Brian Holm has one straightforward piece of advice for the amateur rider who wants to look “pro” in winter: ditch the thick, fleece-lined jacket and layer up.
“A normal pro, going fast, would be boiling after thirty kilometres in a jacket like that. You wouldn’t be able to breathe.”
For the average club rider, this might sound a punishing to the point of masochistic prescription, but for Holm it’s perfectly logical: “You shouldn’t really be cold if you’re going fast enough.”
Of course, if you choose to follow his advice you might have to ride a bit harder than you’re used to, but that’s precisely the point.
It also explains why his own, recently released 12.16 range of clothing does not include any below-the-waist wear with coverage extending beyond the knee. As Holm inimitably puts it, “tights are for ballet dancers”. Leg warmers, he concedes, are acceptable attire, but only as long as “you take [them] off after half an hour.”
He is similarly prepared to make allowances for the possibility that on a cold January dawn your core might not be quite up to temperature as you leave the house. That’s why, he says, “I always start with a jacket on. After ten kilometres, I’m warmed up, I put it in my pocket.”
Sartorially speaking, Holm tells Rouleur, “I always think less is better.” One rider who apparently took that attitude to its apotheosis, and whose approach Rouleur can not in good conscience recommend readers adopt, was Holm’s training partner, fellow Dane and former pro, Rolf Sørensen.
Sørensen, says Holm, “was a piece of art” who “always headed out without gloves, even when it was really cold.” What’s more “he would never, in the spring classics, wear a base layer. Even in the cold and rain of Flanders.” Holm saw this as Sørensen’s way of psyching himself up, and others out. His way of saying “now we go to war”.
Holm has an almost gleeful affection for this kind of riding which is either mega-masculine, or hyper-Nordic. He compares the experience of heading out into the bitterest of Danish conditions to “team building in the forest, with SAS forces. You feel alive when you get home in the afternoon. And that’s what cycling is about, isn’t it?”
Unsurprisingly, the Quick-Step impresario holds little truck with the modern approach to winter training which see riders slope off to sunnier climes at the first sign of inclement weather.
“As soon as they’re forced to race in the cold they feel it more. In the past you would always train in the cold and there’d be no excuse.”
Are today’s riders softer than when Holm rode? “Of course they’re a bit softer, but maybe they’re just a bit smarter than we were. I think the truth is somewhere in between but it might be advantageous for some riders to do it like we used to. The hardmen. The Sean Kelly types who would never say a word. ”
Stylistically, Kelly is the rider Holm holds up as the role model for any winter wannabes. “If you have doubts, you always ask yourself: Would he wear something like that? If you have any doubts at all, then don’t.”
Of the current class of riders under his stewardship, one whose grit Holm does approve of is Philippe Gilbert.
“[Gilbert] doesn’t really care about the weather. If it’s raining or snowing he gets out. He’ll do what he has to do, without thinking about it. You see some riders they’re always thinking about it. Guys like Gilbert, he’s just getting on his bike, get out, get it done. You’ll be fine.”
Aesthetically, nothing vexes Holm like kit adorned with slogans.
“You can spot an absolute beginner cyclist when he’s got ‘pain is temporary’, ‘ no pain no gain’ , or ‘conquer’ on his jersey or bibs.”
Asked to name the most egregious culprit of on-bike fashion crime, Holm offers up compatriot Chris Anker Sørensen. Sørensen rode the 2013 World Championships “dressed in long red trousers and short sleeve jersey. My eyes was bleeding that day. Only Chris could get away with that one. Most would have been suspended for 6 months.”
Of course, even Holm concedes there comes a point when it’s so cold that the rules go out the window, you can wear whatever you like and “it doesn’t matter how you look as long as you’re warm.”
What point is that, I inquire naively? “About minus fifteen degrees.”
Gulp. I think I’ll see you in Mallorca, Brian.
Brian Holm is guest editor of Rouleur 17.8