For the amateur cyclist there is a range of normal performance. It starts at ‘a bit crap’ and goes all the way up to ‘not too shabby.’ You probably fall somewhere within that range yourself.
Yet still, even those at the very top of their amateur game – with their kale smoothies and £300 Fizik shoes – are approximately one million miles away from the performance levels of the average pro-cyclist.
Perhaps you’ve seen a professional in the flesh?
You’ll have noticed that they look different to you and I. Skinnier, of course, but also smoother and more efficient. Much faster yet apparently, appearances suggest, not trying quite as hard. Delivering massive wattage with the minimum of fuss.
This is due to a number of things: talent, diet, genetics, and physiology, for example. It also has to do with the many millions of pedal strokes they complete each year, and the way this grooves their body into shape.
It was said, back in the 70’s, that Eddy Merckx was half-man half-bike, such was the perfection of the union between man and machine. While most pro cyclists fall well shorty of Merckx-ian standards this precise, refined calibration of body and bike is nearly always still present.
All of which makes the annual presentation of the Tour de France route – as delivered in Paris, recently, for the 2019 edition – strangely entertaining. Not because the cyclists ride their bikes, but because they don’t.
For the main event we get to see them trying, in vain, to walk like a standard human. Rather like the creatures of the Galapagos Islands, forced to evolve a set of characteristics specific to their needs, the walk of the average pro cyclist develops in isolation.
Take epic Belgian Greg van Avermaet; a man whose power and dynamism on the bike make him one of the most impressive one-day racers in world cycling. On an average day, however, his walk is only required to get him from the hotel reception, to the lift, and back out to the team bus.
Occasionally, as in Paris, he must ambulate, sans bike, across a stage, and seat himself in an audience.
He rarely has to walk to the shops.
He’s never run for a bus.
He probably has people who do stuff for him because his job is to save his legs for bike riding.
To see him walk is to watch an octogenarian arthritis sufferer doing the weekly shopping – your heart sinks slightly, you want to help, but you don’t want to be patronising. You sense the limbs could do the job, once, in the past, but no more.
Or how about Julian Alaphilippe – tiny, goatee bearded, and one of the stars of 2018.
But off the bike?
I dunno…a cross between a duck and a pirate, perhaps?
He a fantastic, entertaining, buccaneering cyclist, but I know toddlers with more stability in their walking style than Julian Alaphilippe.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: “c’mon ragtime, stop being so superficial…this was about more than the improbable gait of a selection of cyclists…”
And you have a point. There were the clothes, too. After several months of Lycra and logos the cyclists embraced their chance to be seen in public dressed in civvies. All of euro-fashion was there: skinny jeans, pointy shoes, flamboyant scarves, gold lamé boots (Nacer Bouhanni…naturellement).
Alas Geraint Thomas, current Tour de France champ, was clearly under team orders. Having stolen Chris Froome’s thunder throughout July the waggly-elbowed one was not to be outshone in the fashion stakes. All of which left Thomas only one option: go full Geography teacher.
Froome – great on the bike, bland off it – rocked up in conservative smart casual, leaving “G” to tone things right down in plain trousers and grey jumper. Anonymous. Thermos flask of milky tea to hand. Tweed jacket with patched elbows at the ready.
Once presented awkwardly to the audience the riders were left with the simple task of folding their grasshopper limbs into auditorium seats and appearing enthused for ninety minutes.
By the look of them, gagging for a bike ride.
(Velodrome art image: via McJade at DeviantArt https://www.deviantart.com/mcjade/art/Velodrome-331818194| Alaphilippe image: By filip bossuyt from Kortrijk, Belgium (TDF14341 alaphilippe) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)