A professional cycling race shares some features found in a good short story. The beginning of the story appears calm and laid-back. The main characters, present on the starting line, hang casually over their bikes and chitchat with each other before they start rolling, with friendly smiles and nods of recognition to the spectators. Not much drama to speak of, in other words.
However, you do not have to read many pages before the first events take place. Some young riders, up and coming, wish to present themselves, make some chaos, aggravate the most experienced in the peloton. The challengers dart off and the breakaway is reported on the race radio, broadcasted on TV and announced by the speaker in the finish area. Most attempts fail, but perhaps there is one wannabe protagonist who hangs in there long enough embrace the dream of liberation and detachment. Which again just adds to the paranoia created by a chasing pack.
© S. Boué/ARN
The race is on, and after a series of breakaways and countermoves by the peloton this short story now has drive. Descriptions of landscapes and portraits of characters must give room for answering questions like: What's going on? Who is winning?
A turning point is passed when riders, teams, the crowd and commentators realise that the ending of this story is about to be revealed. Suddenly everyone is in a hurry in order to get into position. Within the pack, all teams wish to form their trains or seek to be to the locomotive. In the finish area, photographers frantically search for the best angle for their camera, while some families among the spectators are compelled to visit the toilet one last time before the riders arrive. People run between TV screens in the cafés and the street, fearing to ignore the latest development or worse: to miss out when the professional riders blast past at arm's length. See and be seen. Film and be filmed. A positive chaos reigns and the sound of people's cheers mix with the pounding on advertising banners and the screaming of odd car sirens.
With this nerve-wracking build-up, you cannot quite predict the ending. The finish may be painful, although most people hope for an epiphany and a moment of euphoria. I for my part enjoy an ending of the short story – or the cycle race – that has the element of surprise.py