, fighting the wind. She gasped for breath as she struggled up the brutal climb for the last time. Her legs was burning from the strain and her face was a mask of pain. Beatrice inhaled deeply as she changed into the highest gear to begin the descent.
Her feet felt like lead as she jumped over the barriers. She glanced over her shoulder to see a rider appear out of the woods at high speed. She had to press on. She plowed her way through the muddy grass and forced herself over the double barriers before passing the pits for the final time. Dino screamed something in encouragement before running off towards the finish. The last run-up went on nothing but pure will power as Beatrice re-mounted her bike and pedaled on.
The last barriers felt at least twice as high as Beatrice jumped over them and re-mounted her bike for the final section before the finish.
Beatrice raised her arms in triumph as she crossed the finish line as the victor. A huge crowd of photographers and journalists gathered around her to get a few words and pictures of the winner. Beatrice just wanted to see a familiar face and something to drink.
A gruff voice caused the crowds to part and Anne arrived accompanied by Dino. Beatrice nearly collapsed in the blonde's arms as Anne hugged her fiercely.
Beatrice took time to answer the journalist's questions after she had some time to clean herself up a bit. Most questions were what she thought of the race and so on. The prize ceremony was shortly afterwards. The strawberry blonde came second after beating the Canadian champion in the sprint. The US champion was fourth followed by the black-clad rider in fifth.
Beatrice got a smile and a hug from the strawberry blonde while the Champion only managed a polite hand shake. Apparently she didn't like to lose. The prizes consisted of trophies plus a small monetary sum.
"May I have a word with you?" asked a male voice as Beatrice was heading towards the showers. Beatrice nodded.
"My name is Michael van Tijs and I'm wondering if you would consider racing in North America next season."
"I might," answered Beatrice. "Why?"
"I am looking for a cyclocross rider to fill a spot on a new pro team I'm managing for next season. I have seen your performances and I understand you are on the market."
"How can you know about my performance after just one race?" asked Beatrice skeptically.
"Well," answered the man cryptically, "I've actually seen you in more than one race."
"I've participated in several races wearing a somewhat conspicuous costume."
"You're the pink rabbit?"
"I am. I believe I can better assess potential employees by racing against them. The disguise ensures my anonymity."
"And that people are as good as they say."
"Precisely. Are you interested?"
"Excellent. Here is my card." Beatrice took the proffered business card and the man left.
"Did Dino catch that woman?" asked Beatrice as she met Anne outside the change rooms.
"Yes," answered Anne with a smile. "It seems you were correct. They do seem to know each other. Dino was very tight-lipped about it but I think they will see each other again."
"I'll ask him on the way home," stated Beatrice. "Let's go."
"Who was she?" asked Beatrice as they were driving back home.
"Who?" retorted Dino.
"The woman. The one you saw in the parking lot."
"Have I told you about the reason I ended up in Quebec?" asked Dino after a moment's silence.
"You have, answered Beatrice. "The girl you saw, it was her, wasn't it?"
"Yes," answered Dino, his voice thick with emotion. "I never thought I'd see her again..." Beatrice saw a single tear trickle down Dino's cheek.
"But you did," added Beatrice. "What are you going to do now?"
"I will see her again. I can't believe it. She's been living alone all these years. She never married."
"Just like you," added Beatrice. "Does she have a name?"
"Yes," answered Dino, clearing his throat. "Her name is Madeleine." Beatrice just smiled and looked out the window.
"I'm happy for you," she finally added.
"I've something to tell you," stated Beatrice as Anne massaged her aching muscles that evening.
"Please do," answered the blonde, stopping momentarily.
"I've been offered a spot on a new team for next season." The expression on Anne's face shifted suddenly. She had feared this would happen. Beatrice would return to Europe, leaving her behind.
"I see," answered Anne as she had collected herself. "When do you have to leave?"
"That's just it," answered Beatrice. "I don't have to leave. I will race here next season." Anne's face lit up with a smile.
"No, I'm serious. Do you think I should take it?"
"Then I will. You understand that I will be gone for long periods of time. I wondered if you could accept that."
"I can and I will. After all, Dino waited 20 years."
"I won't be gone that long. A few months at most. Besides, the contract is for two years. You won't believe who offered it to me."
"The pink rabbit."
"The pink rabbit?"
"I told you you wouldn't believe me."
"You will stay here when you're not racing?"
"Yes, I want to spend my free time with you." Anne answered by pulling her into a warm embrace.
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