I was doing some five-minute training efforts last week. I’m quite good at these, not least because in an effort to boost my morale I use all the aero kit I can find – TT bike, disc wheel, skinsuit, the works.
I get kitted up, then go and thunder along a nice flat road with a good big number on the power meter. It’s relevant here that the number is usually quite a lot of the way to 500 watts.
Last week, as I was in the midst of the full Wiggins, someone overtook me. He was, at least, wearing cycling kit rather than jeans. But there was still a deeply troubling air of the commuter about him – a waterproof jacket, a large saddle pack.
He eased away up the road, without apparently suffering the heart attack he so clearly deserved, until he passed from sight.
I suspect he has no idea how good he is. He probably thinks he’s normal, and wonders why so many people on nice bikes ride so slowly. I could have told him, of course, and encouraged him to start entering a few local races, but firstly I couldn’t have caught him, and secondly I’m not an idiot.
There’s a third reason too. Just because he’s good at cycling is no reason to assume he’d like to take it more seriously.
I have evidence for this. A few months ago I interviewed Sir Dave Brailsford. We got on to the issues of talent-searching – the British Cycling Talent Team found riders like Joanna Rowsell and Dani King by testing them at their schools.
Despite this, Sir Dave said that the problem with most talent searches was that while they could find people who had all physical gifts required to be great riders, they often didn’t have the required mindset. They’d shine brightly for a year, then fall away from the sport because despite their talent, the lifestyle wasn’t for them.
Sociopath to success
It’s unlike BC to miss a trick, but it seems that the solution to this problem is to broaden the talent search criteria. Let us reflect for a moment on some of the reasons someone might not like the pro cycling lifestyle.
People who like to go out a lot often struggle with the consequences of being an athlete. If Friday or Saturday night out is a fundamental part of what someone does, then dedication to cycling isn’t going to fit. So clearly the first requirement is that the candidate be some sort of mild-to-moderate sociopath. Not necessarily violent (though it’s probably not a deal-breaker), but someone for whom the rest of society is basically the enemy.
Another frequent reason for disillusionment is food. Those who are used to dining well tend to struggle rather with the idea that lunch from now on will consist of something with a texture not entirely unadjacent to wallpaper paste that you squirt into your mouth from a foil tube. A successful talent search needs to focus on those who eat terrible food and won’t miss it.
While it may be very satisfying, there’s no denying that serious training is, at a fundamental level, pretty dull. It takes hours every day. It’s repetitive, stressful, and often lonely. The ideal candidate for pro cycling will not be someone with a vibrant and exciting lifestyle. Rather it will be someone who’s already very bored.
The logic is inescapable. We need sociopaths with terrible diets who have nothing to do with their lives but sit around counting off the days. Schools, filled as they are with young people with vibrant social lives and access to a wide range of restaurants, are a terrible place to go looking for the future stars. The Talent Team should have been looking in prisons.
Finding GB’s Olympic team for Rio 2016 is going to be a piece of cake.
How to… Decide if something needs replacing
Almost everything on a bicycle will eventually need replacing. It is wise to express great sadness about this to anyone with whom you share a bank account. Tell them how attached you were to that pair of wheels, how much you regret their passing, and how you’re sure the new pair, despite being advertised heavily and used by your racing heroes, won’t be nearly as good despite being 10 per cent lighter and 400 per cent more expensive.
Some components are easier to judge than others. Rims often have ‘wear-holes’ to indicate when they’ve become too worn to be safe. Chains can be measured for ‘stretch’. Sprockets and chainrings acquire a ‘shark-fin’ shape. This is unfortunate, since they generally wear out long after you’d like to have treated yourself to something new.
Happily it’s much more difficult to definitively judge more expensive items. Frames can grow less stiff over time (they don’t really, but it’s a myth we’ve spent years working on, so don’t spoil it). In general, the more scuffed the paintwork, the less stiff the frame.
The launch of a new model of bike or frame automatically generates wear on all examples of the old model. Thus it’s quite possible for a bike to suffer considerable wear and tear without ever actually being ridden.
Carbon frames ought to be replaced after any severe incident. The older they are, the smaller the trauma they can sustain. By the time a carbon frame is two years old, it can be damaged beyond economic repair by a mate saying, “Blimey, are you still riding that old thing?”
Acts of cycling stupidity
Our attention here at AoCS has been drawn to a photo shoot for a feature in this very magazine, published some months ago. Due to a series of unfortunate events, the star rider in question (one of Team Sky’s Classics heroes) ended up with two punctured wheels, and no means of fixing them.
The quick-thinking photographer solved the problem by taking lots of shots of him from a low angle riding through long grass.
“Everyone thought the shots were great,” the photographer said, “much more artistic than usual. I don’t think anyone suspected a thing. And you’re absolutely not allowed to tell anyone about this.”
This article was first published in the May 16 issue of Cycling Weekly. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!