Sunday, August 26, 2012

It Is About The Bike

I promise, zero Lance content today, other than the allusion in the title. I'm sick of the story already.

But I do want to talk about what I find so relentlessly boring about professional bike racing, namely that these guys are such pampered little babies. Not that it isn't tough to ride such ridiculous distances at such ridiculous speeds -- I certainly couldn't do it without some very good drugs (heck, I need two cups of coffee with an Advil chaser just to do my commute in the morning).

What bugs me, though, is that these guys aren't expected to be cyclists. They're just very expensive (and often heavily medicated) meat that pedals. Got a flat? Just grunt into the two-way radio taped to your head and a car will be with you shortly to provide a whole new wheel. You don't even have to put it on -- a mechanic monkey will hop out of the car and slap it on there while you stand around with your skinny arms crossed. Need some water? Grunt into the radio again, and one of your helper meat-pedalers will drop out of the pack, fall back to that car (again), pick up a bottle, and pedal it back up to you. Total mechanical failure? That car's covered in brand new, insanely expensive, decal-encrusted bikes just like yours -- or you can just steal one from your helper meat-pedaler until the car shows up. In perhaps the most bizarre example (pointed out by BikeSnobNYC in his recent Vuelta coverage), if you can't keep your bike upright, don't sweat it -- the code of honor amongst meat-pedalers means that your competitors will (usually) wait up for you.

Today's professional racing shares about as much with my cycling experience as NASCAR shares with a drive to the grocery store for milk. If I get a flat out there, I either change it myself or walk home. If I need water, I'd better be carrying it, or I'd better be able to find some. And failure of bike or body means I have to call for a follow car that isn't following me -- it could very well be on the other side of town or unavailable. In short, I have to do everything possible to make sure that I can take care of myself out there.

Luckily, there is racing that matches my cycling experience. You just won't find it on Versus (or whatever that weird network out in the cable hinterlands that shows pro cycling is called these days). I get my racing fix from Kent P's reports from the Great Divide. Or I follow the mustachioed singlespeed cyclocross exploits of Team Tarik Racing. Or I track local pal/regular reader Steve F as he preps for (and rocks) the Dirty Kanza. Or I take inspiration from the short-track adventures of bikelovejones. Normal folks (who I happen to count as friends), holding down jobs, being there for their families, putting in the miles, fixing their own stuff, and in general, being cyclists who compete.

I'll take that over watching meat-pedalers on TV any day.


Iowagriz said...


Even pro level MTB XC courses have been shortened to the point that they roll by a pit area twice a lap for a spare wheel and mechanics help if needed.

Grassroots is where it's at.


Joe said...

Great post Jason! You nailed it!!

Anonymous said...

I'm not bothered by the support so much as the radios that let the team director form the second by second strategy and tactics.

The stages where a few competitors have to watch each other and try to figure out how strong/fast/savy the other is and then counter the abilities of their competitors. Much more interesting! Maybe that's why I enjoy track racing?

Steve in Peoria

Jim said...

I love wide tires, fenders and Brooks saddles. I also love to watch fine bicycles racing through beautiful scenery. I never understand folks' animosity toward bike racing even though they love bikes.
It's like not enjoying the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition because the women are too gorgeous.

Bertin753 said...

Have to agree with the overwhelming dullness of professional cycling, at least to this observer. I must add that I *do* like even professional cyclocross 'cause they go so *fast* in such bad conditions -- the transitions from riding to running to riding, when well done, are wonderful. (For that matter, to see an aerial of a professional road team en echelon or even in line ahead is like watching ballet. But only for 15 minutes or so.)

I'd love to follow Tours a l'ancienne: dirt roads, long mountain stages, single speeds, carry your own tires, do your own repairs -- well, we'll let the team handle serious repairs: but not flats! Assassins!