PRO TIPS BY NIC HAMILTON: YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED!
For the next installment of Pro Tips I will answer some of the most common questions that I receive about Pro Cycling. Enjoy!
Since we know cycling is a team sport (PRO TIP 4: SPECIALISTS), do all the athletes live in one central area?
While cycling is indeed a team sport and having a strong connection with your teammates is critical, most teams do not have a stipulation on where the athletes live. There are enough training camps and races to establish the cohesion needed to perform well without having to also live together. Typically, a cyclist will choose somewhere central to the majority of the racing, close to an airport, and most importantly somewhere with great roads to train on and great coffee! Most pros base themselves somewhere where weather is desirable as training in the rain or cold too much can impact your recovery as well as your immune system. Most cyclists also need peer support when training loads are high so it is no wonder why there are training hubs that establish over time (Boulder, Girona, Victoria…). When you spend so much time on the road, having a comfortable and relaxing home base is super important. Sometimes you may only have enough time to do your laundry, cook a couple meals, and then you are back on the road but those two days at home can sometimes be the most important part of recovery.
When I watch the races I see so many bikes on the roofs of the cars. How many bikes would a team use at the Tour of Alberta presented by ATB Financial?
Commonly each rider will have two bikes at a race: a race bike and a spare bike. However, since the TOA presented by ATB Financial has a team time trial (TTT) each rider will have another bike plus maybe three spare TT bikes to share amongst the team. Combine this with the one to two training bikes each athlete has at home and you are looking at just shy of 30 bikes for a team to prepare and compete at the Tour of Alberta – its no wonder the biggest sponsors of many teams are bike manufacturers themselves (I.E. BMC, Cannondale-Garmin, etc.).
Last year the stage in Lethbridge was raining hard the whole time and there may was even some sleet. Do races have “rain delays” or any weather cancelations like other sports?
I am not the first or the last to say it– cycling is the most difficult sport in the world. I have raced my bike through full on snow storms over a mountain pass in Korea, a monsoon in China, iced over cobbled streets, as well as a continual rainstorm for 8 straight days at the Tour of Ireland. It basically takes a natural disaster to cancel a bike race. That said, riders safety is paramount and the “old school” mindset is slightly being replaced by a much more logical modern mindset. Riders unions are forming to set guidelines for determining threshold race conditions. There is also the old-fashioned riders strike which happened at a race I was doing in Korea one year. The rain was at such a level that there was standing water on the course and the athletes refused to continue. A leader from each major team had a chat and they decided to boycott the stage. Race organizers do not like this but it is simply a matter of safety. Long answer to a simple question, but typically “the show must go on” is the status quo of cycling.
Why do so many cars following the race and what do they all do?
Long road races have what is called a rolling closure. What this means is that within the confines of a lead and sweep car, the racers can use the entire road and the public must yield to the race. Within this closure you have multiple police officers clearing the way, which accounts for up to 20 vehicles (cars or motorbikes). Next in line you have all the VIP cars, which included sponsors of the race, government officials, or friends of the race. Further down the line comes the entire peloton, which is often in several groups. Each group on the road has VIP cars and police escorts around them also. Interspersed in that section are commissaires, also known as referees. Each team is allotted one or two cars (decided by the race official and organizers) as well, which at 15 teams is another 30 vehicles. Following all the team cars is the Broom Wagon and the ambulance. The broom wagon sweeps the race and stays behind the last rider on the road. If someone gets dropped they have the choice to continue riding by themselves in hopes of finishing within a time limit (often a percentage of the winners time). If they give up they get in this car and it drives along picking up riders until the finish. Ending your day in the broom wagon is the worst feeling a bike racer experiences. Lastly, there are media motorcycles that zip in and out of the race at will, getting live video and still shots. The media motos have a driver and the photographer hangs off the back. These ladies and gentleman are nuts! They STAND on the back of a motorcycle sometimes going 100km/hr down a twisty descent and constantly accelerating and decelerating. They are crazy but do a very important job. So again, a long answer to a simple question but “the traveling circus” as a cycling race is often joking named has no shortage of acts.
Every sport has a prime or peak age…what is the peak age of a cyclist?
Road cycling falls into the endurance side of the peak-age research. It is arguably between 28-32. I say arguably because many researchers think its much later than even 32. Anecdotally, I have been in races where the winners were in their late 30s and, for example, Chris Horner won the Vuelta a Espana when he was just shy of 42 years old. The other side of the spectrum exists where we see young riders come in and dominate the sport also, cue Peter Sagan who was born in 1990 and won two stages of Paris-Nice in 2010…he was 19.
The third and fourth stages of the Tour of Alberta presented by ATB Financial finish on climbs at decent altitudes. How do the riders prepare for that?
Altitude training has become a pivotal aspect of modern training. Most athletes either live at altitude or incorporate training camps in the high terrain to boost their bodies going into a peak block. I wont get too deep into the physiology of it all but the gist is the body adapts to less density in the air (apparent lack of oxygen) and builds more red blood cells. Basically, you manipulate the bodies’ innate need for homeostasis and come back down to sea level with super charged oxygen transport capacity. Everyone reacts differently to these changes and to acclimate properly can take up to three weeks for some athletes. There is a quote that for me, as a recently retired biker trying new sports out for a change, really hits home: Specificity breads weakness. Ask a biker to run and they will blow themselves to bits. This is actually even subtly true within the confines of one’s own sport. The body becomes so hyper-efficient in its current environment that transitions to altitude feel even more difficult than it would for Average Joe. Ramble aside, most teams will be coming of a block of racing in Utah and Colorado which are also at altitude so they will likely be accustomed to the thin air well before they arrive in Alberta. Those who do not acclimate might have to be up to 30% stronger than those who have acclimated. For some superstars we will have racing Alberta this is in the realm of possible but it certainly helps level the playing field for those not as strong but did their due diligence in preparation. It sure makes for some awesome racing and big fireworks when the bodies revolt to the starvation of oxygen!
How do riders get paid? Do they have to get all their own sponsors?
This one is a short answer. The team, which has its own business name and bank account, works to accrue all the sponsorship and enters into independent agreements with those sponsors. The team then hires the riders, again under the name of the separate business. So while an athlete may race for a certain team, named for all public purposes after its sponsors, the paycheck comes from a bank account tied to the business name of the organization. For example, Slipstream Sports is the business name for Cannondale-Garmin. Contracts are negotiated with different conditions, for different term lengths, and payment is typically paid out monthly.
At the beginning of the race they call ten or so people to the line. How do they choose who gets this head start?
Firstly, this is more for show than anything. In a 200km race starting at the front row isn’t much of an advantage as there several hours to sort everything out. The race organization will often select a few local riders to highlight and get the crowds excited. Also, all the jersey wearers and some of the top G.C. riders will be called up as well. Usually, if there are National Champions in the race they will get a call up, so expect to see Guillaume Boivin (Optum Pro Cycling) the recently crowned Canadian Road Race Champ called up frequently if he attends the race this year!
Sometimes I see riders riding very close to cars in the race, is this allowed? What are the rules with this?
The answer to this is relatively vague. If the car is where it is supposed to be then it is ok, provided the rider makes attempts to regain the peloton. If that riders team car falls backward out of its position in the caravan to help bring a rider back up to the group then that is where the line is drawn. Extended “drafting” (as it is called) results in time penalties and potential ejection from the race. This line often is penned in fuzzy grey ink, as the referees will turn a blind eye if returning from a crash or a mechanical, although a team will not always get away with it…it is a super subjective interpretation of the rules but typically the team director (who is the driver of the car) will be given a warning first. Drafting another team’s car is more often accepted and usually directors will help other team’s riders out, tiptoeing around these rules. Hanging onto a car is seriously frowned upon (unless its dealing with a mechanical issue) and often results in ejection of driver and rider – but that’s pretty obvious, eh?
How do you deal with the snow and winter conditions in Alberta?
In the early parts of the season riders need to reboot the system after a winter break. This is done with long mileage and a lot of sub threshold, tempo/strength intervals. For us Canucks, the West Coast is the best place for this as we can train outside. That said, most bikers will point the arrow south and head for warmer climates. This part of the season needs to feel easy and light. Not to confuse you into thinking the training is easy, which is far from the truth, but mentally it shouldn’t be a huge burden. I have done these long blocks in Hawaii and while the training load is large (average 5-6 hours per day) being in paradise keeps me revitalized and wanting more. Rob Britton, one of Canada’s top pros combines Hawaii and Santa Cruz for his preparation because he says the sunshine helps him to push himself everyday without compromising his immune system or his mental state – seems to work as he is crushing it this year! If you are stuck in the arctic tundra we love so dearly, training indoors needs to be a creative process. Doing two smaller sessions per day helps break up the monotony of riding on the stationary. However, Catherine Pendrel (Wolrd Champion mountain biker and all around super hero) lives in Kamloops, and does a lot of her winter training on Nordic skis. So, there are many ways to skin a cat but the most important thing is that you stay mentally fresh at the early parts of the year.
Thanks for reading Pro Tips! I hope this piece was informative. If you have questions about these segments don’t hesitate to get on social media outlets and spark up a conversation.
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