Well I’m back home now after a really hard week of training with the team and a few presentation formalities thrown in.
Being a pro cyclist is like no other job on Earth. I can’t imagine too many other jobs in the real world where I’d be motivated to come back to work and happy to see all my colleagues after three months off. It’s absolutely wonderful to turn up and visit with the guys and get to know them better – especially off the bike. Once the season gets going, half of us won’t ever see each other again until next year.
There’s always someone at training camp who is absolutely flying.These training camps always end up being a chance for the neo-pro’s to flex their muscle, I was no different when in my first year as a pro myself. It’s usually the neo-pro who has a point to prove. They’ll often show up to training camp on fire and then not go so well in the races. I was like that too. I remember as a neo-pro, wasn’t allowed to go home after team training camp, I had to stay near the team base. I thought it was just the DS making my life difficult, but in hindsight it was a good idea because it made me organise my life off the bike (my house, finances, visas, etc), and then I was ready to go for the upcoming season.
That’s where you get a lot of your respect as a neo-pro, by matching it up with some of the big named riders. But they’re often fooling themselves. I’ve seen a certain Classics specialist at a training camp where he got dropped every single day. Then on the last day, he absolutely turned on the afterburners to show us how bloody strong he actually was. He spent the whole week just foxing all the younger riders, then taught them a lesson after they had worn themselves out.
The early season races are important to many teams and riders because of the WorldTour points structure. Some of the big name riders will just show up and roll around, but there are plenty of guys who show up there wanting to win and wanting to get their season off to a good start. The days of the TDU being the party race are gone. Certainly from what I heard, a certain sprinter who has a bit of a party boy reputation only went out one night in Adelaide. Just goes to show how much more serious it’s getting. I’m not sure if it’s still the case, but a few years ago we always needed to be top ten at the TDU because it mattered so much for the team car order at the Spring Classics.
Even if guys are not racing the TDU, Qatar, or Oman, most still keep a close eye on the races – especially when your team mates are doing well. But if I’m not racing, I don’t follow it that closely. I feel like I’m missing out. The TDU is one nobody wants to miss – especially with the way Adelaide puts on such an amazing race and atmosphere – it’s sensational and everyone loves going there.
In terms of receiving all your equipment at the beginning of the year, if the team changes sponsors it’s always a mess to start with. Stuff can arrive late, it sometimes doesn’t fit, and there can be a lot of stopgaps. Regardless, when you show up at the start of season training camp you usually come with an empty suitcase and then leave with a truckload of excess baggage.
At my current team, we’ve got it pretty good. At the beginning of the season we get laptops, mobiles and another sponsor gave us all some nice watches. Sometimes the sponsors will give us random special gifts which are always well received. I still don’t take this stuff for granted. I don’t come from a privileged upbringing and always had to work hard for anything I received.
Teams swap the bikes over pretty regularly. I got a training bike in the middle of last year and I just got another one the other day at training camp. There is a bike I only use for training. It’s a training machine and that’s it. I leave it at home and don’t bring it anywhere else. It’ll never be raced.
I shouldn’t be saying this, but there’s one rule about training bikes – never buy a used training bike from a Pro. They never get serviced or looked after. As I write this I’m looking at mine right now and it looks beautiful, but give it a few months and she’ll be pretty battered. We ride to a gas station where I’ll just give it a spray every few weeks with a pressure washer, not a proper clean with degreaser and bucket with soap & water.
Most pro cyclists are gear junkies. They love to talk about equipment. You always make sure to ask a guy who’s gone from one team to another how the new bike is and if he really likes it. But the truth is that everything is quite amazing these days. And we’re riding the same stuff that most of your are. Only the top riders get special treatment, and most of the gear is still available in most bikeshops.
Everyone in the pro peloton bashes one particular groupset though. It’s all in good fun, but it’s an unwritten rule that you have to take the piss out of the guys who are on that groupset.
The electronic groupsets is where it’s at nowdays. Di2 has been brilliant. – absolutely flawless. From what I understand the 11spd Dura Ace is even better. It’s now just like Campag where you hold the button in and it just goes up or down the cassette. The riders say great things about it.
New gear usually arrives all at once, but it can depend on the team. On my last team, we were receiving bits and pieces all throughout the year. We’d get our winter kit in May whereas we really needed it months before. That’s why you see Pros riding around in an Assos jacket for example. Not because Assos sponsor anyone or any team, it’s because quite often the teams don’t get much “special treatment” from their clothing manufacturers.
I sometimes get asked about the use on unsponsored equipment. It’s well known that Specialized is one of the best shoes on the market, but many guys are not allowed to ride them because of the bike sponsor conflict, so there are a lot of unbadged Specialized shoes going around in the peloton.
Glasses are also a funny one. Guys who aren’t sponsored by Oakley will race in whatever they’re told to, but you’ll always see them cruising around while training wearing Oakleys.
Another part of the early season activities involves sponsorship commitments, team presentations, and rider cards. You know those old cards with pics of old school Italian Pros riding through Tuscan roads with their hair slicked back? Now they’ve evolved into a professional photo job with stats and details on the back. The rider card photos are always done the morning after the team presentation and party. It’s an ongoing joke that the rider cards always make us look like we’re 6kg overweight, white faced, hungover, etc. The teams send boxes of these cards to the riders to give out at the races to fans, but I’ve only ever seen one rider have them on the bus and hand them out. Most riders throw them out as soon as they get them. I’ve thrown out boxes of them in my time, Although I probably should, I haven’t even kept one card as a memento for my post-cycling days…
I don’t want to sound precious but it can be really difficult to be performing at the level you’re expected to while keeping up with sponsorship commitments. That’s why once the season gets underway we’re usually quite sheltered by the team management from sponsorship commitments. They try to let us do our jobs as athletes. On the training camp, we had lots of sponsors and fans of the team who won competitions and turned up and ride with us. It happens quite a lot in the off-season. Some riders are brilliant with sponsors and really like to get involved, and others just want to get on with it and want to ride their bike. In the TdF, the team keeps you pretty hidden from all the sponsorship launches and stuff. Last year in the bigger races, all the sponsors were there. You’d have your time where you’d eat and say hello to them, but that was as formal as it got.
Some sponsors can be quite demanding however. A bike sponsor of my former team was always parading us around to tell the world that their products are the best. I understand why they’d want us to do this, but in two years I’m going to be on a different bike and being asked to say the same thing. It can be tricky – especially these days where everything you say is recorded.
I hope I don’t come off unappreciative, because I come from a regular family, and I love the life that I’ve been able to make for myself. After my last column, I certainly realised how hard it is to express yourself in writing. I know there’s one journalist in particular who took offence, which I didn’t mean, but it’s just that the whole doping thing brings me down. You’re asked the same questions again and again and no matter how many honest answers you give, there’s nothing you can say that’ll put a stop to it or satisfy everyone.
You’re probably wondering what the word is about the Lance / Oprah interview the other week. Of course there was plenty of chatter amongst the Pro’s. We’ve got lots of time to talk on and off the bike, and every rider has their opinion, but there’s still not clarity on the whole Lance thing. I don’t speak for anyone else, but as a professional cyclist I don’t feel that hard-done-by with the whole Armstrong scandal to be honest. We all knew it, didn’t we? I’m certainly not as polarized about the topic as many of the fans seem to be. But that’s the fascinating thing about Lance – he touched so many people in so many different ways.
It’s riders like Scarponi who irritate me a lot more. He’s been done twice now and still rolling around winning races.
The honest truth is that none of this really disrupts the mood of the pro peloton. There’s always going to be another doping scandal and I think everyone accepts that. It sounds like there’s going to be more coming in the near future, as much as I wish it wasn’t the case…
The Secret Pro