Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Guest post. The Art of Cycling

Today I am bringing you a blog entry written by my very good friend Michael Spehar.  Michael is not a cyclist.  Yet as an outsider he has written a piece that clarifies the complicated simplicity of bike racing.  There is this never-ending analysis of technique, training method, tactics, and physiology.  All of this vocabulary can creat barriers to improvement.   What a cyclist needs to focus on is just one thing...  Turning the pedals.

The Art of Cycling: A Layman’s Perspective
Watching professional cycling is always an entertaining venture, avid fan or casual viewer alike; albeit for vastly different reasons.  To a person indoctrinated and baptized into the world of cycling, the intricate nature of strategy and rhythm is no doubt akin to a general mobilizing his troops.  Planning a dozen moves ahead, taking into account the terrain, the time, the weather, barometric pressure, the capabilities of your enemy, the perpetually shifting face of the engagement.  I imagine to the enthusiast, a 4 hour race would be akin to a slow dance which culminates in a blitzkrieg of muscular and pulmonary prowess. Reading signals and responding in turn with grace and practiced ease, a balance of violence and control.  A world where one might lay in wait for an eternity only to spring forward, when a few seconds can make or break your day.  A world where a strategic move may be made and the fruits of your calculated act will be reaped hours from now.  A world of multi-layered complexity coupled with the peak of mental and physical prowess; the perfect sport.

Or so I would imagine. 

I have glimpsed into the looking glass of cycling while watching the passionate, animated, and frankly zealous reactions of my cycling friends gathered around the television during the Tour De France.  Hearing the big names of Jan Ulrich, Eddy Merckx, and Alberto Contador being tossed around with the same fervor as 16 year old girls gushing over the “hunks and hotties” of the week.  Yes, there is much entertainment to be had in the month of July. 

It should be mentioned that it took all of my willpower not to include Lance Armstrong in that list out of an effort to appear knowledgeable and cultured in the cycling world.  A world that I am admittedly not schooled in.  While my bicycle buddies will utilize only the edge of their seats, eyes unmoving from the television while the two-wheeled battle plays out in front of them, I am there to laugh in utter confusion at their reactions and steal their beer.  Most often the ale is given willingly, since beer has too many calories.  Or so I’ve been told.
To be blunt, they watch the race, and I watch them.  And I would suspect I’m not alone.  For those of us who feel that 20km by bicycle is a marathon and $500 is a lot to spend on human powered locomotion, this world of “drafting” and “crits” and “cadence” is strange and amusing.  It is a culture of funny looking men using funny words, and the funny people watching and whooping. 

 I was watching the Tour last year with my good friend Cuylar Conly.  He mentioned how the team leader often would have a headset or earpiece, with the coach relaying information and strategy.  At this mention of strategy, I was utterly baffled.
“Strategy?” I inquired.  Lowering my/his beer and raising my eyebrows, “How so?”
Cuylar was about to launch into what I am sure would be an explanation of long term cycle strategy that would have no doubt been very informative, detailed, well structured, and looooooong.  I opted instead to state what I believe all this hifey-fifey biking guff really amounted to.  A simplistic view that I feel is the root of all bicycle “strategy.”

The root of all bicycle strategy is peddling, moving your legs in a circle, nothing more than doing the same thing over and over for the appropriate duration.  All of the instructions that one will receive from their coach will ultimately amount to doing the same thing faster at times, maybe a little slower at times.  A cyclist is made to do the same thing up a hill, down a hill, standing up or in an aero tuck.  Doing the same thing behind some other guy who’s doing the same thing you are, but he’s working twice as hard. Ha, brilliant.  In the end if you do the same thing faster and longer than anyone else you get to wear yellow and be on cereal boxes in the UK.

So I’m sure it should become apparent why we laymen find the hype surrounding and saturating televised cycling so humorous and enjoyable.  It’s a lot of people doing the same thing for a long time, and other people wishing they could do the same thing as good as Jacques Anquetil could do that same thing.  Perhaps this strategic breakdown will provide much needed perspective and clarity to any cyclists that over think the sport that they love.

Now I’m off to watch the NFL and squeal like a little girl. Excuse me.


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