As anyone who knows anything about body language will tell you, the way we carry ourselves and the gestures we make communicate all manner of information about our thoughts and intentions.
They will probably tell you this whilst shaking you firmly by the hand just to really force their point home. If they are simultaneously stroking their hair and pointing their crossed legs in your direction, they have other motives too. You may wish to consider your options.
For a cyclist, the importance of the signals you give off cannot be understated. Even at my level, that of a rank amateur, it is advisable to bear this stuff in mind. The ability to feign indifference in the face of bad weather, steep hills, and gruesome saddle sores is always a useful tactic, and a plausible demonstration of poverty at the mid-ride café is always a wise move.
For a pro-cyclist, this stuff is absolutely crucial. Take the current Giro d’Italia of 2016 and the behaviour of the various protagonists.
There are the two old hands of course, Vincenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverde. After years of practice their body language is fixed and unwavering whatever the race situation: Valverde with the classic poker face, and Nibali’s usual grumpy and unsmiling demeanour. Surprisingly, Nibali developed his body language further this year with a tactic of consistently not riding fast enough to keep up with his rivals, and hanging off the back of the lead group.
That may not have been intentional.
Beyond these two, it’s the new guys.
Bossing the race is young Dutchman Steven Kruiswijk, who is essentially a pair of shoulders on a bike. Beyond those shoulders there are no other discernible personality traits, and any body language is largely shoulder-related. So mainly shrugging, really. I’m sure he’s a great guy in real life, with a full and well-rounded character, but in the heat of battle there’s nothing to go at; just those coat-hanger shoulders.
I’ve also spotted Kruijswijk rather impressively swigging drink from his bottle, looking around in relaxed fashion, and casually mopping his brow at crucial moments when the pace of the race is really on.These gestures are all designed to tell his rivals: “pedal all you like lads, this is a doddle”.
So what of the others?
Esteban Chaves just smiles. All the time. Cheerful, and smiling, and gamely dancing up the climbs. If anything he’s the opposite of Valverde; happy, naïve, and sporting a full head of thick hair.
Ilnur Zakarin is the gangly Russian in a perpetual wrestling match with both bike and gradient, and not helped by that ragged white bandage strapped around his knee. He seems to exist in a permanent state of almost cracking from the effort, yet remains resolutely at the business end of the race. Where most cyclists do all they can to project an image of calm control, Zakarin boldly does the opposite.
And the opposite of Zakarin is Bob Jungels; all mirrored shades, crisp white jersey, and cool demeanour. He also sports hair that, if not quite in Marcel Kittel’s league, is at least in the same race (well, it would be if Kittel hadn’t upped and left along with the rest of the sprinters once the Dolomites appeared on the horizon).
Cycling may well be the ultimate test of physical endurance and stoicism in the face of hardship, but half of it is in the mind. And half of that is in the body language.
Just remember that next time you unexpectedly find yourself leading the Giro d’Italia.