Check out the new Hope Lotus track bike, the marketing blurb implores us. Futuristic, wind tunnel tested, revolutionary, radical, cutting edge, blah blah. Created to deliver a shed load of GB cycling medals at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“We have refined the manufacturing method to make a superior product,” said Ian Weatherill, the Managing Director of Hope Technology. “The end result is improved stiffness and front end feel, ensuring greater rider confidence,” say Lotus.
The same words, slightly rearranged, uttered by every manufacturer of every bike I’ve ever owned, coincidentally.
One day, I’ll read an honest technical spec of a mid-range road bike: “Cost saving materials ensure a slightly flexy frame made from several pieces. On a quick downhill bend, to be honest, you’ll shit yerself!”
This Hope/Lotus affair is probably a very quick bike, but look at it. It’s horrible. “Lads, seriously, I’ll settle for bronze if I can just ride something a bit better looking,” said Ed Clancy, probably, post photo-shoot. I mean, and at the risk of uttering the most bike-nerd of all the available bike-nerd phrases: look at the seat stays for goodness sake.
The whole thing – bike, launch, nonsensical marketing speak – reeks of the fetish-isation of relentlessness in pro sport. I get an absolutely bellyful of lean thinking and continuous improvement at my day job without being expected to stroke my beard and earnestly appreciate systems and process in the name of entertainment.
In sport, I must confess, I find relentlessness tedious. High performance is only interesting in contrast to its less revered younger sibling: abject failure. Don’t get me wrong, I can get excited by a spot of dominance now and again, but I also like weakness and flawed character.
Brad Wiggins’ Tour de France win in 2012 came off the back of several decades of a British rider getting nowhere bloody near a Tour de France win. That was what made it so spine-tinglingly incongruously brilliant.
The French have all but mastered abject Tour de France failure for a couple of decades now. Imagine what a spectacle an eventual French win will be. Given the choice between that and several years of relentless Egan Bernal domination, it’s no contest.
Ideally the French winner would be one whose diet consists of roast partridge and champagne and to whom technology constitutes a heart rate monitor. At most. At a push. Basically a cross between Jacques Anquetil and Thomas Voeckler.
And they’ll win it once, and then barely contest another bike race again.Embed from Getty Images
Consider this. Think back to he closing stages of the brutal, freezing, rain-swept men’s road race at the World Championships in Yorkshire. We had a final group of four, lapping Harrogate clear of the field and setting up the finish. Among the four was Mathieu van der Poel; freak, prodigy, and third generation genetically engineered pro cyclist.
Smart money and sages of the sport fancied his chances. He looked strong and decisive, as he always does, battering those pedals like steam powered pistons in the engine of a massive train. And then. BLAM!
Hunger knock, the bonk, the man with the hammer; call it what you want. Glycogen levels at zero, energy depleted, and everyone’s favourite Dutchman all but rolled to halt. Having failed to gobble enough calories he finished the race like a London marathon runner in a diver’s suit. Several minutes off the back of the field.
It was a dramatic, sporting tragedy, and wonderfully relatable.
If you’re a cyclist, you know this feeling. Doesn’t matter whether you’re Mathieu van der Poel or a rank amateur, when you bonk you bonk. No coming back from that.
But the disciples of relentless are working on a solution. By feeding a ton of data into a gadget they know how much a rider must eat, and when, to keep the engine ticking over. Many pro cyclists consult an app post-race, into which their personal metrics are fed, to guide them in energy replenishment.
Gone are the days of “right lads…fill yer boots,” in favour of “OK chaps, one hundred grams of brown rice, half a lean chicken breast, and as much broccoli as you like…seriously boys, go to TOWN on that green stuff!”
The next step is on board data, alerting riders individually when, and what, they need to eat, based on real time readings. Banishing the dreaded knock to history. Undoubtedly scientific but not massively romantic, and certainly not in the name of fun or excitement.
Just because we can do it doesn’t make it a good thing.
You can’t just uninvent this stuff of course. Once one team gets into this level of detail the rest have no choice but to follow. But it strips out a layer of humanity and takes us one step closer to Zwift racing, on computers, but actually out on the road, with real scenery flying past and everything.
If that makes sense?
No doubt, at some point, this will be available to us mere mortals. We amateur cyclists. Those of us who unironically refer to ourselves as Strava ‘athletes’ and those who don’t. I, for one, will turn down this offer of relentlessness.Embed from Getty Images
And as I read about legendary French Tour winner Laurent Fignon and his planned visits from the man with hammer (as part of his regular training regime) I will think “I know the feeling Laurent me old mate…” If I forget to eat, well then I should’ve remembered, shouldn’t I?
Serves me right.
Ultimately, it seems fairly likely that the Hope Lotus bike may well help deliver a jersey pocket full of Olympic medals next year. After all, British Cycling have form in this regard. I can’t help thinking, though, that I’d rather watch them rattle around the boards on a full set of team issue Raleigh Bananas, and win nothing but the hearts of everyone watching.
But then I’m a romantic.
A hopeless, flawed, relenting romantic.