There is a saying, “Even a bad day on the bike is still better than any day in the office”. And, oh God, a bad day in the office makes me long for the road.

Turning the pedals smooths out the frustrations of the day. Hours trapped behind a desk and computer screen, a dull pain behind the eyes, all worked out by a spin on the bike. Ahh, fresh air! Freedom! The joy of two wheels.

But a claustrophobic day behind that desk, a pointless job, a mediocre career, an uncomfortable ride on the tube elbow to elbow with irritable commuters… anger is different; anger is potent. As life contracts into a tangle of obligations and responsibilities, dashed hopes and disappointments, cycling becomes a defiant act. A two fingered salute. I am my own boss on the road, my own man, I can grit my teeth and turn over that gear; harder, faster, more painful. No longer an employee, I’m a cyclist.

In the saddle something switches, I leave a side of myself behind. How many of us do things we wouldn’t dream of when off the bike? Altercations with motorists who want to drive us off the road – the rush of blood, the gestures and swearing. The other me wouldn’t say ‘boo’ to a goose. In life I’m not a winner, not even a contender, I step aside. But in the heat of a race there is a different voice pushing me on: “you can beat them”.

Do we push ourselves out of spite? “Shut up legs” as Jens Voigt might say. What drives us to push our bodies beyond comfort? To despise its weaknesses, to pummel it again and again? Where does that determination stem from, what feeds it? Is it rivalry – do we really want to beat the competition so badly? Or is it something else, something darker within us?

Eddy Mercx was a modest middle class boy from the suburbs in Belgium; he came to be known as ‘The Cannibal’. He crushed his opponents, he had no mercy. Was he a champion because he simply wanted to be the best he could be, to achieve his limits, to carve his legend into history? Where did that aggression and fire come from? Positive thinking and an optimistic outlook can only take you so far. At his core was something else, something harder, a clenched fist. After all, nice guys finish last.

Mercx photo spotted on the Big Ring Riding blog.