A crash course in European bunch etiquette for Australia’s development riders
Last week I had the pleasure of racing La Route de France with the Subaru High5 Australian National Team (I’d call it the Aussie National Team but it’s always important to be sponsor correct). The great success we had as a team aside, the most rewarding and fun aspect of racing with the Aussies is teaching the young ones a thing or two about racing in Europe.
The riders that make up the Subaru High5 Australian National Team are development riders – fresh meat to the Euro pelo. Every experience is a new one. I learnt the hard way, which I affectionally call the “Ina way” (that’s Ina Teutenberg for those that are new to women’s cycling).
The European bunch is bigger. People are speaking different languages. You’re racing on the wrong side of the road – and yes, what you were told before you came over here is true: those roads are, in fact, narrower. It’s information and sensory overload, which is often more mentally exhausting than physically exhausting.
The importance of positioning is drummed into the heads of new Aussie riders every day and at every race. Over and over, we will tell them: “Remember, it’s like a washing machine cycle. You’re constantly going to be moving through the bunch, circulating around. Just relax and move up where possible. Be confident.”
And while I am one of many people they have heard go on and on in that way during race meetings, out of meetings, I like to give them advice to up their bunch etiquette game. Think about it this way: If more amateur teams and national teams taught their young ones the nuances of bunch etiquette, maybe we wouldn’t have girls attacking during an organised pee stop.
Here are the pro tips on European bunch etiquette that I passed along to the team at Route de France. And while they’re critical to follow when racing in Europe, your mates would likely appreciate their application on your Sunday bunch ride or during your local road race.
- Do not attack during an organised pee stop*
Attacking when the peloton calls a pee stop is treason. The offender deserves a bidon to the head or some Osmo to the face. Just two weeks ago at La Route de France we encountered the pee break breakaway. It was the perfect opportunity for our young Aussies to learn the consequences of this etiquette breach. The entire bunch berated the offenders when we finally caught up to them. Personally, I was tempted to spray them with my bottle, but I valued the contents too much to waste on a few pests.
*Apparently this has proven a controversial subject Stateside as well. Read this Phil Gaimon diary over on CyclingNews for further insight into this hot topic following incidents at Tour of Utah and USA Pro Challenge.
Secondary pee-related note: Finding a spot to do a pre-race pee is a more difficult task for us than our male counterparts, but please select a spot AWAY from other teams.
I won’t name names, but a certain rider from a Belgium team decided that taking her pre-race pee behind her team van in a gutter, up the hill from the Aussie camp was a great idea. She obviously didn’t take into account gravity and physics. Her pre-race pee ran straight down into our camp.
We attempted to make a pee barricade out of leaves and sticks, but this girl obviously drank her weight in water. It was like Niagara Falls. There was no stopping this pee train. So please, pee away from other teams and preferably not on a downhill.
- Do not attack through feed zones
I consider the feed zone attack a dirty move. It’s one we often see at the National Road Championships in Australia. I’m somewhat able to overlook the offence in this particular instance because the feed zone is a vital part of the road course and a damn good place for attack. Road Nationals aside, as a general rule, when it is 40 degrees Celsius and your fellow colleagues are trying to get a drink from their swanny because they’re sweating like a pig on a treadmill, and you attack? That’s not cricket.
- Respect grupetto life
No attacking grupetto. No drilling the pace in grupetto – unless you miscalculated and are about to get time cut. No sprinting grupetto at the finish. Just don’t.
Ignore my advice, and you will be blacklisted. You will become “that rider”, and you definitely don’t want to be “that rider.” Trust me, people do not forget. Usually the big sprinters are riding grupetto on mountain days. Do you really want to piss off the likes of Gioriga Bronzini?
- Don’t muscle in on another team’s train
Part of the fun about moving through the peloton is moving around with your team. As a general rule, when a team is moving up through the bunch, particularly the yellow jersey team, do not try and muscle in on their train.
A hand to the forehead moment happened at La Route when one of my young Aussie apprentices tried taking Elisa Longo Borgini’s teammate’s wheel while Elisa was in yellow, effectively shoving the race leader out. In her defence, my young Aussie was flustered trying to move up, and didn’t recognise Elisa in the leader’s jersey (which resembled Lointek,,= so fair game).
- If you have way too many bidons, share the love.
Sometimes I get over-enthusiastic going back for bidons and end up with way too many. My teammates don’t sweat as much as I do (I don’t think anyone does), so they don’t drink as much as I do either. Which leads to my tendency to overestimate our collective fluid consumption. If you, like me, have extra bidons, instead of lobbing that full bidon into the wilderness, offer it to a mate. Surely someone in the bunch has missed a feed and is feeling desperate for a drink, and hey, you never know when a return favour could come in handy.
- Responsibly dispose of your bidons
Be mindful of where you are throwing your empty bidons. Being a bit of an enviro and hating the whole littering aspect of our sport, I suggest aiming for spectators heads. (just kidding – mostly). I always aim to throw my bidons when I can safely lose them. It’s key to avoid the front wheel of a person passing you on the side, near spectators.
- Get your ass to the back of the bunch
Despite the fact that your race will start with 10-15 minutes of neutral riding, there will be riders that will insist on claiming their spot at the front well before the start of the race. When you head over to stage, you will really piss off these people if you push your way into the front. Unless you’re wearing a national champ, world champ, or race leader jersey, take your place at the back please. And your whole “oops, I’m on the wrong side of the start/finish line” game. No one is buying it nor is it a good way to make friends in the peloton. And I’m all about being Switzerland in the peloton.
The podium flowers tac tic to getting what you want
Every day I passed along a bonus “pro tip” of the day. My best offering is a key strategy into making life on the road slightly sweeter.
If you happen to win flowers because you’re a boss and got on the podium, and don’t throw them to the adoring crowd. Keep those flowers close. Upon arriving at the next hotel, where they claim to only speak French and you only speak English because you’re hopeless at languages like me, present the flowers to reception with enthusiasm.
Need washing done? Have a special request for dinner? Want the code to that locked Wi-Fi? Ten minutes post-flower presentation, return to the front desk. The “oh I’m so happy I just received beautiful flowers, it’s been so long because my boyfriend never buys them for me” feeling will have not worn off yet. You’re nearly guaranteed to get what you want.
This “pro tip” is untested on a male at the front desk. However, in France this strategy will probably still work across genders. In Australia, I lower the likelihood of it working is 50:50.
Loren Rowney is a professional rider for Velocio-SRAM. With the team since its inception (as Specialized-lululemon), the South-African born Australian lives in Girona, Spain during the European cycling season