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March 4, 2006

Hot and overcast. I take my gear out of the car and put my bike together. Tourists and locals are watching from sidewalk cafes. Non-racers. The emptiness of those lives shocks me.

Tim Krabbe, "The Rider"

I should have worn my booties this morning. They're uncomfortable and my teammates complain about how they squeak against my cranks, so I leave them behind when it's above 30, but by the end of today's ride my feet had lost all sensation. My toes were no more than rumors. I pedaled by faith, trusting that my feet were in fact down there and still connected to their pedals.

It's supposed to snow tomorrow.

On the bright side, Tim brought $35 of Yojimbo's gift certificates, my prizes for placing at the two Tour da Chicago stages I did. My first purse! Like the fisherman who buys a $10,000 boat to catch $20 worth of walleye, I've now recouped about 1 percent of my cycling investment. Obviously only one course of action can follow: race 99 more times this year.

It may sound like I've spent an outrageous amount of money on cyclng. That's because I have. Bikes. Wheels. Maintenance. Entry fees. Travel. Food. Coaching. Uniforms. Tylenol. But just as long is the list of things I don't spend money on. Cable. Car expenses. Fashionable clothes. Children. Pets. Decent coffee. Name-brand groceries. Interior decorating. Furniture. Dames. It all nets out, and in fact the non-racer's lifestyle may be more expensive to maintain than the racer's. Life is cheap when you haven't one.

This week I saw a colleague with a bottle of Gatorade Rain, whatever that is. "I don't know," he said. "They all taste the same to me."

The bottle caught my eye because I thought the label said "Pain" and it got me thinking about how fantastic that would be. Liquid pain. Lemon-lime liquid pain. It would be a great time saver for cyclists. Instead of riding for hours to achieve the exhaustion and muscle depletion we need to become stronger, we could just drink a glass of pain and go watch TV like normal people.

Until potable lactic acid becomes a reality, I'll have to settle for the real thing. Tuesday I leave for San Luis Obispo, Calif., where my team holds its annual winter training camp. Over six days we'll ride more than 350 miles and climb untold thousands of feet. It's liable to be the hardest riding I've ever done. But it will be warm, and it will be great.

The Sunday after I get back will be the first sanctioned race of the year, a criterium in Kenosha. Some are reluctant to race this early -- "It's too cold!" "The riders'll be squirrelly!" "I'm in base!" -- but my engines are revvin' too hot to pass up a race. Besides, we're racers. This is what we do. Let's ride.

And then, only 98 to go.