My Appetite for Cycling
When I talk to my friends about cycling, I can see immediately that to
them it is as exciting as watching paint dry, their eyes display a pitiful
tolerance normally reserved for the mentally subnormal. However much I
try to explain races within races, basic strategy and the different colour
jerseys, I seem to only increase their opinion that I am one step away from
being certified. So why, in the face of such formidable opposition, do
I continue to wax lyrical about being a cycling fan?
I confess at times it does seem to defy logic, hours spent at the side of
a road in the rain to watch a brightly coloured peloton fly past does seem
just a little crazy. Apart from the obvious merits for a woman of any
age watching young athletic sportsmen clad in lycra, a reason strong enough
for me to doubt the sanity of my cycling skeptic friends, you have to
experience the race atmosphere to understand this addiction. Being a
cycling fan is like eating a good meal, it’s not only the combinations of
tastes and a good wine, it needs to be consumed in the right surroundings.
Naturally for ‘starters’ it is necessary to go to the start of the race
and watch the signing on as not only will you see all the stars in the flesh
as they climb up to sign their name, you have ample opportunity to study the
bikes that they ride. Another thing to savour is that you can learn
alot about the characters of the cyclists; for example, Ivan Gotti who I had
always considered to be rather serious and retiring turns out to be so
talkative that he loves to while away the time before the start gossiping
with his compatriots in the race. I can almost visualise him in his
curlers at home hanging over the garden fence every morning for a good old
chinwag. No starter is complete without its garnish and at the start
this is spotting the riders such as Armstrong or Ullrich, and gazing in awe
at those thigh muscles that have motored up the highest mountains and won
the biggest tours. What is it that makes them different from the other
All this is consumed in the heady atmosphere where shapely publicity
girls ply you with their free promotional items, ranging from caps to pens.
The senses are assaulted by the music, the loudspeaker announcing the riders
and interviewing them, and of course drooling over those Lycra clad thighs.
This memorable first course is rounded off with the hunt for the perfect
photographic souvenir, and with little effort many will be handed to you on
a plate. Suddenly the riders start to move towards the line in an
atmosphere of expectancy, the excitement builds and even Gotti the gossip
has gone quiet. Then en masse the police outriders rev up their
motorbikes and with radios bleeping and flags waving they pull off on to the
route. The tape is cut, the peloton rolls away and you are left with a
feeling of contentment with this first ‘taster’.
Before partaking the ‘main course’ naturally you need to study the
cycling menu, or race profile, and select the best part of the course to
suit your taste. Wherever possible I choose the mountains because not
only am I able to relish the experience over a longer period of time, any
key moves that will affect the overall result can take place on this
terrain. As the surroundings play an important role an early arrival
before the roads are closed off is essential, that is unless you fancy a
long walk up hill to increase your appetite. I recommend that you
drive up to the top of the climb noting all the best places to park and how
close they are to the necessary ingredients, a steep gradient, a likely
point of attack or a tight hairpin. Once your selection has been made
you will need to absorb the advantages of your chosen spot, a walk up and
down the road or a climb up the side of the mountain will soon confirm this.
The next stage to heighten your enjoyment will be tuning in to the car radio
to find out where the race is and what’s happening.
Just at the point when you are feeling tired of waiting, the faint sound
of a police siren wafts up the mountain and soon after a police motorbike
with a yellow flag lets you know that the roads are about to be closed.
This is the first sign that something is happening and there is a rising
sense of anticipation, it is similar to the waiter coming to the table to
lay your knife and fork, you know that there is not too long to wait.
Shortly after, the whirr of the helicopter blades can be heard and
immediately you spot it in the distant skies hovering high above where the
race must now be. More sirens wail and the motorbikes with the red
flags flapping start their procession past, the roads are now closed and an
overwhelming feeling of exhilaration rushes through you. The
helicopter is getting so close that the dust from the trees is chucked up
into the air. The aroma of the race has begun to assail the senses,
the meal is not far away and your hunger for it grows with every passing
The sound of clapping and shouts come from further down the mountain and
suddenly the waiting is over, the lead group is a small group of riders who
have put in an attack and their efforts are clearly marked on their faces.
Beads of sweat run down their noses as they stretch themselves out of the
saddle, some grimace with pain as they hope to be the protagonists of the
key move of the day. As always I am struck by the fact that I am
standing so close that if I put my arm out I would touch one of them.
What other sport can you get so close to your heroes that you can see every
emotion and effort, almost face to face, and not pay a penny to do so?
As the bunch comes past shortly after, it is a chain of bronzed legs
turning purposefully. They all seem comfortable and relaxed, the eye
is challenged to recognise each rider but reading the faces is far more
interesting, who is suffering and who is not. However, after the main
bunch has past the meal is still not over, that is until the motorbike with
the green flag passes. Whilst waiting for the ‘bus’ there is time to
digest the images that I have been bombarded with and discuss with my
companions which riders we managed to spot and who looks good for the stage
Eventually another motorbike passes with its siren wailing tirelessly,
this one is going a bit slower as it tries to maintain the speed of the
riders. A large pack of riders, mainly sprinters and domestiques are
laughing to keep their spirits up as they face the long climb ahead. A
Belgian rider has picked up a traffic cone and is wearing it on his head; it
totters dangerously as he tries to sustain his rhythm up the climb.
Jokes fly from side to side across the group, anything to stop them thinking
about how much this climb is going to hurt. There are a couple of
riders who have dropped of the back and they are clearly suffering, the
jokes are no use to them it will be hard work just to finish in the time
limit. Still no sign of the green flag, the race is not over, then I
spot a couple of riders making their way up at a fair speed, one has
suffered a mechanical problem and they are working hard to rejoin the bus.
Everyone in the crowd is offering support and encouragement regardless of
the team or nationality of the riders. This is another aspect of
cycling that I love, everyone is so friendly it is impossible to imagine an
argument or fight breaking out, everyone communicates with each other
regardless of language barriers.
The final motorbike and the broom wagon have passed so it’s time for the
dessert, there is always a vast choice on the cycling menu, the solitary win
at the top of a climb, the bunch sprint, the suicide attack that makes it to
the line just as the bunch catches the rider, the top riders on
classification battling it out for the time bonus and the overall leaders
jersey. The possibilities are endless, but unlike most other menus you
can’t order what you want, it is a case of having to wait and see which one
turns up. I personally can recommend every choice available, whatever
the circumstances the sight of a rider crossing the line with his arms in
the air, a big smile on his face and sometimes tears in his eyes is truly
uplifting. A taste that lingers on the palate forever. Fully
satisfied by the banquet that I have experienced it is time for coffee, so
off to a nearby cafe to discuss the day’s events. Later on I might
spend a moment or two pitying my non-cycling friends who will never know the
pleasure of dining so richly.