'Three French men, two hurtled loves and a part-ridge on a Pearson': The 12 Days of Christmas cycling rewrite

On the first Day of Christmas, Joe Laverick brought to you… 12 tips and tricks to keep you motivated to ride throughout the holiday season

Illustration of the first two days
(Image credit: David Lyttleton)

Christmas, it’s that time of year when the days are short, the weather is questionable and free time is at a premium. As it often feels like riding takes a back seat come December, we’re bringing you a special cycling rewrite of the 18th-century Christmas carol, ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’. Our version provides you not with an accumulation of pointless and frankly bizarre gifts, but a dozen baubles of inspiring advice, pro rider insights and things to do to keep you motivated over Yuletide. 

Yes, we’ve gone pun-crazy – or maybe outright crazy – for this one. In doing so, we prioritised usefulness over pun quality, so cut us some slack on the latter – it’s Christmas, after all! We’re not demanding that you carry out these 12 suggestions in order – technically, the 12 days of Christmas run from Christmas Day until 5 January – but rather to schedule them as you see fit. Let’s do this. Cue Slade and let’s get rocking around CW’s 12 slays of Christmas! 

On the first day of Christmas… A part-ridge on a Pearson

Ride part of a mountain ridge on a Pearson bicycle – come on, it’s the best we could do! Let’s run with it… Founded in 1860, Pearson Cycles in Richmond, London, is officially recognised as the oldest bike shop in the world. Originally a blacksmith’s shop in Sutton, Surrey, it is now run by the fifth generation of the family. We asked Will Pearson for his guide to the perfect Christmastime ride. 

“Season’s greetings, bike rider! Here’s my advice for cycling through winter. Start your ride warm and stay warm by following these simple steps: 

  1. Block up the vents in your shoes and choose generously thermal overshoes
  2. Place your shoes on a radiator the night before and enjoy slow-release heat for the first 10 minutes as you get going
  3. Prepare piping hot porridge and tea for breakfast
  4. Stow a ‘get out of trouble’ lightweight waterproof in your jersey pocket even if it’s not forecast for rain – it’ll cut windchill, which is particularly welcome after a stop
  5. Keep topping up on snacks during the ride to fuel your furnace
  6. Push hard on your pedals at all times and earn that Christmas dinner.”  

On the second day… Two hurtled loves

We adore hurtling along because we love these two things: speed and adrenaline. However, these factors can be in short supply as we teeter along greasy winter backroads praying the temperature is just too high for ice patches. So why not keep the hurtling going by hurling yourself into a different type of cycling. Relive your youth and head to the pump track on a BMX, or go and shred some trails on the mountain bike. Gravel riding is a great entry way into the off-road world. The trails often aren’t too technical, but the off-road descents seriously get that adrenaline going.  

On the third day… Three French men

Three French hens, three French men. It’s close enough. Select three rides this Christmas on which to emulate three of the biggest French stars of recent generations. 

Julian Alaphilippe: The first group ride you do has to be fuelled by passion. Every time the road kicks upwards, you must ensure you get out of the saddle and throw the bike side-to-side as you wrestle with the gradient and sprint away from your clubmates. Your facial expression has to be permanently contorted with pain, and the attacks must be audacious primarily in their style. Bonus points for precisely sculpted facial hair. 

Thibaut Pinot: No, we’re still not over Pinot retiring this year either. The sad truth is that, to emulate Pinot, you must ride as if inspired by Greek tragedy. Go long on the cafe race. Attack hard from a distance – so far out that it seems to be an exercise in futility. Have high hopes right until the very end when you’re caught with many kilometres to go, a dramatic fall from grace. Bonus points if you befriend a goat along the way. 

Guillaume Martin: He has a master’s degree in philosophy and has written two books on the subject. Kick back by the fire and read your copy of Socrate à Vélo or La Société du Peloton. There’s one catch, they’re not available in English – so maybe it’s a good incentive to learn the lingua franca of our sport too.

 

Illustration of days 3 and 9

(Image credit: David Lyttleton)

On the fourth day… Four callings stirred

What is your cycling calling for 2024? It’s time to stir the motivational pot as we look ahead. To make the most of the rest of winter, set yourself some goals for next year. Get fit: Let’s keep it simple. To ‘get fit’ means different things to different people. For me, it’s likely going to be getting myself in shape to win the National TT Championships or Unbound Gravel. For you, it may be to finish a sportive, PB on a certain Strava KOM segment, achieve an annual mileage aim or FTP wattage. Decide now what it’ll mean for you in 2024. 

Structure: Having a plan is a sure-fire way to keep yourself on track. Be it online with TrainingPeaks or on good old-fashioned pen and paper, hold yourself to account by getting it on record. 

Try something new: Racing across multiple disciplines is all the rage these days. Whether it be picking up a mountain bike for the first time, entering a gravel race or hopping into a criterium, dabbling in a new discipline is always fun, and often a great place to humble yourself too. 

Rest: Arguably the biggest difference between amateur and pro riders is the huge amount more time that pros have for recovery. Professional athletes are world-class at being lazy – bear that mind over this Christmas holiday season.  

On the fifth day… Five Olympic rings

Finally, an easy pun – phew! With a big summer in Paris on the horizon, 2024 is set to be a big one for the four Olympic disciplines of cycling: track, road, BMX and mountain bike. The Olympics always leave a lasting legacy, creating new heroes and inspiring future generations.

One rider who hopes to be heading to Paris is current Madison world champion Neah Evans. We asked how she will be training this winter, ahead of a hugely important season. “My approach is to avoid winter as much as possible. You can do really good training in the UK but it takes its toll both physically and mentally. It’s tougher to go out for four hours dressed like Michelin Man, compared with being somewhere sunny. For the past three years, I’ve escaped some of the worst of winter by spending most of December in Tenerife. “This year will be slightly different, as the European Championships are in early January so I need more track work leading up to it. I spent two weeks in Denia [in Spain] in early December for my transition from base fitness to being able to handle the track intensity. Now I’m heading home for Christmas, which means a lot of turbo time. 

“I don’t mind riding indoors, as I’ll have plenty of juicy efforts to get stuck into. Riding up Mount Teide is a lot like riding the turbo! I’ll be keeping in the gym over December too, but I reduce the volume to allow some quality to drip through for the track. It’s all about looking at the bigger picture and the Olympics.”  

On the sixth day… Six grease-a- layering

Winter riding can often feel like six geese are laying a certain something on your bike, and you need at least six greases to combat the corrosion – surely! Simon Wainwright is a pro mechanic and owner of Mobytek, a mobile repair service. We asked him for guidance on maintenance. 

“As we change our gear, from summer jerseys to thermal tights, our bikes also need a change of kit. With salt spread on the roads mixing with the rain, corrosive salty water gets into all the crevices, bearings, seals, alloy spoke nipples and even scratches on the paintwork. “Grit from the road binds to dry lube on the chain, forming a grinding paste that exacerbates drivetrain wear and leaving the bike wet causes oxidation to metal parts – those little corrosion spots on the chain, cassette and disk rotors. 

“Over Christmas, make sure your bike is ready for the rest of winter, and if necessary book a service. With tight tolerances, un-serviced parts are prone to malfunction and accelerated wear. Switching to winter-specific wet lubes, and aqua-paste [a synthetic grease that prevents oxidation] for the bottom bracket, headset and wheel bearings can help keep the water at bay. Think rubber too: it is well worth switching to winter tyres with higher puncture protection and more natural rubber content for improved grip on cold, damp roads.” 

 

On the seventh day… Seven cons a- swindling

The sports world is awash with cons and fads. One coaching guru advises one thing, the next urges the complete opposite. Whom to trust? From the demand to double up your Christmas Day workout to “make space” for the extra calories to the claim that base training is the best/worst thing in the world. Let’s cut through some of the nonsense… 

  1. ‘Make space for Christmas calories’: Weight loss is relatively simple: burn more than you eat. Calorie surplus in the long term means weight gain. One day of binge eating on Christmas Day will not make a huge difference. 
  2. Fasted rides make you lose weight’: All the craze a few years ago, fasted riding is a contentious matter. Research does suggest that fasted exercise increases fat burning during the workout but also that it does not lead to greater fat loss overall. 
  3. ‘Training is only good when it’s hard’: Cobblers. Simply a one-way ticket to over-training. 
  4. ‘Ouch, that lactic acid burns’: No, it doesn’t. The science is clear: lactate accumulation does not cause pain. 
  5. Sweetspot is the best bang for your buck’: It’s true that sweetspot can be very effective, but training must be personalised and specific. Sweetspot isn’t a universal silver bullet. 6. ‘The pros do it, it must be good’: For most amateurs, copying pro riders’ workouts will do you more harm than good. 
  6. ‘Lifting weights is a waste of time’: More and more evidence shows that gym sessions are time well spent, both in terms of health and cycling performance. 

On the eighth day… Eight aids o’ milking

Conveniently, milk aids recovery in at least eight ways, since it contains all nine essential amino acids. Research shows that endurance athletes should consume 1.4-1.6g of protein per kilogramme of body weight per day – and possibly even more if you’re training hard. James Moran is a performance nutritionist with women’s WorldTour team Uno-X Pro Cycling. 

Protein is crucial both to ensure repair and remodelling of lean tissue, and also for mitochondrial proteins vital for endurance adaptations. Milk and strained yoghurts provide an optimal blend of all the essential amino acids to help stimulate muscle protein synthesis. “Typically, we advise riders to consume quality protein sources in around 30-40g portions spread evenly over the day, aiming for a total of 1.6-2g of protein per kilo per day. It’s a fine balance, as protein is the most satiating of all the macronutrients, so over-consumption at the wrong time can prevent riders from getting sufficient total calories.”  

On the ninth day… Nine ladies dancing

There were nine ladies, honest, but you know how it goes… the group is whittled down and before you know it you have just one lady sprinting for the line… before launching into a Strictly-worthy celebratory dance. And there’s no leading lady more famous for her dance moves than reigning Paris-Roubaix rock-holder Alison Jackson. “I just love to move my body,” says the Canadian, “and it’s a great way to express myself – I love exploring what the body can do, shapes that you can make to tell a story.” 

Does she think dancing may have benefits for cyclists, given we are locked in one posture much of the time? “Oh, for sure! I’ve never had injuries. I’m naturally resilient, but a lot of it is down to being flexible and avoiding crashes through having good coordination and fast reactions. It’s about knowing where your body is in space, and dance teaches you that.” 

And when she’s not dancing around the Jackson Christmas tree, will she be training hard? “Well, I will be back home at the family farm in Alberta, where it’ll be snowy and cold with not many hours of daylight. I’ll do a lot of cross-country skiing and turbo training.” 

On the tenth day… Ten lords a-leaping

In the Cycling Weekly New Year’s honours, every cyclist will be made a Lord. That’s the first bit of the pun sorted, then; now on to the leaping – where we have a serious point to make. Cyclists can become athletically very one-dimensional: we’re very good at turning our legs in circles for hours on end, but not much else. 

Which poses the question: is cycling enough to safeguard whole-body health? Because cycling is low-impact, i.e. doesn’t load the skeleton, it can lead to bone density loss, particularly in high-volume riders. This is well documented in scientific research. One of the best bone-building (osteogenic) activities is jumping. So get leaping! 

Throughout the winter, add in some bone-health-enhancing jumping and hopping to your strength sessions. If you want to be healthy and happy in your old age, you’ve to do more than bike riding 

On the eleventh day… Eleven Pfeiffers pfeiffering

OK, her name may not be a verb, but it ought to be! Double British national road champion Pfeiffer Georgi had her best season to date in 2023, taking four wins, a top-five at Worlds time trial, a handful of top-10s; and she was a key part in Charlotte Kool’s lead-out train. 

Ranked 10th – very nearly perfect for our pun! – in the UCI World Rankings, the Team DSM-firmenich PostNL rider had this to say about Christmas riding: “One of our family Christmas traditions is to all do a ride together on Christmas Day [Georgi’s brother Etienne and both parents are cyclists], which is always nice, as the roads are really quiet. A great winter training tip is to use thermal bottles – fill them with a hot drink for rides when it’s freezing outside… and for Christmas, this can be replaced by a festive drink, which for me is hot chocolate.”

Illustrated image of Pfeiffer Georgi

(Image credit: David Lyttleton)

On the twelfth day… Twelve thumbers numbing

Six cyclists on the group ride: that’s 12 thumbs, OK? And they’re going numb because of sub-standard handwear! While some Christmastime conditions are so appalling that the indoor trainer is the only option, modern-day kit options mean that riding in all weathers is becoming ever more feasible. 

Keeping the extremities warm can be a struggle, though. A good pair of winter cycling gloves, overshoes and head protection will go a long way to keeping you snug. For anything but soaking-wet weather, the Alé Spirale are the best winter gloves I’ve used (in my Hagens Berman Axeon days). I’ve seen plenty of home remedies to keep the extremities warm, from wrapping fingers in tinfoil to double gloving. I’ve tried them all over the years, but honestly nothing matches an (admittedly expensive) quality pair of gloves.

This full version of this article was published in the 14 December 2023 print edition of Cycling Weekly magazine. Subscribe online and get the magazine delivered to your door every week.  

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