With their first season drawing to a close, Dave Brailsford admitted that there was a “closing of ranks” amongst other teams after Team Sky’s bombastic debut. “It’s always going to be hard to come in at this level, a lot of people have been in this small world for a long time.” To many observers this comes as no surprise – not only was there the hype and swagger of these new kids on the block with their ambitious aims and big talk of marginal gains, but there was also the ostentatious flaunting of the teams big budget. That massive team bus, the Jaguars, the bullish pursuit of Wiggins – little wonder it provoked envy from the rest of the cycling world, and no small amount of resentment.
Closer to home, there’s a similar divide when it comes to those who can afford the latest gizmos and those who make do without. Back in the eighties mobile phones were considered a derided ostentation favoured by hotshot yuppie types, until a decade later when a critical mass caused their cost to tumble and become an essential accessory for the masses. Power meters are our current cycling equivalent; still too costly as to only be affordable to a minority and causing a divide between those who talk of watts and power data, and those still measuring heart rates, or simply not measuring anything at all.
Given the chance, most would jump at the chance to enjoy the luxury of having reams of data to pore over after every ride, to take advantage of the training advantages it offers. But until prices come down, those who make do without will continue to justify their ‘old school’ approach – after all, admitting to the extent of the advantages offered by this technology would be tough to accept when it’s out of your reach.
But power meters are the only areas of cycling where money can buy you an advantage. Personally I steer well clear of time trialling – not just because the idea of riding up and down a dual carriageway sounds like my idea of hell, but because to be competitive requires a significant investment in equipment. It is a discipline that very clearly illustrates the relationship between expense and speed.
Of course there is the argument that time trialling is only a race against yourself, of setting personal goals and measuring yourself against the clock. I’m not sure this argument washes with anyone with a competitive disposition. You could also keep persuading yourself that ‘his TT bike is worth a minute over 10 miles, and so taking that into account my time is just as quick’, only that’s equally dissatisfying. I’d rather not take part than have to keep making allowances for myself.
Admittedly this is all quite absurd. There’s clearly never going to be a level playing field; give everyone the same bikes and kit and there would also be other personal circumstances to take into account. The time available to train, access to coaching, having a home cooked meal ready and waiting on your arrival from a five hour training ride. Most of us are willing to make the sacrifices, to jump on the turbo rather than heading out to the pub – but the reality is that cycling doesn’t pay the bills or take care of the kids.
On a Sunday morning it’s hard not to feel envious of the other guys on the start line. Some will have flashier bikes, others will be part of coached teams, or be resetting their Garmins in readiness of setting new power records, but give into envy and you may as well not bother. If you feel at a disadvantage then channel it into defiance, add it to the fuel of your determination. What can appear to be the advantages of marginal gains may not be as effective as your own personal willpower. As Sky have found out to their cost, you can’t always buy success.