Batman had Robin. The Lone Ranger had Tonto. And Dangermouse had Penfold. In the life of a superhero, the sidekick is as important as a cape and wearing your underpants on the outside of your trousers. A lone superhero is unheard of. Who’s going to zip up his costume at the back? And when he’s had a tough day fighting crime, who’s going to tell him that that Supervillan ‘just got lucky today.’?
A pair is always better than an individual. Every card player knows that. When women go to the toilet they don’t go alone. They always go with an assistant. Though not being a female I’ve never understood why. It seems that two is better than one. Unless you’re a woman trying to work out who the father of her child is. In that situation having more than one name on the list isn’t a good thing.
A professional cyclist spends their time doing three things. Racing, training and resting. Racing is done with the team along side team-mates who you usually only see between the time you arrive at a race and the time you leave to head off home again. Resting is done at home with your wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, dog, cat or whoever else you live with. And what about training? Those long hours in all weathers, doing the hard graft that wins you the races. Well that’s when you need a wingman. Your training partner.
Now of course you are allowed more than one training partner. A group is even better. Mostly because it means you get a rest from the wind. As a pair you’re not going to get any respite. Riding behind your training partner isn’t allowed. Side by side is the only way to go. Unless an irate driver forces you to briefly go into single file. That’s the only exception. Nor is a training group with an odd number really what you’re looking for. That results in someone being alone at the back with no one to talk to. It’s a lonely place where you can hear the conversation and the laughing, but you can’t join in - you feel like a spare part. You’re on the subs bench, waiting for your chance to ride next to someone.
If you’re a pro then training partners are hard to come by. During the week people who are successful go to work. And at the week-end they have limited time to ride as they’re too busy looking after their children, keeping their wife or mistress happy, or spending all the money they’ve earned. So your options are limited to either a fellow pro, someone who’s done so well for themselves they never need to be at work, or a free spirit who doesn’t have a job or career to hold them back. Students are good for this. They never seem to need to be anywhere and, even if they do, this doesn’t seem to stop them from not being there.
Last winter I trained a bit with a student who hadn’t raced much but was super keen. This is every pro's worst nightmare. If you ride with riders of a similar ability, then, while getting a kicking isn’t ideal, if they do leave you behind on a climb it isn’t a total disaster. And the better the rider, the less bothered they are about winning training rides. Even if they see you suffering, if it’s not in their training plan then they’re not likely to stick the knife in and finish you off. Pros also know that if they make their training partner crack on a ride, then, in the end, they will also suffer, as they will have to ride painfully slowly waiting for the ‘dead man cycling’ to drag himself home.
For young and inexperienced riders this isn’t a consideration. In their minds pacing yourself is for the weak and foolish. As I found out as with my student mate when we were immediately doing nearly 40km a hour. Students, while not in a rush to do any work or wash their clothes, when on a bike seem desperate to get somewhere else, and fast. This is fine if you’re feeling good. You just let them burn themselves out, and then when they blow after 2 hours, you up the pace and teach them an important lesson. Next time you ride with them you remind them what happened last time, and you can ride at a sensible pace from the start.
The big problem is when you’re on a bad day. If you’re a pro getting dropped by a 2nd or 3rd cat rider, that is right up there in third on the ‘bad things that can happen’ list. Only beaten by catching a sexually transmitted disease on a wild night out and spilling your pint of beer immediately after you’ve bought it.
In this situation there’s 3 options open to you. First, you could feign illness and turn off for home giving a few loud coughs to sound convincing. The next choice is to play the ‘experienced’ card and tell them all pros train steady, and if they want to get to the top they need to learn to train at a slower pace. The final option is to bluff. Pretend you’re comfortable at this pace, and every time they look at you make it look like you’re hardly trying.
This option takes a lot of experience to pull off. Not everyone can look good while being absolutely wrecked. This is where the poker face you’ve been practicing needs to be put into practice. Dark lenses are a must, preventing your tormentor from seeing your eyes. Eyes give away pain. If you pick this option you have to follow through. Otherwise, if you push yourself too far you will end the day lying in a ditch. A broken man. And if you’ve disgraced yourself by being dropped by a 3rd cat, no one will come to look for you. You don’t deserve their help.
Luckily for me, now my training group is made up of riders who are elite or 1st cat. It's an eclectic mix. A bit like the team on Anchorman. We’ve got a slightly ‘unusual’ one like Brick, a daft but loyal one like the Champ, a wannabe cool guy who doesn’t quite pull it off like Brian Fontana, and a not very successful leader of the troupe. Although unlike Ron Burgundy I’m not a big thing anywhere and I don’t play jazz flute. I wouldn’t change my training partners though. They're my mates and I know they will look out for me. And we form a rather formidable pub quiz team, or at least we do when we have good phone reception…
Thanks for reading.