Girona Notes – Pacing the Pros

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Motorpacing is an integral part of training for the pros. It sharpens leg speed, simulates race conditions where a rider needs to hold the wheel, and provides motivation to push the intensity a little bit higher. It’s not something I recommend beginners try and more than anything it takes someone skilled and experienced to drive the motorbike. It’s not even legal in most places but police tend to turn a blind eye if it’s being done safely. Les Clarke gives us some insights from his experiences with motorpacing some of the top pros in Girona this season.

I’m not into S&M but there’s a sadistic satisfaction when inflicting pain on those who are paid to take it, especially when there’s machinery involved.

Apologies for the risqué innuendo but I couldn’t resist the urge to take a lighter approach to the topic of motorpacing, which occupies my time a surprising deal in Girona – with the immense number of pro riders living here, there’s a large demand for some high-intensity training before events, which I’m happy to fulfill.

Leading up to the the World Championships, rider preparations kept my butt on the scooter seat; I worked with Australian riders Jack Bobridge, Carla Ryan, Matt Wilson and Chloe Hosking, with kiwi stalwart Greg Henderson and British veteran Jeremy Hunt thrown in the mix.

In addition to the sadism however, there’s also a sense of satisfaction when a rider with whom you work performs well at a race – you feel part of that strong ride and take pleasure in their success.

While it may sound easy to just ride a scooter in front of a bike rider and tell them to follow, especially when said rider is a professional at the top of their game, there are two secrets to motorpacing a rider well: understanding how to ride a bike (which sounds elementary, bordering on stupid) and enjoying riding a motorbike.

And while many of the riders with whom I work enjoy my ability to understand both of these facets, it wasn’t so easy getting there. I began to motorpace last December, when Chloe Hosking needed some sprint training behind a scooter. I was keen to impress but in reality I was pretty ordinary… Some may even say crap.

I was a rapid learner but being able to gradually get a rider to the speed they need at the right time and maintaining that on the flat and up climbs isn’t as easy as it sounds – throttle control is king and the steady hand of a surgeon always helps. Some riders want to work on leg speed, so a flat loop is required, whilst others need punchy climbing or sustained power output, so the required terrain is found.

That’s where Girona is perfect for a professional rider – there’s a multitude of loops on which to motorpace and the cycling culture of the place lends itself to most people enjoying the site of a pro training behind a guy on a scooter. One of the riders with whom I was working last week said as we passed some cyclotourists – “This place is bike dork heaven”. Indeed.

The actual process of motorpacing is interesting in that you’re watching the road ahead, the rider in your mirror and the speedo; combining all three to give the athlete a solid workout that simulates the pace of racing. There are times when I’m amazed at just how far I can push certain riders; when they tell me their power figures after the ride, it’s impressive, particularly their ability to sustain certain power levels for extended periods. It’s where you notice the vast gulf between ordinary amateurs and professionals.

I also love my tool for this particular trade, when I swap a laptop for my Aprilia SportCity 125 scooter. In Europe, scooters rule and I’ve quickly adopted the summer scooter style, which generally disregards safety in the pursuit of looking cool on two wheels.

The process of registering said pride and joy was convoluted, to say the least. Five hours and three frustrating government offices later, I could take my papers to the Aprilia dealer and pick up my machine. Whilst I could’ve pulled out my hair conducting the process, it was well worth the effort.

There are a few pitfalls to the occupation, however. Running into idle members of the local constabulary who don’t appreciate the important role motorpacing plays in the life of a pro cyclist can be a problem; the practice is actually a ‘little bit’ illegal but most Police officers choose not to enforce that particular law if you’re not harassing anyone or harming the flow of traffic.

Occasionally there are those members of the Mossos d’Esquadra (regional cops) who decide you’re breaking the law and I’ve only had one of those – I decided to get a little ‘lippy’ in broken Spanish after which he decided to see my identification… Needless to say I nodded my head and was on my way, not wishing to risk being deported for a minor traffic infringement.

For the most part however, the locals either stare or just throw a confused glance your way. Cyclists – especially those of the road variety – appear strange at the best of times, so seeing a few chasing a scooter is situation normal and you’re generally left unharassed to continue the important business of ‘getting up to speed’ in training.

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