What Lance Knows 

As the Tour de France hits the home stretch, a biker reveals road-racing tips.

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It’s that time of year when the whole world is thinking of bike racing, and some are even training to race. There’s always an increase of grim-faced riders on the streets of Salt Lake City during the Tour de France—especially this year, now that Lance Armstrong is back.

Whether you’re a frequent road racer or have been newly inspired by the most wellknown bike race in the world, you should learn some of the information that’s second nature to Armstrong. For example, knowing about the wind.

“You have to know which direction the wind is coming from,” says John McCool, a local bike-industry expert and competitor who is familiar with riding in the peloton, or pack of racers. “You use that (knowledge) all the time; Lance used it at the beginning of the tour to his advantage. That’s how you know how to position yourself in relation to the other riders.”

Riding in the peloton requires knowledge of etiquette as much as skill. The frequently seen single or double line of riders— called a “paceline”—consists of racers all drafting off one another, with their front tires about 12 to 18 inches off the other rider’s back tire. But it’s a strain on the front rider to help pull another racer along, so if you’re drafting in a paceline, you’re expected to do your share of pulling during the race. The paceline changes about every 30 seconds or so, as riders move up from the back to the front, one racer at a time.

McCool says that it’s especially important for recreational racers to learn group etiquette. “The most important thing is predictability and communication,” he says. “Use both words and hand signals to communicate. You want to communicate with the other riders if you’re going to leave the pace line and attack or try to pass someone.

“Even though you’re competing against someone, you owe them certain courtesies of sportsmanship.”

Good cyclists evince very little upper body movement; they look relaxed. They never look like they are struggling with their bike. Top racers never really push or pull on their pedals; they spin in a perfect circular motion. The feet are spinning, and it’s a smooth circle of pedaling. If you have to push on your pedals to keep up your speed, you’re pedaling in too large a gear. Downshift so you can spin easier. It’s better to move your legs faster than to exhaust them by pushing a higher gear.

When elite cyclists are using a lot of power, their bike will wobble back and forth while their body stays still. McCool says, “The ‘wobble’ is used in sprinting and climbing because it gives you more leverage so you can exert more force, usually when standing up to pedal.”

McCool adds that one of the most fascinating aspects of bike racing is that it’s like the reality show Survivor. “Cycling is really a thinking man’s game, not just a test of physical strength. Competitors will form alliances to serve their ultimate goals. And, you can draft off another rider without making an alliance with them, but they may expect you to repay the favor later,” he says. Alliances are often wordless and temporary, made as simply as with a raise of the eyebrows or tilt of the head.

One thing many Tour fans wonder about is, how do racers get rid of all the water they drink? McCool chuckles as he reveals the secret: “For a stage racer in a big tour, the appropriate place to pee is in the back and to the right of the peloton or group you are in. Most racers have to develop that skill if they’re going to ride long races.

“Men will often roll up the pant leg. It’s easier for women, because they just have to pull their pants down. They don’t stop. Indecent exposure is the last thing you worry about when you’re in a bicycle race.”

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About The Author

Wina Sturgeon

Bio:
Wina Sturgeon is an outdoor adventurer and a Salt Lake City freelance writer.

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