Ever wanted to be a professional cyclist?

Saturday, 5 March 2011

I got an email from the guys at Bicycling asking if I’d consider submitting some words for a guest blog. As Bicycling Magazine puts it, “editor Bill Strickland is taking a short break from his blog The Selection to do a little extra work on the print magazine for Bicycling”  and they’ve got some other people to offer contributions.

Mindful of a slightly different audience, perhaps a bit wider that’s more interested in riding for fun and doesn’t care for the inside detail on race radios or the small print of the UCI rulebook, I typed a few words on the difference between riding your bike for pleasure and making a business of it all, a personal take but informed by all-too-common musings from guys that earn a living from racing. You can read it over at bicycling.com but for the record, here’s what I wrote…

Bicycling

Riding a bike for a living sounds like a dream job. Imagine it: Your whole day revolves around a ride. Get home from training and a relaxing massage awaits. Perhaps you’re getting a sports star paycheck too. Whilst we’re dreaming, think of the adoring fans who hog muddy fields or cling to mountain passes just to glimpse you in action. You always get top-of-the-range equipment, and mechanics are employed to clean your bike. What’s not to like?

Actually, plenty.

The pay is bad, working conditions are tough, and if you don’t like it, there’s no shortage of hopefuls ready to take your place. The trouble with being a pro is, well, it’s your job. It’s no longer about a Sunday ride with friends or chatting after a race with your rivals. If you don’t close that gap, it can cost you. Mortgage payments can be jeopardised by a crash. Even a puncture at the wrong time could impact your career path. Only a handful of guys at the top get big money. It’s a winner-takes-all world.

It’s hard off the bike, too. Whoever said “travel broadens the mind” didn’t stay in 2-star motels, eat pasta or rice every single day, and take short-haul economy flights around Europe. You could visit some beautiful corners of Europe, but forget visiting a museum or tasting some local wine. The season is increasingly long, and you spend a lot of time away from home.

Given all this, it’s not surprising many pros treat it like any ordinary job. Talk isn’t about the next race or fancy prototype wheels but the next vacation or the car they’ve got their eye on. Whilst you might work in an office or factory and daydream of their next ride, many a pro wonders how easy life might be sitting in an air-conditioned building instead of riding in all weathers.

Remember, if you don’t get on with your colleagues, at least you can go home and forget about them every day. The pro cyclist has no escape. They have to share a room with their co-workers.

This isn’t to say it’s all bad. The good news is, most riders do realise how lucky they are, and it’s very rare to find a rider who chooses to quit the sport. Retirement is imposed by age or injury.

After the 1985 Paris-Roubaix race, CBS reporter John Tesh approached Holland’s Theo De Rooy, who said: “It’s bollocks this race! You’re working like an animal—you don’t have time to piss! You wet your pants. “You’re riding in mud like this, you’re slipping—it’s a piece of s**t,” Screamed De Rooy in the fluent English that so many Dutchmen have at their command. Tesh looked at De Rooy and asked, “Will you ever ride it again?”

Without hesitation the rider replied: “Sure! It’s the most beautiful race in the world!”

So the next time you ride your bike, be sure to savour the pleasure. For its own sake.

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{ 8 comments }

ColoradoGoat March 5, 2011 at 7:55 am

Wow –

Imagine that…in 1985 John Tesh was working for a major network covering Paris-Roubaix.

When was the last time a major network covered a race other than the TdF?

Theo de Rooij March 5, 2011 at 3:37 pm

For a European rider like me at the time I was startled that my quotes became legendary. I mean, it is all about the winner, who cares about a guy who ends up in the broom wagon, looking and smelling like s… (bleep)? John Tesh did and it seems he is a big star in the USA. Even after so many years it is always nice to read these words. I can assure you that crossing the stretch of Wallers-Arenberg as the first rider of the race, as I did in 1985 and 1987, without feeling a single stone because you are in a flow, is one of the most exiting experiences a rider can have.

jkeltgv March 5, 2011 at 8:17 pm

Wow….we are in the company of legends!

I think Roubaix is the one race where we do actually care about the guy who ends up in the broom wagon smelling of…cobbles? This race is the one, after the tour, that has more documentaries made for it, more hits on Youtube and more photographers and media accredited. It is when, as fans, we can stand up to the general public and say “watch this….these guys are tough”. The same resulted from last years “Strade Bianche” stage of the Giro.

And which sunday rider doesn’t “turn it on” to drop their mates when they hit some cobbles/gravel/mud in an attempt to *try* to create the feeling Theo had those two springs a quarter of a century ago? In a way, there is no difference between the sunday riders and the pros – we are all just searching for that floating feeling when it just doesn’t hurt.

and check Manuel Quinziato’s photo (and comment) from Het Newspaper last week
http://twitpic.com/44950h

jkeltgv March 5, 2011 at 8:19 pm

actually, the comment doesn’t come out…..he said “We are not football players” on his (actually one of the most enjoyable) twitter account.

James March 5, 2011 at 11:51 pm

Very nice article. I think many wannabes don’t understand the work involved in being a “pro”. I really get tired of wannabes referencing “pro” in their weekend lives and riding. You see it all over the place on websites for online bike shops, blogs, etc. They may be fast in their group rides and they may win the odd criterium but “pro” they are not! I went to France to see Paris-Roubaix back in the early 80′s and I couldn’t believe how fast those guys were compared to the US racing I was familiar with. There is no comparison!

Thomas March 6, 2011 at 2:47 am

This page of your blog is yet another reason I subscribe to inrng.com It gives a “never-going-to-be” like me a chance to feel the swirl of your experiences as your words rush by. The comments by Mr. de Rooij are a wonderful bonus. Thanks again for taking the time to create and maintain this blog. Regards

Ben March 6, 2011 at 10:30 pm

As an American cycling fan, i return to those Liggett / Tesh CBS Paris Roubaix recaps each spring. They are oddities similar to what Theo himself mentions… Sports with a very human face. Not the saccarine “human interest” stuff we get from the Olympics yearly. I loved those Wide Wide World of Sports-style things, and perhaps why i love the sort of reporting i get here on the inner Ring, Pavé and others.

Forthelove March 7, 2011 at 9:16 am

You spoke of the cyclists, but what of the masseuse, chef, mechanics, etc. that support those cyclists that pursue the win? They devote countless hours and pursue minute details in order to assure complete confidence in their teammates. They, too, race within the race to support their cyclists. I imagine that this supporting work must be nearly as exhilarating as the actual race?

And you are absolutely correct. The profession can easily be defined as a constant tug-of-war in the athlete’s mind as he/she pedals along the Italian countryside, down the Californian coast, or up the French Alps, pondering both the greatest and worst moments of their competitive careers. It’s this irony of sorts that seems to enhance the sport even more. I like it.

I would find a way to make it happen – despite the madness. I have a friend who’s riding for BMC, living the dream, yet constantly fighting to stay ahead and on top of it all. He often thinks back on the good, ol’days, when he was riding with us on the weekend rides. Riding hard. The same hard riding that inspired him to become a pro. Crazy.

Congrats on the Bicycling opportunity. They’re very fortunate to have you contributing your talents and perspective. Bravo.

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