Long ago, in the 1980s, notable English-speaking riders like Sean Yates, Stephen Roche and Graham Jones found their first home in France at the amateur ACBB club in Paris. For many it was something of a culture shock.
The traditional one-on-one coaching for newbies from the directeur sportif was blunt and simple: ‘Lose 10 kilos. Never attack into a headwind. Next! Lose 10 kilos. Never attack into a headwind. Next!’ And so on.
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Weight, the lack thereof, was king. In the same era, the British time triallist would lighten his bike with a Black and Decker, drilling holes in bars, stems, frames, brakes, chainsets, and all the rest. He could thus remove two per cent of the weight and 99 per cent of the structural integrity. At full race pace his machine would whistle like a recorder concerto and flex like a wet dishcloth.
Those were the days. Back then, Bradley Wiggins’s announcement that he was gaining eight kilos to improve his chances at the World TT Champs would have been greeted with incredulity. Cycling Weekly’s staff could have prepared their Daily Mail showreels by producing a magazine featuring nothing but Wiggins and his incredible expanding girth.
You know the style: there’d be spy shots of him in a bikini on holiday. Interviews with hotel waiters saying, “We brought him every eclair in the kitchen, but he wanted more. Mon dieu, it was like the day Pat McQuaid ate the cat.”
Sports scientists would be hired to work out how much weight he’d put on by timing how long it took him to get down a classic descent and comparing it with Jan Ullrich’s descending speeds in the era during which the German subsequently admitted he was using vast quantities of pork pies to prepare for major races. (Mercifully, these days the Pork Pie Passport means such abuse is being eliminated from the peloton.)
There will be some fans for whom deliberate weight gain is still anathema. As my friend Bernard remarked, “Pro athletes owe it to the rest of us to be half-starved. Otherwise they’d be talented, rich, and happy. Being able to eat doughnuts is frankly all we have over these people. Global cycling contentment is a zero sum game.”
For the rest of us, it’s a sign of changed times. If Sky’s spreadsheet decides that Wiggins goes faster on a flat course when he’s 8kg over Grand Tour weight (that’s equivalent to a bike with two full bottles on it) then it is so.
It’s also about adapting your rider. In previous ages of cycling, a rider could do what he was good at, and not do what he was not good at. It was determined by the gods. Now, scientists are messing with the universe. At just three months’ notice, you can completely reconfigure your GC twig into a TT blunderbuss.
Carrots, not cocoa
I have the nagging feeling that putting on eight kilos the Wiggins way might not be as much fun as it would be the Dr Hutch way. I’m seeing a careful adjustment of the amount of carrot juice he’s allowed with his evening meal. I’m not seeing a lot of chocolate digestives. Come the end of September, the Wiggins skinsuit is still going to be wrapped round something with all the soft, wobbly fleshiness of a length of two-by-four.
Also, bear in mind that to become a GC rider in the first place he had to lose 13kg. That’s about a leg’s worth. The 8kg will get him not much more than halfway back to his starting point.
When I pointed these things out to Bernard, he was relieved. Wiggins’s net contentment-quotient is still on the ‘misery’ side of the graph. Which means the rest of us have something to be happy about.
How to … pack a bike into a bike bag
The golden rule for packing a bike is simple: the more bits you dismantle yourself, the less room for destruction you leave for the airline’s baggage handlers.
Remove the pedals. Set them aside. Remove the stem from the steerer. Tape the bars and stem to the frame, in such a way as to leave as many vulnerable bits sticking out as possible, and get the brake and gear cables as twisted as you can manage. It’s best to secure things with the sort of tape that takes the finish off your frame when you remove it.
Unbolt the rear derailleur. Wrap it in something (someone else’s favourite old t-shirt will provide the best protection), then use the same tape to affix it between the seatstays, out of harm’s way.
Ensure that you twist it round randomly a few times, to get the chain tangled into the sort of knot you’ll never be able to undo when you reach your destination. (Though of course, it won’t matter, since your pedals will still be on the dining table at home, where you set them earlier.)
Put the bike in the bag. If you remember the wheels (and you probably won’t) just chuck them in any way you fancy. Even if the axles damage the frame’s paint, it doesn’t matter, because you’re going to strip all that off along with the tape.
Remember not to take any tools with you for reassembling the bike. It’s a simple matter to use some cutlery and a pair of nail scissors instead.
Acts of cycling stupidity
An act from the 1970s has come to my attention. A rider from Suffolk suffered a jammed freewheel. The traditional emergency solution for this was to pee on it, hoping the warm liquid would rinse out the internals and free the jammed pawls. He did so. But he was not, as it were, lavishly supplied. The freewheel was a little better, but not yet functional.
In desperation, he rang a random doorbell. A man answered. The problem was explained: “So, if you’d pee on this freewheel, I’d really appreciate it.” Very, very reluctantly, the man did so. And, success! The freewheel worked. The rider thanked him profusely, and made to leave.
“As a matter of interest,” said the man, “why does it have to be urine? Would some warm water not have worked just as well? Or even some WD-40?”
You’ve got to admit, he had a point.
This article was first published in the August 22 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!