September 28, 2010

Two Perspectives

His legs turning over fluidly, my teammate appeared effortless compared to his rivals. They hung over their handlebars; ragged and limp like old cloth dolls. Their bodies lacked the potency to contest for the victory.  Riding alongside him, I was panting, as he breathed rhythmically. As we crested the climb, the time gap to the breakaway was announced. It was several minutes ahead of us. Our directeur sportif soon ordered my flying teammate to ride on the front in pursuit. As we moved forward to begin riding in the wind, I asked him how he felt. “Really good.” Could he win? “I think so.” Throughout his career he had ridden as a domestique. And now, with the legs to win, he was asked to once again ride in pursuit.

The directeur, working with the knowledge he had, made his decision. Based on the riders’ knowledge, it was the wrong decision. I dropped to the back of the peloton, spoke with the directeur, explained the situation, and he changed the plans. My teammate ended up winning a stage and finishing second overall. From the team car, the directeur sees little of the race and relies on instinct, experience and the scant information he receives over the radios.

While recently sidelined by injury, I had the opportunity to sit in the team car through most of the Montreal Grand Prix. The experience was eye opening as the race within the caravan is entirely different. During a race we, the riders, have a limited and singular view of the caravan. We return to the caravan for bottles and food, pass through it when we are dropped, use the cars’ slipstreams to chase back on to the peloton and drop back to the cars with mechanical problems. High expectations are placed on the directeurs as they must react to our movements. Cyclists assume they have the right-of-way in the caravan and usually we do. It is said that with experience we become acrobats on our bikes. In turn, the directeurs become magicians behind the wheel, as they seem to narrowly avoid tragedy dozens of times during a single race. Their skills are impressive. In a hilly race their senses are constantly engaged as the peloton splinters into groups and suffering riders weave through the cars in an attempt to return to the front.

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