Livin' the Dream

Livin' the Dream

About Me

I am a sophomore at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA, majoring in journalism. My passion is cycling. I am a category 4 bike racer and my absolute dream would be to turn pro one day. My more realistic goal is to become a journalist for the sport of cycling and eventually move on to become a broadcaster for the sport.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Analysis: Cycling, A Team Sport

All For One and One For All
            Renowned Tour De France sprinter Mark Cavendish once said,  “Everybody in the world, whether their into bike racing or not, knows about the Tour De France, [and] knows it’s the biggest bike race in the world, and when you get into cycling it means that much more.” He’s right, the Tour De France is the undisputable pinnacle of bike racing. Bike racers are their own breed of riders and the month of July is the most magical month of the year for them. Bike racers are extremely passionate about their sport and quickly become offended when people assume it is an individual discipline. The documentary film Chasing Legends, follows team HTC-Colombia during the 2009 Tour De France, and illustrates the team approach to the sport. Throughout the film, it becomes clear that in order to be successful at the Tour a team is needed, and each member of that team is crucial. Each team at the Tour has 9 riders, but there are many more people working hard behind the scenes. At the end of the race yes, there is one person on the top step of the podium, but he would not have gotten there without his cycling teammates and all of the behind-the-scenes people who are part of the team. That team approach becomes even stronger when they are on the road for over three weeks (the length of time of the Tour de France); everyone on the team becomes one big family. That family needs to be able to work together like a well-oiled machine.
            Nitza Hidalgo’s three levels of culture—the concrete, the behavioral, and the symbolic—tie directly into the sport of bike racing. Chasing Legends is a result of the culture of bike racing. The film shows bike racing at its finest and on its grandest stage. As Jens Voight, one of the top cyclists in the world says “The Tour De France is our Super Bowl, our final of the World Series of baseball.”  In bike racing everyone has to be in it together, dedicated. The symbolic is that the riders must work together in order to win. Like Mark Cavendish said before the start of the Tour in 2009 “It’s a cliché thing, but were all for one and one for all and that’s how we work and that’s how we win.” That is the common mantra between bike racers, “All for one and one for all.” The belief is that everyone must make sacrifices in order to win. Everyone is in it together, to win. The riders also have certain behaviors that demonstrate the team philosophy. For example, the secondary riders, called domestiques, ride at the front of the race blocking the wind for their leader, and sometimes go back to the team car to get their leader a water bottle so that he has enough energy to win the race at the end. Occasionally, the greatest sacrifice is made, a domestique will give his bike to the team leader who has just experienced a bicycle malfunction. This is the greatest gift that a team member can make, but also one that is expected and common.  For bike racers winning is everything.
 “You can a liken [cycling] to Formula One motor racing. There’s the driver, there’s the car, there’s the men that make the car go fast and there’s the men that make the driver go fast. Exactly the same in applies in cycling”(Phil Liggett). No one would think Formula One is a team sport, but like cycling, it is. Just as with car racing, an individual cyclist gets the spotlight. In Chasing Legends, we see at the Tour that year that it was a single rider Mark Cavendish who had the spotlight, but in cycling it doesn’t matter which rider on the team wins, if one rider wins then the whole team does too. Everyone’s time comes eventually just at different races throughout the year and that is why Cavendish’s teammates bury themselves for him, knowing that he will pay them back later.
The dirtiest and often not recognizable to the public are the mechanics. They are in charge of making sure the bikes run smoothly and are in pristine condition to “make the bike look for what [the riders] are, professional cyclists”(Phil Liggett). Their job is not just before or after the race, it’s during the race too. There are no timeouts in cycling, meaning if a rider gets a puncture, the mechanic needs to be prepared to jump out of the team support car and be “ready to slip [a] fresh wheel into the bike. The mechanic also pushes [rider] back into the action”(Pierre-11). Furthermore, small mechanical adjustments are done on the move with the mechanic leaning out the car window adjusting the bike while the rider is still riding the bike. It is the ‘anything at all costs’ philosophy that the mechanics embrace to make sure their cyclists win. When the mechanics mess up though, they usually get an earful from the riders. A mechanic’s life is harsh, they do not do it for the money. Like Jan Lindenberg, HTC mechanic said, “…that’s my passion: bikes.” The common theme among the team is a passion for bikes and bike racing. The pay in cycling isn’t the best, but most people in the sport don’t do it for the money, they do it because that it is their passion.
There are a lot more people involved in making “the riders go fast.” Most riders have there own trainers, but when they show up to the Tour De France, they aren’t there because they need more race miles in their legs, they are there because they are one of the top riders on the team at the current time. The soigneur (the helper) makes sure the riders can perform to the best of their abilities day in and day out during the Tour. They “start in the morning to prepare [water] bottles, making the food for the feed zone, [they] give massages in the evening, [they] fill up the cars with gas, [they] wash the cars, [they] do everything” (Van Der Heid). The soigneur makes sure the riders can pedal their bikes day in and day out because “all of the muscle groups, not just the legs-work to propel the bike”(Sovndal-1). Although you might not think it, the chef plays an equally important role. On average the riders will burn 5,000 calories a day. Depending on the route, they can burn upwards of 7,000 calories on the bike. The chef is in charge of making sure the cyclists replenish their systems. When the team chef gets to the nights hotel, he walks into the kitchen and takes over the kitchen (Liggett). The chef knows everyone’s allergies, what they like, and what they dislike. The team chef makes sure the riders have the energy to perform at their bests. The soigneur and chef make sure the riders keep going and going because the success of the riders depends on them too.
The mechanics make the bikes go fast, the soigneur and chef make the riders go fast, but one thing is still to come, in-race tactics. The riders wear radios so they can communicate with each other even when they are not next to each in the peloton. The radio also is used for communicating to their team car if one of the cyclists has a mechanical. The most important use of the radios is so the riders can communicate with their team directors. The director relays time splits to the riders, alerts them of obstacles coming up on the course, and most of all, provide motivation. “Cycle racing in its many facets is one of the most complex of modern sports”(Pierre-4). Everything can change in the blink of an eye during the race, a crash can happen, a flat tire at the wrong time, or things just go to hell. The team directors are there to make sure the riders do not panic because panicking only makes things worse. When going for a win the team director’s motivate their riders to go deep. Brian Holm famously always says “c’mon you guys you got to eat s^*t now.” The team directors are essential to making sure the riders stay focused and execute their race plan.
Cycling is a team sport. There are many people involved in the successes achieved at the Tour De France. The riders gain the spotlight, but the people behind the scenes are just as important. They certainly don’t do it for the money. Only the very top riders have high salaries. The rest are there for the pure joy and adrenaline the sport brings. Being a member of a sophisticated team and taking pride in that – that is why they are all in it. As with any team, when it all goes well everyone is happy and when things go wrong, the entire team feels it. The stress goes from the top all the way to the bottom because everyone is important. They are all cogs to a wheel. That is just the fact of this team sport.

Works Cited:
St. Pierre, Roger. Cycle Racing Tactics. Yorkshire: Kennedy Brothers, n.d. Print.
Chasing Legends. Prod. Ken Bell. Dir. Jason Berry. Gripped Films, 2010.
lundain-Agurruza, Jesus, and Micahel W. Austin, eds. Cycling-Philosophy For Everyone: Philosophical Tour De Force. West Sussex: John Wiley and Sons, 2010. Print.
Sovndal, Shannon. Cycling Anatomy. Champaign: Human Kinetics, 2009. Print.
Horton, Dave, Paul Rosen, and Peter Cox, eds. Cycling and Society. Burlington: Ashgate, 2007. Print.

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