[dc]F[/dc]rom the latin “tempus” meaning time, tempo has come to represent a large number of definitions across different parts of life. Typically read on a page of music notes, determining how fast or slow a piece should be played, it takes on new meaning when applied to cycling. We've all heard the ubiquitous phrase of “setting the tempo”, usually at the front of a peloton (note that said phrase is often augmented by specific adjectives denoting suffering, like “infernal” or “blistering”. And more often than not, someone of the Jens or Fabian stature is the said disher out of epic pain, simply adding to the mystique of the setting of that tempo. But I digress…) We've come to realize pace, speed and tempo are almost interchangeably linked, much like the internal tempos we become acutely aware of the deeper we delve into the cave of pain, either of our own volition or that of those sitting in front of us.
Getting back to tempus, we could articulate many different bodily machinations as fitting it's definition. The pounding of our heart as we grind our way up our favorite climb is a perfect example of the rhythmic undertones of tempus. Our breathing falls into this category too, as inexorable as the march of the second hand on your wrist watch. But in cycling, as in the face of a clock, we think of tempo as the metronomic revolutions of our legs upon the pedals, incessantly ticking away a beat to accompany the rhythm section playing throughout our bodies.
It's inevitably true that our legs, lungs and heart find a complimentary rhythm as we ride. And when you stop and think about it, setting tempo, in our body and on the bike is more a metaphor than anything else. It's a metaphor for the speed we ride at, and in the larger sense, the speed of life. We can choose our tempo in life as we do in the saddle. Sometimes we have to chew the proverbial bartape in order to sustain the tempo set for us, whether by a sadistic rouleur sitting first wheel or by the director sportif that is our life in general.
Once in a while chewing the bartape causes us to rethink our position. In life and in the peloton, when we're on the rivet, redlined, burning ourselves up, it makes us realize how difficult life has become. Occasionally, that realization causes us to readjust our priorities. We slide off the rivet and let the break go. We step back from our complex life and shelve the unimportant tasks. We focus only on what is critical at that moment, and give pause to the infernal tempo that we've been subjected to.
Reloading in this way is a welcomed respite. Sometimes it takes an impossible ride, a festival of pain and bartape sandwiches, for us to realize this. Sometimes, only the bike can force the realization that our own tempo is unsustainable. When we finally realize that, we can set a more appropriate tempo, no matter where we are in life or who we're riding with.