A funny little anecdote worked its way back to us from the Challenge Mallorca series of races a couple of weeks back, courtesy of one of the young Madison Genesis riders.
Picture yourself, if you can – and have a long enough memory to do so – as an aspiring 18-year-old cyclist, making your professional debut in what will hopefully be a long and fulfilling career. Last season, your staple diet of racing would have been local circuit races interspersed with the national junior road race series.
Now you are in at the deep end competing against the biggest cycling teams in the world; rubbing shoulders with guys you have previously only seen on TV; riding along in the middle of a bunch surrounded by the familiar jerseys of Garmin, Movistar, Cofidis, Omega Pharma, Lotto, Lampre, Euskaltel, Orica-GreenEdge, Sky…
A boy’s head could easily turn to mush at the very idea of such company. It could all be a dream. Then, as is the way with pro racing, you are rudely awakened by a split in the bunch. Through no fault of your own, you are at the head of affairs – but in the wrong bunch. There is a gap ahead. It is widening at an alarming rate.
Those guys – the ones who have been doing this for years and who you watch on TV – those guys are receding into the distance. Those guys were smart to the split. They can smell it before it happens; they’re ahead of the game; hip to the tip.
You, however, are raw as a cabbage in January. And on the front, into a headwind. Nothing for it but to blast across and bridge that gap – the trouble being that, no matter how hard you press on those damned pedals, the gap will not close. It stays exactly as it is.
Time for a change of tack: a flick of the elbow, a slight swing to the left, and let someone else do the hard work. Except the next guy in line doesn’t come through.
What is wrong with him? Does he not understand? A quick glance over the shoulder to see who the uncooperative swine might be, perhaps a few choice words at the ready to fire off in his direction – standard racing etiquette, you’d think, except your vision focuses on a gleaming Pinarello, then takes in the man aboard it. That uncooperative swine glued to your wheel turns out to be the winner of the Tour de France.
What to do? Knuckle down and get on with it is the answer. If Brad wants to come through, he will. If not, what are you going to do about it? Our young man pushes for all he’s worth, but still the gap does not close.
Eventually Brad pulls up level, glances across and issues the words you’ve been longing to hear; from anyone, let alone a Tour winner: “Jump on, lad.”
This man, who you used to watch on TV and hope one day to emulate, is giving you a free ride back to the bunch, because he can, not because he needs to. It is ever so slightly humbling.
Ned Boulting’s piece in issue 36 on the Revolution refers to the origins of the winter track series: Dave Brailsford’s ‘Pathway to Podium’ idea, where young riders compete in the same arena as Olympic gold medallists, and the magic rubs off. How can they fail to be inspired when riding with the likes of Hoy, Pendleton and the rest? Success breeds success – witness Becky James and Simon Yates’ respective gold medal rides on the track in Minsk.
So this young man from Madison Genesis, this wet behind the ears whippersnapper with much to learn and little time to learn it, picked up a couple of valuable lessons that day: always stay focused and don’t find yourself the wrong side of the split.
And, should the split occur and there is a gap to be closed, look to your friends in the peloton to help, even newfound friends like a Tour de France winner. Keep working hard and one day you may be in a position to return the favour…