Hunting for pros at the Tour Down Under

Hunting for pros at the Tour Down Under

 

Here are some familiar scenarios for various super-fans out there:

Royalty comes to town, crowds form, thousands line up to see and maybe even exchange in a quick chat with the Prince and/or the Queen, and then The Prince and/or the Queen get in their car, and they are gone.

Celebrities or musicians come out of an award ceremony or concert, hundreds or thousands of people gather around for autographs, a photograph, and maybe they’ll touch them or they’ll say hi, and then they get in their car, and they are gone.

Presidents come to town, they shake hands, have a few photo ops, say a few words, smile and wave, kiss a few babies, and then, they get in their car, and they are gone.

Athletes (football, tennis, rugby, swimmers, Formula 1 drivers, hockey, baseball…) come out after a game, a race, or even a practice, they sign a few autographs and have a few photo ops, make some kids (and adults) dream come true, and then, they get in their car, and they are gone.

Cyclists. Cyclists come out to go for a ride, they maybe sign a few autographs, have a few photo ops, maybe have a quick chat, and then they get on their bikes, and they… are followed by the fans, who ride with them, continue to talk to them, want to race them, and maybe, just maybe, become best friends with them.

Tour Time

It’s Tour time in Adelaide. The Tour Down Under kicked off on Sunday with the People’s Choice Classic and stage 1 officially starts on Tuesday, so it’s at peak excitement right now. It’s all about racing bikes, riding bikes, looking at bikes, meeting the pros, and maybe going on a few rides with them.

Pro-spotting is a very popular past-time for many cyclists. It starts a few weeks, or sometimes for the odd pro, a couple of months before the Tour Down Under starts. If you are into racing bikes then it’s pretty normal to get a bit of a thrill from seeing someone who you normally see riding a big Tour in France, or Italy, or Spain, or one of the Spring Classics in Northern Europe. These are people who are basically super-human to cycling fans. Celebrities. Heros. Superstars.

I totally get it. I feel the same in some cases. I do, however, have a problem with the idea that these athletes are available to us, the fans, on our terms, whenever we like, to entertain us to our satisfaction.

That is the difference between Royalty, Celebrities, and other athletes. They get to make their appearances on their terms, then they get to go home. Because cyclists spend much of their time training or preparing for races on public roads, where the fans who are really excited about it also are, there is this feeling like they welcome the attention. It’s a public place and I am physically able to ride at the same pace for a time, so it’s ok to demand their time and energy to entertain me.

We simply wouldn’t do that with other celebrities to the same degree. It would be like meeting an actor on the street, saying hi and maybe taking a sneaky selfie, but then simply following them to the cafe and sitting down with them for lunch. That’s cool if they have invited you, and if they did, you should feel lucky and appreciate it without ingratiating yourself upon them too much, but, really, if they aren’t into it, can you blame them? Are they obliged to? They act in movies for the purposes of entertaining you, and the rest of their time is theirs. Not yours.

If you were really into running and you saw a top track athlete running while you were running, would you slip in behind them and then start trying to talk to them? Would you wander onto a soccer-pitch and start trying to kick the ball around with the team while they’re running drills? Would you go to someone’s office and stand next to them at their desk while they are trying to work and just chat to them for ages? Do you think they would enjoy that?

If you are a celebrity or a top athlete, of course you should expect it, but does that mean that they should like it or be forced to engage with it?

Just because they are on a public road, riding a bike just like you are, doesn’t mean that they aren’t working. If they aren’t in the drops sitting on 50kph, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t training. In the week before a big event, they may not be putting in hard training, but they are still preparing. Sometimes that means they are just spinning the legs over, and sometimes they are in a position where they are happy to chat to anyone who approaches them. Again, if that happens, then yes, that would be a bit of a thrill for anyone who cares, but you should also recognize that this is not something they are obliged to do, nor, like anyone, feel like doing this all the time.

These are professionals, and they are doing a job. Pro-cyclists don’t dream about one day being famous enough to have legions of fans wanting their time each time they go out for a ride. They dream about winning big races and being the best at their discipline. People on X-factor and Some Place Has Talent dream about being famous, and so far I’ve never heard about someone turning up on Australia’s Got Talent with a road bike and a wind trainer showing off their VO2 skills.

Look, it’s going to happen. It’s an inevitable part of being even semi-famous, but there are better and worse ways of approaching your favourite pro cyclist (or any pro will do whether you know who they are or not, it seems) while out on the bike. Oddly enough, approaching them for a chat or a ride-along is more or less the same as approaching any other person or cyclist on the road:

  1. Don’t just sit there and wheelsuck. It’s annoying, rude, and it’s potentially dangerous. If you must, ask if they mind first. If you aren’t paying attention and stack it in to the back of them, you could be ending their race and potentially derailing their entire season, all because you are such a big fan.
  2. Don’t get all up in their grill. They may be able to ride millimeters apart at high speeds and be comfortable with it, but you’re not a pro, are you. Also, not only are you not best friends, but I’m quite sure they’ve not got a clue who you are, so don’t act like you are.
  3. Don’t for a second think that they feel like racing you, or feel the least bit threatened by your apparent good form (sorry, but I can’t help but to say: threatened? Look, I’m well aware that this is the very definition of clickbait – and it really pains me to link to it and perpetuate the madness – but really? If you think really hard, can you not find another, possibly more logical reason for this universally acknowledged laid back nice-guy getting a bit agro?). I don’t care if you could have been pro at one time or another but you aren’t because of blah, blah, blah, or if your Strava time on this particular segment is tops, brah. They are the one with the pro-contract, they are the one who has a job to do, and they are the one who have something to prove – during the races that they are paid to race, against other professionals, during the UCI World Tour race that is happening without you.
  4. Don’t do any or all of the above and then put it on social media saying anything to the effect of, “no biggie, my ride with Professional Team X was pretty good, we were pushing Xwatts but I could have gone harder”, or “that guy was a complete dickhead!”. Regarding the former, no, you can’t ride faster than a bunch of professional cyclists at the top level of the sport, or at best, not for any meaningful amount of time, and that’s a fact. Second, keep in mind that that guy who was came off as a bit of a dick probably just had ten other idiots try to ingratiate themselves all over him that he didn’t feel like having to entertain while at work, and you were just the last straw. Or maybe there is some other reason that he doesn’t want to have to pretend that he is happy that another stranger is trying to use him for fodder on their social media account, or have the same conversation that he’s had a million times before.
  5. Do, if you’re getting the “leave me alone” vibe, leave them alone.
  6. Do be friendly, and approach with caution. If you aren’t engaged in conversation, don’t force it.
  7. Do offer a friendly welcome to your city, and wish them good luck in their endeavors.
  8. Do, if they are in good spirits and are happy to talk to you while at work, and you do genuinely want to meet them, thank them for their time and tell them that it’s been an honour. I’m sure they’ll feel pretty good about that.
  9. Do enjoy a good chat with a professional cyclist during the Tour Down Under, and do feel pretty excited about it, because, it’s pretty exciting, but don’t be surprised if they’re just not that into it, and would rather that you didn’t insert yourself into their ride.

In short, when the Tour Down Under or any other road cycling event rolls into town, do the professional cyclists a favour and let them get on with their job, which is entertaining you with good racing, at the races. Respect their privacy, respect their work, and respect their time. Just because they are doing their work where you can approach them doesn’t mean that they’ve made that choice because they want you to approach them. If you want to meet them, do so, and if they engage you in conversation, then take it up and enjoy it. Get excited about it. Tell all of your friends. Become their biggest fan, because when someone who you even remotely hold in reverence talks to you and even listens to you, that is a pretty terrific feeling.

Sometimes, though, when you’re at work, you just want to get your work done with out being bothered. We all know how that feels, just as we all know how fun it is making small talk with someone you don’t know, will never meet again, and brings nothing interesting to the table. Sometimes, you just don’t feel up for it. Just keep that in mind the next time you go pro-hunting when the celebrities are in town.

 

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