Like doing keepies-uppies in the front row as Jack Grealish comes over to take a corner kick, riding alongside the professional peloton on an adjacent road to the race is the closest you can get to the action without actually being involved.
As well as various incarnations of field art and French people spilling out of cherry pickers, one of the most enduring images of the modern Tour de France each summer is when the moto cameraman captures an intrepid amateur having the best day out of their life, seeing how long they can hold the pace of the peloton on a road running parallel to the race.
But what does it take to achieve this? What prior planning, let alone the sort of form, is requisite to taking your five seconds of cycling fame?
As luck would have it, on another pan-flat day in the desert at the UAE Tour Richard Reocreux was suddenly beamed into our living rooms, riding in a resplendent blue strip as the bunch hurtled towards the day’s sprint finish. ‘FRANKIES’ emblazoned on both jersey and shorts to help us track him down.
A 39-year-old Frenchman, Reocreux has lived in the UAE for the past 14 years and belongs to Frankie’s Cycling Team, also known as the Smurfs of Dubai.
Frankie’s usually ride on Fridays, the weekend in the UAE being Friday and Saturday. Reocreux’s original plan was to ride alongside the peloton and use the experience as an FTP test as they raced along the Al Qudra Cycling Track to the finish line in Palm Jumeirah. Reocreux, however, couldn’t resist the club’s morning ride so went out for three hours, averaging a 38km/h and a 20-minute effort at 330w.
“Riding alongside the peloton…they looked so easy at the back,” Reocreux told Cycling Weekly. “I did around four to five minutes next to them. One guy from Groupama-FDJ, Alexys Brunel, said ‘wow you’re doing a great job because it’s f**king hard out here’.
“Luka Mezgec, a friend of mine, was at the back saying ‘hey Richard how are you?’, I was like ‘I’m pushing 400w, it’s not easy.'”
And that’s coming from an amateur who rode 18,000km in 2020 and will likely do even more this year as he has Marmotte and Haute Route Alps on his calendar for 2021.
“I realised I was on camera a little bit later on and saw the guy was really pointing it at me and I was like ‘I need to be serious now,'” Reocreux explained. “It was funny, towards the end I didn’t feel so good and it was getting hard and the camera was right in front of me and the cameraman was waving at me, motioning me to do something, I don’t know what.”
As well as being asked to entertain the masses watching at home, Reocreux had to dodge the bottles being discarded by the peloton as they prepared to contest the sprint.
“The problem was all the pros were throwing their bottles on the track and I had to jump two or three bottles and that made me lose some ground,” Reocreux said. “It was almost dangerous to be out there.”
This episode is just another story Reocreux can add to his collection of cycling memories; it seems as if these sorts of experiences are ones you have to go out there and grab with both hands.
“I’d love to do it again, I’ve been lucky in life to ride with lots of pros – Marcel Kittel, Fabian Cancellara, Julian Alaphilippe, Rui Costa last week,” Reocreux said.
“Last summer I was riding in the Alps and I was finishing a ride on the Iseran. At the end of the ride I was unclipping and saw Roglič in front of me and I thought ‘damn, I need to go up Iseran again’.
“I turned back and clipped in, this was right before the Tour in July. I said ‘hey how are you’ and stayed for around seven to 10 minutes behind him, it was my best memory of the summer.
“He said to me ‘don’t worry if you get dropped, I’ve been doing 5,000m a day for the last five weeks’…who else would be doing that apart from Roglič, of course. He dropped me while removing his rain jacket, that was the stupid moment that makes you realise those guys are superheroes.”