If you’re a cycling fan it’s very likely you know your way around the terminology of performance enhancement. From brandy and amphetamines; through EPO and blood transfusion; and into micro-dosing and the grey areas of triamcinolone and ketones.
You want to go fast?
Choose your poison.
Here in the northern hemisphere, however, we embrace more natural alternatives. A herbal remedy to the mucky chemical hypodermic chic of yesteryear.
We’re talking meteorological doping.
Pure, uncut, weather. Mainlined.
Think back to the coldest you’ve ever been on a bike. Hands like claws; feet like floorboards; mile after mile in the big ring, without possession of the motor skills to click a lower gear. You probably cried in the post ride shower, chill blanes engulfing your hands and feet, a muffled whimper bouncing from the tiled walls.
For me this was Bologna, April 2019. A warm spring day, in shorts and light jacket, became two degrees Celsius, sleet, wind, and a bleak descent into an uncontrollable shiver on the bike.
And MAN I was FLYING that day!
Overwhelmed with cold, my only thought the completion of this hilly seventy-mile Gran Fondo and the sanctuary of a communal shower in a leisure centre on the outskirts of Italy’s food capital.
Firmly in the red. Heart rate spinning out against my maximum and precisely NO muscle tiredness whatsoever (due to a complete lack of any feeling from my eyebrows down). Numb like an opioid addict in a rust belt town.
Or, perhaps, like a ‘60’s cyclist high on brandy and speed.Embed from Getty Images
In this state your physical limits no longer depend on overrated concepts such as ‘talent’ and ‘fitness.’ I couldn’t have cared less how tired I felt. It comes down to how long can you stave off the onset of hypothermia whilst maintaining a semblance of spatial awareness?
Performance not so much enhanced as re-designed.
Rather like those riders back in the ‘90’s, blood like Ragu, hearts like great heaving pistons, in the desperate cold you are subject to alternative and previously unimagined parameters. Any physical pain – whether lactic acid, muscle cramps, or good old-fashioned lung trauma – drowned out by the visceral NOW! of the cold.
The psychology of survival allowing you to push harder, and further, than you ever dreamed. Way beyond normal levels of effort.
All the way to that communal shower on the outskirts of Bologna, as it happens, where you are forced to ask a naked, post-shower cyclist, to help you get your shoes off.
But this is not for the faint hearted. Meteorological doping is painful. You’ll wish you were dead. Every hair on your head – the only bits you can still feel – imploring you to climb off, curl up, and expire.
But then, post-ride, your nerve damaged digits click open the Strava app, you bathe in the data of enhanced performance, and it’s all worth it.
Rumours that cycling’s governing body, the UCI, are monitoring use of ‘the freezing bollock cold,’ and are considering out of competition testing to determine potential illegality are, at time of writing, unconfirmed.