Words by Simon Whiten
21st October 2013
Cycling pros are our heroes, of that there is no doubt. We love to cast them in the role of hero and of villain during any race. And we love to try and emulate them. But let’s face it, cycling is a really, really hard sport – few other sports can see half of the competitors left behind on the field (road) of play – and those pros get paid to do it. We don’t. That major difference makes pro’s lives very different to your’s and mine.
The secret to being a great amateur cyclist is to make cycling fit into your daily life, not your daily life fit around cycling as the pros do. So what are the bad things pros have saddled us with, the things that us amateurs could do without?
Pros have a season as they race literally hundreds of races every year. If they didn’t stop they’d burn out and get ill. At the end of the season they take a holiday with their family. Amateur cyclists shouldn’t have a season. Only the top amateur riders (those looking to go pro) need to rest up after a heavy season of 70 or more races. The rest of us can race year round competing in summer road and mountain bike races, crits, sportives, and track leagues, and then in the winter we can race cyclocross, winter road or mountain bike series, or on the track if you are lucky enough to be near an indoor velodrome such as Manchester and thanks to the Olympics, London very soon. The best thing about this is that it allows you to not get divorced or separated, as you can go on holiday at normal times with your partner and the kids like a normal person, even if you are the only bloke at the pool with already tanned shaved legs…
Now we love training camps; if I could I’d be on one a month! But why do we all go on training camps in February, March or April? Because its when the season starts? If we accept point 1) above, then “NO”. The reason ‘training camps’ are held in those months is that traditionally pros used to have their training camps then. Having not done much over the winter, they used to use them to get fit for the upcoming season. Modern pros are fit all year round and so training camps are used to hone certain aspects of their fitness. But guess what? Amateur cyclists can go on a training camp any time of year you like! It makes no difference. Go on try a training camp in October or even Tour de France clashing, July.
Pros ride bikes for money, rewarded for being the best of their generation, and have to compete in the hardest races. This combination has in the past lead to performance enhancing substance abuse. Fortunately things are changing but Pros still need extra protein and other supplements. With prize money of £30 or so on a Tuesday night, there’s no point taking performance enhancing substances as an amateur, especially when most of us struggle to even eat a decent diet, snatching a Chicken Tikka sani and a Mars bar at lunch. Improving our diets would make a huge difference. Not missing training to go to the pub even more of a difference. Not turning up at a race with a hangover…
Pros train all day everyday because they race ridiculously long distances that we will never race and only a few will ever ride. Us amateurs don’t have all day to train, as family, jobs, university or school all get in the way. Mostly we can only race in the evening or at weekends, and then only if it doesn’t clash with so and so’s wedding, or Bill’s birthday drinks, or the kids karate lesson. Do yourself a favour: forget high mileage and get a turbo trainer; use it all year round to supplement your real riding. Concentrate on quality not quantity as cycle races are not won by those who can cycle the furthest, but those who can cycle a set distance the fastest. Train for the amount of time that matches your races. If your races last 2 hours, train to ride fast for 2 hours, not steady for 4 hours.
Pros specialise in one thing, because they are paid to do so. The only specialisation an amateur rider should do is based on the number of bikes they have but even if you can only afford a road bike, you don’t just have to specialise in road racing… If you really do love cycling, give it all a go. Most of us end up with more than one bike anyway. There’s so many different events that you could do with just a mountain bike – cross country, enduro, marathons, 24hour races, etc – and with just a road bike you can race road and crits, whilst also riding sportives or randonees. Or get a cross bike and you can race cross, use it as a training and commuting bike, and have a go at the new breed of cyclocross sportives.
Pros shave their legs for historical, keeping-the-masseur-on-side, dealing with horrible road-rash and vanity-tan purposes. You do not have to shave your legs to race bikes as an amateur (note however, that I do shave mine, so I am a complete hypocrite).
Pros get their equipment for free. We don’t, so don’t constantly crave the best or the newest kit, and don’t be fooled into thinking that better wheels or a lighter frame is what you need to win races or set a better time. Concentrate on training hard and being the best you can be. Get to know the equipment you have inside out, so you can get the maximum from it. We all love to have new stuff and dream about having this or that superbike, but do you reckon Cav wouldn’t be able to outsprint you, or Brad out time-trial you on a £400 bike with Shimano Tiagra? Course they would. Cav would outsprint you on a shopping bike and Brad’d beat you on his Raleigh Chopper, green mod parka and all! Better to be an amateur athlete on a functioning, well maintained bike rather than just another bod on an expensive superbike.
Having said all that, despite all of the ups and downs in cycling, pros have given us amateurs a few things which are truly worthwhile… For a start there are a lot of race organising ex-pros and many amateur riders would do well to learn from the pros and put back into the sport that has given them quite a bit.
A lot of ex-pros also start bike companies and use their experience to build some of the most awesome bikes – not that I ever crave superbikes of course.
Pros tend to be generous supporters of the sport at grass roots level as well; they have nothing to prove so are not afraid to get stuck in and help out.
Mainly though, the pros give us a totally brilliant sport that just seems to get better every year; so whilst we recommend you, the amateur, stop trying to ride like a pro, you Pro’s don’t stop being pros!