Monday, 7 May 2012
A day at the races - part 1.
They're not shy, cyclists. And God, I love my mirrored aviators. It's like Mr Ban knew.
Well, I'm not going to insult you, dear reader, by trying to suggest for one minute that I don't know where to look. I know full well where to look, and the effort of not looking is blinking SUPERHUMAN. And exhibitionist cyclists are just one of the things you need to be prepared for if you find yourself attending a race in support of your cyclist.
Ladies, please note I can only speak from my own limited experience. If you are to attend (for example) a stage of the Giro and don't see Bernie Eisel's willy in a village hall car park before the stage start it's not my fault, I suspect it might work slightly differently at WorldTour level. Or maybe not. Might be worth a try, eh?
Races seem to be ridiculously early on a Sunday morning. And generally (the ones up here anyway) they are in the middle of nowhere. So be prepared to be up at bollocks o'clock, pale and bleary-eyed, making porridge; as prior to racing your cyclist you will need to 'load' him. One time the cyclist requested pasta for pre-race breakfast. He got it, but strangely enough it didn't hit the spot at 6.30am and porridge has been henceforth officially proclaimed the 'Breakfast of Champions'.
Pre-race, your cyclist will probably be stomping around in a right arse as he performs the rituals of Getting His Kit Together and Loading the Car; the ProTip here is to ignore him and watch cartoons as your involvement will not be required until a 10-minute round of Hunt the Heart Rate Monitor Chest Strap, and possibly a quick go of Where's the Car Key (You Had It Last). Also, expect the drive to the race to be conducted in near-silence as he gets his race head on.
The race HQ is likely to be a Village Hall, with parking spaces for about 6 cars. You will almost certainly be parked on a grass verge about a quarter of a mile down the road with someone's Punto up your arse. Let me make a serious point here; ladies, do not go to the toilet in the race HQ before the race. I cannot emphasise this enough. If you're lucky, you'll be faced with the sight of a couple of 3rd cats doing their Chamois Cream face in the ladies. If you're unlucky, you'll wish it had been the 3rd cats Chamois Cream face. In fact, don't go to the loo at all. These cyclists have no regard for the differentiation of the Mens and Ladies facilities. Prior to the race there will be 60 fellas 'getting to race weight' in there. And after they've all set off, the loos will be Glastonbury-level post-apocalyptic. And they'll have used all the tracing-paper type bogroll. Either go in the service station on the way to the race, or get to the HQ 3 hours before everyone else and ring yourself out and don't so much as suck a wine gum after that. And if you require a caffeine hit because it's a Sunday and it's 8AM, you will be better off eating a spoonful or two of nescafe granules than having a coffee. This is one of those times in life where dehydration is your friend.
So, back to the rampant nudity in the carpark. A few tips: Focus on the middle distance. For your own sake, NEVER casually glance through a car window; no good can come of it. And if you are mid-conversation with a complete stranger about, say, the weather, or the road conditions and he starts stripping off and getting changed don't be too surprised.
As well as the exhibitionism, there will be a certain amount of posturing, pouting and preening going on prior to the start of the race as the cyclists puff out their chests and show off their plumage. Ignore it. It's not for your benefit, ladies, they couldn't be less interested. They are trying to psyche each other out. Some of it will work, most of it's bollocks. If you catch someone trying to psyche out your cyclist, you are well within your rights to give them evils.
Once the race has started you may find you need to get back in the car and drive for a bit to actually get to the race, as the HQ is often a few miles away from the action. Make sure you have some form of entertainment for yourself. The majority of races I have attended have been laps of about 9 or 10 kilometres, and mainly involve me sitting in the car for 20mins at a time between getting out and having a clap and yelling a few words of encouragement (keep them general in case you have accidentally mis-identified your cyclist and are cheering on someone else's. I've heard this can happen.). Take a book, a magazine, your iPod, knitting, Rosetta Stone Foreign Language CD etc. And in the extremely rare event of the weather Gods smiling on the race, take some sort of folding chair. If you do have a folding chair you will be far more pro at this than me, cos I always mean to take one and I always forget.
Generally speaking, supporting at the race is pretty fun, providing the weather is not totally grim. There is a blitz spirit camaraderie between the hardy spectators, dressed in everything they own and trying to remember which bidon's got the special energy drink mix in and which one's got the protein shake in. The worst part about being race support crew is being asked to run the gauntlet that is 'The Feed'. I dread being asked to do 'The Feed', which appears to consist of playing chicken with 60 fellas doing 40kph up a hill while they swear at each other, with your eyes tight shut and one arm stuck out into the road. You then get an empty bidon chucked at your head and 2 of your fingers broken passing across a full one, all while trying not to cry or do a wee. If you're lucky, you'll only have to do it once in a race. If you're really lucky, you won't need to do it at all, your cyclist recognising the abject terror in your eyes and deciding you'll only mess it up anyway and he's better off pacing the bottles he's got.