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My Appetite for Cycling

By Magpie

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 riders? 

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 second.

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 win. 

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.



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