Just Eat that Crois­sant

The strange ob­ses­sion of ama­teur rac­ers with their weight

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - NOTES FROM THE GRUPPETTO - By Bart Eg­nal

In one mem­o­rable scene in Ger­raint Thomas’s book, The Worl­dac­cord­ing­tog, he de­scribes train­ing on Tener­ife with his Sky team­mates. Af­ter a hard day doing in­ter­val train­ing, rid­ing up and down a vol­cano, he and his team­mates spin back to the ho­tel, pass­ing by tourists hav­ing pizza and beer on a pa­tio. Long­ingly, the rid­ers stare at the club rid­ers tuck­ing into their carb-heavy meals af­ter a day of rid­ing. The pros dream of the day when they can re­tire and do the same. Thomas’s book is filled with such anec­dotes, all of which drive home the point that to be com­pet­i­tive as a pro, you wage a con­stant bat­tle of the bulge.

This focus on weight makes sense: when the road goes up, the draft’s ef­fect is lim­ited and un­wanted pounds act as an­chors, drag­ging you to the back of the bunch, and then out the back. That’s why for pros, fig­ur­ing out how to train and keep weight off seems to be as im­por­tant a skill as mov­ing up in the bunch. (Re­mem­ber Tyler Hamil­ton’s sug­ges­tion to chase sleep­ing pills with lots of fizzy wa­ter af­ter a ride to keep from snack­ing be­fore din­ner?)

But what doesn’t make sense is that club rac­ers, many of whom I race with, seem to share this same ob­ses­sion. And I’m not just talk­ing about get­ting a lighter bike – the very def­i­ni­tion of di­min­ish­ing re­turns – I’m talk­ing about the ag­o­niz­ing pur­suit of a smaller waist­line in the name of per­for­mance.

Here are things I’ve heard (or maybe at times, even said my­self) on group rides: “I need to drop 15 lb. be­fore race sea­son!” “I’ve cut booze out in the months lead­ing up to the pro­vin­cial race se­ries,” “My se­cret is to go to bed hun­gry and the weight just drops off.” Now, if you’ve also been known to in­dulge in such as­pi­ra­tional think­ing about your size, take a deep breath and say the fol­low­ing with me: “IT DOESN’T MAT­TER AT ALL!”

Here’s why.

To­day­iliveinaflat­province,on­tario, and so do the peo­ple I race with. Blue “Moun­tain” boasts a whop­ping 452 m of el­e­va­tion. Yet even this HC (hors caté­gorie, for those of you new to the World­tour), epic col does not fea­ture in any sort of pro­vin­cial race, al­though, in 2015, the hilly Grey County road race has be­come a qual­i­fier for the ama­teur world cham­pi­onships. The hilli­est climb of the O-cup sea­son is the Eff­in­g­ham hill, and it as­cends a steep but short 60 m. For the past few years, the fin­ish hasn’t even been at the top of the climb.

It’s not like my old crew i n Van­cou­ver is rac­ing up Mount Sey­mour or Cy­press. Oh no. The ma­jor­ity of the road-race cir­cuit takes place in the great plains of Lan­g­ley, where the climbs are sim­i­larly brief and race fit­ness trumps be­ing wafer-thin. Just grit your teeth up the 1.3-km climb of 3.3 per cent on the Alder­grove race course and you’ll be fine – as­sum­ing you did your in­ter­val train­ing over the win­ter, that is.

Re­mem­ber: in short climbs, los­ing weight doesn’t make much dif­fer­ence for your climb­ing speed. In Jim Gour­ley’s book Faster, the au­thor looks at how fast you go up­hill on a 15-, 16-, 17- and 18-lb. bike. His con­clu­sion: a bike that is 2 or 3 lb. lighter will not make you sig­nif­i­cantly faster on a short climb.

Sure, if you’re over the weight limit of your car­bon wheels, it may be worth skip­ping a few brewskies and dough­nuts. But if you’re al­ready at a healthy, but not Froome-like, size, you can quickly gain much more speed by fo­cus­ing on aero­dy­nam­ics. Rac­ing i n a masters cat­e­gory? Wear a skin­suit in the race. The aero­dy­namic gains will vastly out­pace any­thing you’d get f rom be­ing 5 lb. lighter. Plus, ev­ery­one knows that the op­po­site sex digs body-hug­ging Ly­cra, right? (That’s what I keep telling my wife at least.)

But most i mpor­tant, there’s no pro deal com­ing. We are am­a­teurs – pas­sion­ate, com­mit­ted am­a­teurs. For those of us who race the pro­vin­cial cir­cuit, it’s un­likely that we’ll be get­ting a phone call from Can­non­dale’s gen­eral man­ager Jonathan Vaugh­ters any time soon.

How has this epiphany shaped my cy­cling? I try to en­joy the sport with­out hav­ing it be­come an ob­ses­sive, all-con­sum­ing life­style in which my eat­ing habits an­noy my fam­ily and those around me as I pur­sue a fruit­less quest for marginal gains.

So take my ad­vice: not only will you go just as fast, you’ll en­joy that ex­tra crois­sant more than you en­joy be­ing “race weight.” Make pas­try and espresso manda­tory ad­di­tions ev­ery long ride. You may not fly up that Cat. 7 climb quite as fast, but you’ll be hap­pier when you crest the top.

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