If you’ve been outside, turned on the television or have a vague grip on the workings of the Gregorian calendar, you’ve probably noticed: Christmas is coming.
At this festive time, spare a thought for the poor professional cyclists. Bob Geldof should be penning a ditty for them [Ed – not sure about that, on quality and propriety levels].
Imagine how grim it is. Firstly, you’ve just spent three weeks in December at altitude on a Tenerife mountain, so you haven’t had any time to do present shopping and can barely stand up through fatigue. (Oh well, that skeletal climber dropping everyone won’t be so smug when he gets blooded at Het Nieuwsblad.)
Cue a panicked spree at 3pm on Christmas Eve, blundering round Poundland, buying anything and everything on offer. Brother: he can have a tin of spam. Sister: Cliff Richard calendar. He’s still cool, right? Hey, you’ve spent eight months of the year doing a tour of European bike races and Campanile hotels so you don’t know what the youth are into these days.
Mum: novelty biscuit tin shaped like the Cookie Monster. Dad: antifreeze. Done and done. Merry Christmas from your negligent, knackered professional cyclist son.
Christmas Day riding options are limited. You could go for a five-hour proper training ride, but you risk getting knocked off by the numerous careless drivers, hours late for their dinners with in-laws.
A gentle two-hour ride will suffice. Sod’s law, you’ll nail the technical 40mph descent en route but will somehow contrive to find the only patch of ice within the area, two minutes from home, and fall off.
Bags of character: Cyrille Guimard dresses up as Santa, 1973. pic: Offside/L'Equipe
Back at the house, your family is especially delighted to see you and eager to make up for your absence by eating and drinking as much as possible.
But then there’s the nagging guilt about excess calories. Whenever reaching for that extra mince pie, the mental image of a Jean de Gribaldy-type figure wagging his finger, tutting gently and shaking his head pops up. Want another mince pie, fat boy? Sure, you can have it - just add five extra intervals into tomorrow’s session.
No, can’t do it. Want that top ten at the Etoile de Bessèges too much. So the cyclist puts down the mince pie, forlornly glancing up at the television. The Great Escape is on. Seen it ten times already.
Bah humbug, Christmas really sucks for the professional cyclist. And New Year’s Eve? Don’t even go there (to sum it up: bedtime at 9pm, woken up by fireworks/barking dogs/incoherent, well-intended phone calls from drunk friends etc.)
So, bring on January and February: when everyone else is miserable and bloated and there’s nothing to look forward to. Because that’s actually the best time to be a professional cyclist: a box-fresh season brings renewed hope and a few blessed weeks of freshness before being run down by bike racing by the time the spring Classics roll around.
STAT’S THE WAY, UH HUH UH HUH
100 – Percentage of the WorldTour peloton currently at warm-weather winter training camps in and around Alicante. That’s what it feels like, anyway. They’re single-handedly keeping Costa Blanca hotels in business.
Jeremy Roy descends the Tourmalet in May. He doesn't get very far...
Relive the time that Bradley Wiggins won a WorldTour bunch sprint.
“Getting down a bowl of pasta at six in the morning is more difficult than it seems.” Matt Goss test drives a Subaru and comes across rather Alan Partridge.