TO WIN RACES THE PROS NEED TO BE IN PEAK PHYSICAL CONDITION, SAYS NED
The thing about cycling, and specifically trying to win cycle races, is that your body has to work properly. It’s no good trying to race the Tour de France, for example, if your body is a bit rubbish. That won’t end well. If you wheeze, limp, cough, hobble and generally hurt, then it’s unlikely you’ll be attacking Chris Froome and sprinting to victory atop Alpe d’Huez any time soon. It is, to paraphrase a certain Lance Armstrong (who understood so acutely the dangers of having a rubbish body that he chemically pimped his), Only A Bit About The Bike.
So, the body matters as much as the bit of kit it perches on. Of course, there is a whole column to be written about the insanity of a three-week stage race potentially being decided by a puncture, which still seems to me a quaintly 19th century kind of incident. Chris Froome still believes, deep down, that an exploding inner tube denied him an equal chance of victory in 2012. His one-and-a-half-minute deficit to Bradley Wiggins, sustained after a puncture on stage two, sank his GC challenge before it had even begun. Five years later another malfunctioning pushbike almost cost him his fourth Tour victory. Only a lack of bravery by his opponents, and some stellar service from his team restored his place in the group of favourites. Then there was the time he ended up running up Mont Ventoux because he actually didn’t have a pushbike. It is an unavoidable fact of cycling that your bicycle must work, all the way to the finish line. But the body bit has to work too.
Luke Rowe’s body doesn’t work very well at all, sadly for him. He smashed his leg to bits larking around in the water at a stag party. There is no Therapeutic Use Exemption for this. He cannot expect a Jiffy Bag full of legally-applied-for remedies to be delivered in time for next year’s Paris-Roubaix, which seems a trifle unfair. After all, what’s the difference between a malfunctioning leg, and a malfunctioning immune system? They’re both bits of the human body, right? Perhaps, instead of an inhaler, he should be allowed a massive head start, having his own personalised, neutralised roll-out from the Carrefour de L’Arbre. That would make up for riding with a broken leg.
I jest, of course. And I commiserate with the immensely likeable Welshman, who must be face-palming himself into a bleeding pulp on a daily basis, for which there is also no known TUE. But there is a (half-) serious point here.
Being well matters. If, for example, your GC rivals notice that you are having a bad day, perhaps struggling with a temporary bronchial impairment (a “sniffle” to you and me) they will exploit that. In fact, they will be dutybound to put you under pressure. It’s part of their job, being first and foremost physical athletes, to lord their supremacy over you whenever possible.
Would you slow down if your rival had a sudden hunger knock? No. Would you ease up, therefore if your rival was a bit wheezy? No way. Would you have waited for Tom Dumoulin when he needed a sudden poo during the Giro d’Italia? Um…
And so, we hesitate. The lines get blurred. We draw a distinction between the morality of the respiratory system and the digestive tract, which seems an odd thing to do. But there it is. Poos are perhaps so comically embarrassing, and nobody can function without their occasional appearance, that their sudden urgency represents cycling’s equivalent of a safety car. But I maintain that the ability to ride a race without having to poo can be trained, and should be rewarded. Attack any rider seen diving into the bushes with a copy of L’Équipe, I say!
Every physical impairment is inherently unique. I speak, of course from personal experience, having recently ruptured a tendon in my finger pulling off my socks! The fact that the socks in question were a gift from David Millar’s Chpt3 brand didn’t stop me from messaging him urgently, instructing him to issue an urgent product recall – “Your socks are death traps!”
“Your tendons are not made to the same high specification as my socks,” he replied. A fair point. As I said, the body has to be up to the job. Mine isn’t. Not even for getting undressed.