Notes from the Gruppetto
What’s good for the team isn’t always what’s good for the rider
A chat with the family directeur sportif
Every year pros gather at training camps in beautiful places like Tenerife to eat only the ends of baguettes, ride up mountains and plan their race seasons. All of the riders are called into meetings with their directeur sportifs and team principals. The athletes are asked what they want to race in the year ahead.
“I’d like to race the Classics and peak for Roubaix,” says the young neo pro. The DS smiles and says, “We have you down for bottle duty at the Tour Down Under. Start fasting tonight.”
“If you are OK with it, I’m ready to take the lead in a smaller stage race, so I can prove my suitability for Grand Tours,” says the five-year veteran climber who long ago won the Baby Giro. The DS utters sweet nothings about the climber’s talent and then looks at his sheet, “We had a few injuries so you need to go ride the cobbles. We’ll see how you’re doing when the Tour of Alberta comes around.” His colleague leans over and whispers something in the DS’S ear. “Oh, on second thought, maybe not.”
As a masters racer, I don’t get to go to Tenerife and spend weeks riding up and down the same climb while some ex-pro sits in a car and yells at me. But I do get to sit down with the DS and discuss my race schedule. My DS married me 10 years ago when my exercise consisted of playing hours of Worldofwarcraft. In the years since the bike has infiltrated my life, she has borne me two beautiful children who are biologically suited to fit into a skinsuit and save watts at any speed. Like any strong-minded DS, she must balance her primary rider’s delusions and ambitions with the broader needs of the team (family) and her own sanity.
The dance between this rider and his DS begins as the Ontario Cycling Association posts tantalizing clues of the forthcoming race calendar. Like a subject in a psychiatrist’s session, I read the organization’s evershifting posts like the Rorschach ink-blot test they are, hoping to discern some sort of final schedule. Will the provincial road championships be running this year? Will the race calendar go beyond July 1? As clarity emerges, I arrange a tentative sit down with the DS.
We begin carefully, like two duellists each worried about being struck by a mortal blow. I fend for my licence to ride. She endeavours to guard her sanity and minimize the inevitable absences she is required to endure, which are salved only by the balm of two hyperactive children.
I make the first tentative move, “So I’m thinking I’ll aim for only 10 or
“Isn’t that the race you did on Mother’s Day a few years ago?”
so races this year…” Silence. The DS processes the information. I go on, “Well, my season would normally start with the Good Friday race, but I’ll be in Girona for a training camp.” I realize this argument is not a compelling one.
“How about I do Calabogie, Springbank, K-W for provincials, Blue Mountain, Honda crit –”
The mention of the Honda crit provokes a response, and not a positive one. “Isn’t that the race you did on Mother’s Day a few years ago?”
I consider mentioning I got a podium in that race, but her raised eyebrow suggests this would be a poor time to bring that forward. Like any DS, she quickly forgets what you did for the team years ago.
I barrel on, even more tentatively. “I can try to race some crits on Tuesday, too. And maybe you guys could even come see one!”
Silence. The DS looks at the page where I have hopefully (delusionally) sketched out my race program. She takes a red pen from the drawer. Then she looks up.
“Your race program will have to be adjusted to meet the sponsor commitments.”
Like a pro, I resign myself to the reality that no race program is created in a vacuum. The sponsors must be satisfied. The DS must be obeyed. And personal goals must be subordinated to those of the team. Only thus can a race program come together and, most important, can another year’s licence to ride be granted.
So it was. So it will always be.