There are fifth places.
There are fifth places in time trials, where you can’t use your race craft, where you can’t sit on the pack round the corners that you’re still struggling with.
There are fifth places in time trials, where you get caught by your chasing rider within lap one, but you hold her in lap two and you might not be making inroads, but you’ve got everything that she does, and you’re showing her that she’s not going to break you, not today.
There are fifth places in road races, where you’re up with the race past halfway, and everyone, even Carol, is having to gun it to keep up the pace, and then all of a sudden there it goes and poof! – you’re out the back.
There are fifth places. The same damn places you finished last season, behind the same damn people, when the one thing that isn’t the same is the winter training block you’ve got behind you, which you know for sure is a damn sight better than the one you took into last year.
There are fifth places in perfect races, where you’ve done everything exactly how you planned it, and it hasn’t made a wink of difference.
And there are fifth places, in perfect races. In perfect races, where your power output is right on the money, where you’ve got yourself into the right riding position, and you’re improving on your aero bars, and you’ve got a team behind you who aren’t planning to stop there.
There are fifth places in races where some things just suck. In twisty turny races which could hardly be better designed to accentuate the things that – and we’re not looking for sympathy here, these are the stones on the path that we chose – your body just can’t do as well as the rest.
There are fifth places which are actually fourth places and which would have been third places if you hadn’t lost a breath of focus at a corner near the end and let that bloody German past you again; and sure, she’s got better since last summer, when that all went down, but you have too. You know you have.
There are fifth places which are great, because four years ago you weren’t even doing sport and then there you were, in Rio, in your Team GB kit, living what might have been a dream if it had ever even crossed your mind that you might be capable of it.
And there are fifth places when you’ve come to realise that you’re not dreaming any more, that you’re not quite doing what you love, because although you love what you’re doing, you reckon – and maybe you hadn’t thought this way before – that there’s one thing you might love even more than just doing it. And that’s winning.
There are fifth places. There are fifth places in the past, and maybe there are fifth places in the future.
There are fifth places that take you nowhere, and there are fifth places that are stepping stones on the way to the stars.
There are fifth places.