Oh well, it was on the cards. He tried his hardest with what he had. All this high-performance cycling is ok in it’s place, but the real work of the cycling world is getting you and I out there pedalling our little bottoms off to every destination that we can. 🙂
Putting up on a pedestal made of carbon-fibre and VO2 Max testing is removing it from everyday experience and perhaps divorcing its impact from the everyday world. When I go to club races and watch the juniors line up, it’s always the same old couple of guys marshalling them and giving them a bit of advice. Sometimes there’s a lot, sometimes there’s barely enough to run a race. Maybe it will give rise to a generation of emulators – an army of little Cadels and Robbies and Stueys and Oenones and Kates that will one day move en masse to Europe and mechanically win every race on the UCI calendar. They’ve got to get past their Riccardo Ricco arrogant-twerp stage first, some of them, especially those with rich parents who buy them expensive carbon-fibre stuff when they’re still on junior gearing.
Down on Beach Rd. on a Saturday morning there’s sure enough squads and bunches roaring up and down, select members of which are pretending that their pro contracts have just expired and that they’re back in Australia for some R & R before their next O/S signing to someone who gives you your team kit for free. Or variations on the same: hacks like me bandying about the phrase “A Grade” and their semi-ficticious exploits in “open” races to the twitching ears of all the Saturday morning habitués of Café Racer. And there are some good riders amongst them who’d have a sniff at a local race podium, or the aforesaid hacks who are happy enough to stay tucked in on someone’s wheel 20 years younger and fresher than them, and sometimes come good. Or, the most odious in such a scene – those that buy their way into the sport, with a $10K+ set of bike and gear (and often a waistline significantly bigger than their chest). Even once they start to lose the waistline, and their power output goes up, and average speed starts to increase, their riding habits and manners stay where they started. The belief they seem to hold that all cycling is a cut-throat world where you chop each others wheels (swerve suddenly in front of other riders at high speed to put the rider off and gain advantage of position in the bunch) or disturb the rhythm of the group by cutting in on the wheel someone’s following, as a matter of course. Or, somewhat hilariously, the practitioners of “The Muppet Dance” – flinging your arms and bum, hence bike from side to side in a (futile, ineffective) effort to get more power out of your spindly, Kermit-de-Frog body when going for the top of a hill or some made-up line on the road. They’ve been brought up in their very short career to do this, taught by those who rely on force and bluff to win races, rather than skill and strength. Why do they think this is a good idea – maybe they just transfer the kill-or-be-killed ethics of the world of uber-business to what they see through their very small lens on the world of competitive cycling?
After experiencing this a bit more than I’m used to in the Saturday 7am Black Rock to Mt Eliza bunch ride which I’ve started doing again after a 10 year layoff (it’s not called the “Hell Ride” much any more, for obvious reasons) I must say that it’s starting to put me off. Sure, you’ve got the watts to make the back wheel go round fast, but if you don’t work with the people around you, then everyone’s just out for themselves, and putting those around them in danger. I console myself with the fact that this sort of behaviour is exhibited by those struggling to ‘win’ (their own egoistic little competition with themselves) when they’re almost at the end of their tether, and start to desperately dig into their bag of dirty tricks. Contrast this to the world of the handicap race, of somewhat arbitrarily arranged bunches of riders of theoretically and roughly similar ability, where it’s in everyone’s interest to work hard for the collective good (i.e., attempting to beat the faster, stronger riders behind them whom you have a head start on). You’ve got to co-operate in a very structured and efficient way for this to happen – and even look after a few riders who are having a couple of bad kilometres in the hope that they’ll come good and help you out later on. And for those riders to dig deep not to let the other guys around them down, or, even if just for personal pride, to avoid getting “dropped”. The phrase: “I got dropped” is a standard admission of failure in a race, but one not without hope. It means you just have to do it a few more times to get up to that standard. Beating yourself up with bitter regret does you nor those around you any good. You don’t get on to any sort of team without developing those sort of skills, and then practising them unselfishly amongst people that you might only have met just then. It’s life in minature, in a way.
People who buy a bling road bike then suck wheel up and down Beach Rd. Saturday after Saturday at 40km/h really don’t get even a quarter of what stage and team racing involves. The qualities of altruism and sacrifice that ‘successful’ (not just winning) racing (even for fun) demands is not the same as the average bunch ride, even at higher speeds. You don’t get onto even an amateur team without showing these better qualities to those around you, and then being strong enough to win without rancour. Like most good sports, it’s training you in the head as well as the body to live a better life. So all those six-figure earners who think of bikes as a hobby, and get a sniff of the intoxication of speed – get a grip. There’s a lot of suffering and humility between where you are now and being any sort of racing cyclist, no matter how good you are at what you earn your money doing. Oh, you want to earn money riding bikes? You should have started in the junior clinic 40 years ago, and worked your way up from the bottom.