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David L. Stanley

Seasons of the Bike
Part 3: Winter, Cycling’s Season Does Not Truly End

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David Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo, Velo-news.com, Road, Peloton, and the late, lamented Bicycle Guide (my favorite all-time cycling magazine). He blogs regularly for Dads Roundtable. Here's his Facebook page. He is also a highly regarded voice artist with many audiobooks to his credit, including McGann Publishing's The Olympics' 50 Craziest Stories and Cycling Heroes.

Winter. A time to hunker down. To throw another log on the fire, make a long-simmering pot-roast and regroup. For many of us, it’s a good winter if we’re still keen on life come spring’s thaw. For those who earn their bread on a bicycle, however, winter is merely a quick blip on the calendar. For road-racing professionals, the season is a Moebius strip of travel and racing. The peloton first turned pedals for points in January. This year, the World Championships are in Richmond, Virginia, USA, in late September. One is excused if one thought the Worlds were the conclusion of the season. Major races continue until late October. Smaller races fill the calendar until December.

Kwiatkoski

Michal Kwiatkowski wins the World Championships in 2014. But the racing kept on keeping on...

For the pros who earn their keep on the track, now is the winter of their discontent made glorious summer... Aye, winter is the season made glorious for the hyper-muscular match sprinters capable of traveling 200 meters at peak speeds near 45 mph. The pursuiters are equally extraordinary- covering 4,000 meters in 4 minutes and change. Track racers, on the high banked velodromes with a fixed wheel and no brakes, were once bigger stars than Babe Ruth or Al Jolson or Tom Brady. Today, track racers race in near-anonymity, as they hone their form on the boards throughout the peak road racing season, and step to the forefront only with the UCI Track World Championships in February.

Cyclocross is cycling’s version of Whose Line is it Anyway; where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter. Elite athletes will ride, run, bunny hop and tote bikes in sand and slop and muck from Vegas in mid-September until the World Championships on January 30th in Zolder, hard by the Netherlands in Belgium’s northeast corner. Cross fans; they take drunken fanaticism to levels not seen since the mosh pit at a Black Flag concert. Beer and cowbells and frites and beer and face painting and beer and flag waving and airhorns and did I mention beer? Cross fans in Northern Europe in winter-there’s nobody else like ‘em.

The pros who race the Six-Day circuit often ply their trade in second-tier road events and the track events throughout the warm weather months. These seasonal rock stars truly fly only during the Six-Day season which begins in London during mid-October. The circuit travels to Europe’s hippest cities until the season’s end in February with the Copenhagen Six. The arena is filled; a howling band and the gilt-edged elite in the track center with food and drink galore. The cheap seats are stuffed to the rafters by mid-winter’s equivalents of cyclocross crazies.

Franco Bitossi and Eddy Merckx

Franco Bitossi and Eddy Merckx at the 1971 Milan 6-Day. They had both raced a heavy road schedule.

A six-day is the athletic equivalent of a late night jazz session. Each pair of teammates weave in and out, hand slinging each other into the madness at 32 mph, with a mass sprint launched every two minutes. As each team dares to take a lap, the other teams respond, and the whole maelstrom spins faster and faster as the evening’s main race explodes with athletic drama.

Quite a night out, the Six-Day.

Riders on the road may get a brief vacation in November, yet racing is never far from their minds. After Christmas, the teams that need to make a splash at the first World Tour race in mid-January with Australia’s Santos Tour Down Under, begin to train in earnest as early as December. Ten days and eight hundred miles on a bike in Lanzerote or Majorca on someone else’s dime sounds wonderful until you realize that your performance at the camp may determine whether you race in the big boy team or trudge through the minor leagues of professional cycling. And cycling’s minor leagues are very minor, indeed.

Cycling’s season does not truly end. A road cyclist may take a brief holiday in November, but he will not need two plates at the casino’s free buffet. He’s as likely to pack his bags on December 26th and head to a training camp for a week as he is to play Legos® with his kids. The track cyclists may take a week or two in late February but they’ll be back in the weight room come March 1st. The six-day pros will come out of their season in February with exceptional fitness that they’ll put to great use during the lower category races of the early road season. The cross riders will likewise show their winter’s form as many of them will make the jump to the cobblestone races that sprinkle the early season in Northern Europe.

As Sinclair Lewis wrote in The Job, “Winter is not a season. It is an occupation.”

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