The man below is Nicholas Stephenson aka Nikolai (a good name for a Russian hitman) aka The Assassin. Nick earned his alias through his various exploits in darkened bars and seedy joints around London town and the European Continent. He took his trade and learnt to dish it out on his bicycle to various opponents and unsuspecting roadies in Spain, the Pyrenees and the Alps. And I know this because it relates to events to which I was privy.
The picture below is important. This was the penultimate day of the Raid des Alps and Nick had just buried himself pulling up a bunch of bandit riders up hills, mountain, ridges, and through valley roads, headwinds, dehydration and perilous adventure. Several 100k's worth too. Most of this was done solo. At no stage did he ask for help or bonk himself into oblivion. The scary thing is that he called it his "hardest day ever", and yet looked like he always does. Calculating, conniving and calm.
The thing about Nick is that you always learn something new about yourself. And if you hang in long enough you'll see glimpses of the real Nick buried somewhere behind the tempered steel of his stare. Life Lessons from the Assassin aka the Sun Tzu of Cycling:
1. No matter how bad it gets, breathe easy.
2. Relax the fingers and shoulders and work through it.
3. If someone attacks you on the bike, let them go. To chase is to acknowledge your enemy's strength. Let them hang up the road with the wind and their doubts.
4. Get on top of your gears (this only made sense to me after riding for 1000k's on his back wheel).
5. Defeat is not an option.
6. When the gauntlet is thrown down and you commit, crush everything.
7. The white stars around your eyes let you know that you are pushing hard enough.
8. Be on time.
The picture below was taken at just under 3000 sea-level metres somewhere off the top of the Col de L'Iseran. Nick took the self portrait before instructing his domestiques in his mercenary fashion to sing Richard "Happy Birthday". Without oxygen and saliva, the Happy Birthday song includings all the hippipps is actually rather lengthy.
One would think the Assassin's body is treated like a philospher's temple but I am happy to acknowledge that he partakes, unlike the Colombian, in the finer things life has to offer. Aside from the nightly glass of vin rouge or afternoon pint, I was pleased that we were able to toast to my ancestors with several "espressos corretto con grappa." Nothing like moonshine to recharge the batteries.
And like many mercenary types who have gone before him, I found that behind his killer misdemeanour lies a gentle side with a fondness for domesticated animals. If you look closely at the tree below, you'll see Nick having a chat with a beagle.
Nick and his bar dog friend are below. The dog scared the daylights out of everyone in the Italian pension with his beady husky eyes and sharpened canines. That is everyone but The Assassin.
Nick and Cujo share a joke after Nick swam in a 12 degree lake to get his blood warm. They compared notches on their belts and traded secrets of how to kill a man without having to go via the jugular.
The Assassin fears no-one. And he wears fighter pilot mirror glasses. Need I say more.
Rollin', rollin', rollin',