#BookExcerpt from #WheelerNovel, 14 September, ITT Chrono Champenois-Trophée


14 September

Chrono Champenois-Trophée
Européen, Betheny, France
Individual Time Trial, 33.40 km

The course was a perfect primer for Richmond’s time trial, with punchy climbs and false flats to push through. Ashley was cooling down from her tenth place finish while Loren was beginning her warm up and they discussed the layout of the route. Cece and Holly were having too much fun running interference against the reporters and photographers stalking the concourse.

When it was her turn, a race steward arrived to escort her to the start house. Loren kept her head down, ignoring the voices calling her name or shouting questions. After the stewards inspected her bike, James was in her ear with instructions.

“The roll out is 150 meters then a quick right turn, just like Richmond. Don’t push until you make that right turn. Little increases.”

Her time trial bike was returned and Loren settled into position on the start ramp. She focused on the tarmac in front of her wheel, clearing her mind of all emotion.

Thirty seconds.

“Get angry!” Cece yelled to her from behind the barriers.

Fifteen seconds.

She closed her eyes, expanding her lungs as much as her still healing ribs would allow and a chill ran across her skin. Her most recent nightmare bubbled to the surface. She could feel  the arm around her throat, trying to pull her down. Felix’s voice melded with that of her father.

You think you have a choice? You’re mine, little girl.

She curled her lip. I am the storm, and you cannot withstand me. The steward’s hand appeared in her vision.

“Cinq. Quatre. Trios. Deux. Un. Allez!”

Loren surged down the ramp to the brief straightaway, feathering the brakes before going into the turn. Coming out of the corner, she jumped out of the saddle, pushing hard into the pedals. The route poured into rolling farm country and she settled into her pace. James was soon marking the first time split.

“Add a little more effort. You’re off by forty-five.” Her legs and lungs cooperated and gave a little more to turn the pedals over faster. She stayed focused and relaxed, the time trial bike responding like an extension of herself, slipping through the wind. The second split came eleven kilometers later.

“You’ve cut into it but not enough,” James said. “Ten kilometers left. You’ve got more to give.”

Loren jerked her head at his comment. Does he know? She tucked back down. No. Only Felix knew what that meant to me, but maybe he’s right. She responded by shifting into a heavier gear and tried to think about good memories, like winning her first road race or how she felt when riding her horse. That’s nice, but it’s not enough. She cleared her thoughts and concentrated on the road.

“Eight kilometers left. Now’s the time. No more holding back.”

His command needled her. I don’t want to remember. It’s too much. There’s no buffer now. She dropped her head for a second. But I need it. I have to let it in. Loren exhaled and the painful memories flowed into her mind; the abuse she suffered at the hands of those who were supposed to care for her, Felix’s arm around her throat, his voice snarling in her ear.

You are mine, and he’ll not have you. No man will have you.

Graham kissing Cecelia Lomax.

I am the storm!” she screamed into the wind, pouring her energy into the bike beneath her.

James frowned at the screen when her power output spiked and she held it until she crossed the finish. Her time of 43:14 earned her third place by 8/10ths of a second.

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