HTC Columbia at Le Tour Team Presentation 2010. Photography by Graham Watson
For the past three weeks amateur cyclists have been glued to their TV sets reverentially watching the Pros racing around France; in awe of their aero lightweight bikes, of the exclusive helmets in team-specific colourways, and of their latest limited edition sunglasses. We’ve scrutinised sock length, bar tape choices, groupset specs. No facet of the Pro cyclist image has gone unnoticed; the attitude, the tans, the white lycra. We covet it all.
So it is only natural that having cribbed from the crème de la crème, we’ll be attempting to emulate the scenes from La Grande Boucle when we next line up at our local lower cat races.
All the gear
No matter what your ability level, the correct bike and kit is a prerequisite to race. Not only that, but you must be able to talk at length and in detail about the specifics of your wheel choice, the stiffness of your frame, and the rolling resistance of your tyres. None of these choices should be determined by practicality or the constraints of budget. In fact, by making decisions contrary to popular conceived wisdom – for example riding carbon rims on rough potholed roads – suggests a depth of knowledge beyond the norm. The more expensive your misjudgments the more pro you will appear to your contemporaries – it’s not as if you actually pay for your own wheels, is it?!
Firstly, never refer to the main body of riders in a race as the ‘bunch’ – that it is a clear sign that you consider racing nothing more than a quaint hobby. It should always be known as the ‘peloton’; the classic rule of thumb applies in this instance: if a term sounds French/Italian/foreign then it’s definitely ‘Pro’. As Mark Renshaw demonstrated so ably, you should use all facilities and cunning available to you in order to maintain your position in the peloton. If you want to get to the front then duck and dive, push and elbow, do whatever it takes – this is a race damnit! Sure, you’re not going to the front for any particular purpose, and you’re definitely not intending to do any work to pull back the break. But you and I both know that the front of the peloton is the only position befitting a rider of your great calibre.
Trimming the excess
Now I’m not talking about going on diets or losing that extra padding about the midriff here (although I could be, you porky lot). Rather I’m referring to the ejection from your person of any superfluous item that might be weighing you down. When it comes to winning or losing a sprint for the finish line, there can be just millimeters separating first from second (or from ‘nothing’ as Team Sky would deem it). So during the run in to the finish jettison those bidons, and chuck the gel wrappers from your pockets – leave that environmentally-friendly-green-eco claptrap to sportivists. You might only be at Hillingdon and sprinting for 9th place, but you have a responsibility to your sponsors to cross the line with a flourish.
Nothing denotes an amateur more than the sight of a rider floundering in a race that doesn’t suit their own specialty; a ‘big-boned’ sprinter grinding up a hill side, a climber attempting to cling on in a fast paced crit. Racers – know your place! No one respects the plucky guy who finishes mid-bunch against the odds. After all, young cycling fans the world over aren’t exactly pinning posters of Eduard Vorganov on their walls, are they?
Unfortunately, due to limits of space and inclination, this is only a selection of the many “dos and don’ts” of making that leap from clueless amateur to wannabe pro. But hopefully the above has impressed upon you that racing is not about having fun or enjoying yourself, but about winning. Full stop. Or if that fails, at least losing with suitable disgust and indignation.