Anyone who knows anything about the sport of cycling will tell you what a tactical sport it is; it’s as much about deals, dodgy alliances, and cunning, as it is about pure physical prowess.
There is always an etiquette or a subtext at play.
What not everyone realises is that this extends into the realms of the Sunday morning rank amateur too. And what even fewer people realise is that this can begin before you’ve even slung a leg over your bike.
Suppose you are due to meet your cycling companions for a 9am ride and the weather is not good – the wind is howling, the rain is sideways, and the temperature gauge is peering back at you with a smirk (or, perhaps, any two out of these three).
What time do you turn up?
Clearly, you should be planning to turn up to the pre-arranged meeting point at five past nine, ten past nine, even as late as quarter past nine.
This has nothing to do with asserting your authority over your mates (that would not be cool, however appropriate…), or being fashionably late, and everything to do with avoiding hanging around in this weather for a moment longer than you need to.
To go back to the comparison with cycling at the elite levels, take Spanish pro-cyclist and renowned ‘wheel-sucker’ Alejandro Valverde; what time do you suppose he would turn up for the Sunday morning ride when there’s a risk of milling around in the rain waiting for others?
I can’t help thinking that Mr Valverde’s take on matters would be, “why should I turn up on time and get cold while other arrive late and stay warm?”
Sometimes it pays to look out for number 1, and ask yourself: “What would Alejandro Valverde do?”
Just to be clear, I have no great insight into the mind of Valverde; I am dramatically reconstructing this based on his media constructed caricature as the wily fox/pantomime villain of the pro-peloton.
Of course, we don’t all have the star status of Alejandro Valverde – turn up too late and you could find that your mates have got fed up, given up, and set off without you.
The key to this delicate game of brinkmanship is to arrive as close as you can to the agreed meeting time, but crucially, later than everyone else. Keeping them waiting when they’re used to keeping you waiting is the only card you have to play.
Beware, however, of taking this little game too far.
If you hide around the nearest corner, or behind a lamppost, with the intention of spotting all the late arrivals to the group and timing your own entrance, you are essentially a peeping Tom (this is also quite extreme behaviour…not to be recommended).
So, when it comes to timing your early morning arrival:
Get everything right and you glide up to the meeting point and set off for your ride, warm, cosy, and with the minimum of hanging round (unless there’s some route-planning in progress, of course).
Get this wrong and you’re hanging around wet and cold before you’ve even set off.
Get this very wrong, and find yourself caught in the act of peeping at your own friends, in public, dressed in colourful and skin-tight Lycra, and the danger multiplies sharply.
This would be an embarrassment you would never truly recover from.
I think it’s safe to say that Valverde has never been down this route.