Sara Butler Zalesky
Publication date: July 4th 2016
Genres: Adult, Romance, Sports, Suspense
Fate whispers to the warrior, ‘You cannot withstand the storm.’
The warrior whispers back, ‘I am the storm.’
Loren Mackenzie has spent much of her life honing her body to meet the physical challenges of being a professional cyclist in the women’s European peloton. She has also refined the control of her mind, using the power of her emotions in competition to become one of the elite cyclists in the world. After an accident at the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic, Loren must rise to the challenge of leading her team as the Women’s World Tour races across Europe, culminating with the opportunity to compete at the World Championships in Richmond, Virgina.
When a chance meeting develops into a whirlwind romance, what appears to be the perfect relationship threatens to unravel Loren’s tightly wound life. The microscope of tabloid media attention dredges up fears that her past will be unearthed; tragic secrets she has kept buried, even from those closest to her.
Can Loren face the trauma of her past and vanquish the demons within, or will betrayal and obsession ultimately defeat her?
La Course by Le Tour de France, Paris, France
89km, 13 laps of 7km
Thousands of cycling fans had braved the cold drizzle to watch the second running of La Course by Le Tour de France. The women’s race was thirteen laps, up and down Avenue des Champs-Élysées, from Place de la Concorde to l’Arc de Triomphe and back, to finish a few hours before the end of stage 21 of the men’s Tour de France.
The teams gathered at the judges’ stand to sign in and receive any last minute instructions from the stewards. Each team was then announced from the main stage and photographed, then released to head back to their ready areas to warm up for the race under canopies. Reporters and their photographers roamed between the team vehicles, to take pictures and interview the riders on their trainers. Loren had her headphones on specifically to avoid being interviewed.
She adjusted her mirrored amber sunglasses when she caught a glimpse of Graham with Aria as they glanced in her direction. I’d rather not let anyone see how dark the circles are under my eyes. After returning to her room last night, she slept an hour or two before the nightmares began. It got so bad she stared up at the ceiling until dawn. I just have to suck it up. This is a huge platform for us, and if I can put on a show, it’s gonna be a big fucking show. She ate several caffeinated cherry cola chews with her water before heading to the start line with the rest of her team.
Once the race got underway, the drizzle had abated, but it didn’t make for better conditions. The peloton stuck together, keeping the speed relatively sedate for the first three laps, but there were still several slips to the road.
It wasn’t until the fifth lap that there was a crash of more than fifteen riders, which split the field into two parts. Loren, Ashley, and Chantal had been in the middle of the pack when Ashley and Chantal were caught in the melee. Neither they nor their bikes were damaged and were able to get back underway quickly. While it is a courtesy for the lead group to let up to allow those who crashed the chance to regain their positions, Ashley and Chantal still had to push hard across the gap.
With 45 kilometers to go, Holly Parker took an early lead and held on for a lap before getting caught. At lap 7, another crash wiped out Ingrid and Cece, just as Loren crossed the line to mark the lap.
At 36 kilometers remaining, the main group strung out as the pace picked up on the long straights with speeds close to 43 kilometers an hour. Several riders broke out of the turn at the Arc, working together to build a lead that topped out at 30 seconds. Team GoreTech, with Samantha Sharpe at the helm, brought the main field up to the breakaway.
By then, the sun had started to shine; however, the cobbles remained slick and riders were still approaching the corners with caution, only to jump out of the turns. Loren and Ashley kept Chantal at the fore and worked with other riders to keep the pace high and further competitors at bay.
Loren glanced at the group around her. Chantal is behind me, with Ashley ready to blow herself up for us. Two from GoreTech, one from PZI. The blonde from FusionTurnstep, she might have something. She drew her energy around her like a tornado funnel, curling her lip. I am the storm.
The peloton had just passed the Arc de Triomphe when Ashley attacked with Loren on her wheel, catching the other riders off guard. Shouts from behind told somebody was going with her. I hope that’s Chantal behind me!
Felix’s voice crackled through her radio just then. “Stand by. Let up! Let up! There’s been a crash. Just hang on.” Loren eased up on the pedals, glancing around at the five other riders who were being told the same thing. Chantal wasn’t with them. Dammit. She glanced back. They’re not that far behind but once we go again–.
“Go! Go! Go!” Felix yelled in her ear.
Two riders took advantage of the hesitation and took off, Loren hot on their heels and leaving Ashley behind. The trio pushed hard to increase the gap to 20 seconds to take the turn at Place de la Concorde to mark the final lap.
Loren stayed just behind the other two, biding her time as the kilometers fell under their wheels. One or the other rider would look back, waiting for her to make a move. She had little doubt they were being coached from their team cars on how to defend against her.
I’m no rookie, ladies. I’ve got time, and while I wait, you two are doing all the work. Loren began to tick up her pace with the two riders responding in kind as they swung into the turn at l’Arc for the final time. Felix was soon in her ear to confirm her strategy.
“Let them worry, mon trèsor,” he murmured. “Let them think they can defend against your strength, then make them suffer for their arrogance.”
Loren narrowed her gaze on the two in front of her. This is the ultimate game of bluff. If I twitched, one or both of them could be fooled into going early, or they could block me when I took off. But like the man said, ladies, if you want it, you’re gonna to have to suffer to beat me.
They were pushing hard; all three knew the peloton was closing fast and they still had two kilometers to go. Loren watched the riders closely, looking for signs of fatigue: a drooping shoulder, a lowered head, ribs expanding quicker with increased breathing.
Yes, there it is. The PZI rider’s pedaling rhythm began to falter. If I swing out around her, the other girl might not see me until it’s too late.
The trio passed under the one-kilometer banner, and the rider looked back at Loren. You don’t have it, and you know you don’t. Valiant effort though. She had already shifted into a heavier gear when Felix was crooning in her radio.
“Wait for it; start your surge… GO, GO, GO!”
At 300 meters, Loren jumped out of the saddle and slipped around to the right of the rider in purple, committing every molecule of energy to cross the finish line first. It was close, with the rider from GoreTech crossing a tire width behind.
“YAH!” Loren sat up to pump her fist into the air to the roar of the crowd as she glided down the chute. Ulrik was waiting for her, and she rolled to a stop before him. They were both laughing as they embraced.
When her team manager pulled back, grinning, his brown eyes were wet with tears. “You did it! You did it! I am so proud of you!” He hugged her again. “Gabi would be proud,” he whispered.
“I think so, too,” she replied and held him tighter.
Loren heard her name called and turned to see her teammates rolling over with hugs or to bump helmets with her. Then she felt a tug on her sleeve.
“You’ve been selected,” Ingrid told her, pointing.
Loren looked up to see Aria waiting and pulled a face. “Aw, come on! Really?”
Aria waved to her, trying not to grin. “Come, your wee cup is waiting.”
Sara was born in the wee hours of a November night in New York City. When her family moved to a small borough in northwestern New Jersey, she had little choice but to move as well. Self-sufficiency is a tough thing for a toddler.
The dichotomy of being the middle child of three, but the only girl, was difficult, as typically no one really pays attention to a middle child. Mostly, Sara spent her time creating fanciful stories in her head when she should have been focused on other things, an issue that continues to this day.
Most of these stories have never been shared, let alone completed. This all changed in the spring of 2015, when Sara was encouraged by a friend to expand upon a short story she had accidentally emailed to him. The result is ‘Wheeler’, a romantic, women’s fiction/sport novel, which combines the author’s romantic inclinations and her passion for cycling.
Sara currently resides in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA, with her loving husband and their son. She is a paralegal for a boutique law firm in Chester County, Pa, an avid road cyclist and indoor cycling instructor at a national chain.
Follow the author’s blog at sarabutlerzalesky.wordpress.com or on Twitter @sarazalesky. She does a little dance every time someone ‘follows’ her on Twitter. Really.
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