You probably know the sort of person this article is about. That guy or girl (but, let’s be honest, it’s normally a guy) on the local club run, at the local bike shop, or at the post-ride coffee stop that’s kitted out in either the latest racing-orientated brand or in well-worn kit from a team you’ve never heard of.
The thing that makes them stand out from your average rider is their tall tales. They’ve been there, done that, got the jersey, and with it they’ll bore you with a whole swathe of anecdotes about their past cycling escapades, all of which seem to have been “before you even got into cycling”. These anecdotes may entertain, bewilder and surprise you but, more often than not, they’ll also have you questioning their authenticity.
These people are “the bunch ex-pros” or, to be more precise, “the bunch ex-pros that you’re sure were never pro, but they talk like they were”. For the sake of simplicity, let’s call them “the fake ex-pros”.
Here are 10 ways to spot your local fake ex-pro; a rider that may well have done some amateur racing in Europe but certainly didn’t make it to the professional ranks.
“I moved to Europe in my late teens/early 20s for a while and ended up living in a dingy house/farm/back of a bakery/caravan with a leaky roof.”
The fake ex-pro will claim the team owner made them sleep on the floor/a wooden bed frame/mattress from the 1920s, all just to toughen them up. They’ll then say that kids today have it easy when wanting to turn pro; they’ll say that kids are softer than their own generation.
Sure, many riders head to Europe in the hope of turning pro; it’s been the tried and tested method for decades. And many end up in rough accommodation but this is an easy anecdote to fabricate and exaggerate. Just because you brought a bike to Europe and stayed in in terrible accommodation does not mean you raced pro.
“Yeah, I used to train with Johan Museeuw when I lived in Belgium. Used to roll him in the town-sign sprints as well. No big deal.”
The fake ex-pro rode with all the real pros who lived in the same town. They’ll reel off a few big names you’ll recognise but they’ll also mention many pros you’ve never heard of. Stories involving real pros will be frequent, particularly ones that involve beating them regularly in sprint training. For some reason they won’t recount tales of racing against these same guys. The reason for this is they never did.
Moving to Europe, and especially to towns and cities where many pros take up residence, isn’t hard for an amateur. Head to Gent and hit the mid-week canal run to Oostende and you’ll be able to rub shoulders with guys from Lotto Belisol, Etixx-Quick-Step, and smaller teams such at Topsport-Vlaanderen. This does not mean you are pro.
The fake-pro will have classed a training ride as a race and maybe even beat a few of the pros to the location where the ride finishes. But as they say, if you haven’t got a number on your back it’s not racing.
“Did I ever tell you about the time I rode for Delhaize-Les Voitures de Jean-Paul? You haven’t heard of it? You should Google it.”
The team they rode for doesn’t even seem to exist in the dark recesses of the internet. These fake-pros will tell you that’s because the team was established long before the advent of the internet. Rubbish. It’s because it was such a small amateur team that it was lucky to even get a mention in the local paper, let alone online. Look up your mate in CyclingArchives and if he’s not there, his fish stories might be just a bit big.
4. Team clothing
“Our team was sponsored by the Delhaize supermarket chain so, yeah, we were kind of a big deal. Oh and Les Voitures de Jean-Paul. You must have heard of them, right?”
That old team kit the fake ex-pro will wear at any given chance has sponsors on it you’ve never heard of in your life. If it is a relatively well-known sponsor such as Intermarche supermarkets in France or Delhaize supermarket in Belgium just look a little closer. Underneath that supermarket’s logo it’ll probably have the name of a small industrial town in the middle of France — it wasn’t head office that decided to sponsor the team; it’s more likely that the manager of the team is also the manager of the local co-op.
Other sponsor names such as Jean-Paul’s Automobiles, Julie’s Fashion or Bill the Builder (each in the country’s own language) will be splashed liberally over the kit (and each will have a garish, hand-drawn logo). Small amateur teams in Europe love to get sponsors from the local town. The manager of the team (who will also be the DS) will be mates with Bill the Builder and will no doubt have organised Bill to fix his roof at home in exchange for Bill’s name on the jersey. The kit will also be made by some random manufacturer you’ve never heard of.
“I used to be able to hold Museeuw’s wheel on the Koppenberg back when I was racing in Belgium …”
The fake ex-pro will tell you they used to sprint/climb/descend like a demon and they were able to keep up with the big names of the era. But due to cake, retiring from “proper racing”, a normal 9-5 job and family life, they’ve lost it; let it slip. The thing is they’ll also claim that, if they wanted to, they could still give you young whipper-snapper a good kicking. It’s just that they don’t want to and it wouldn’t mean anything to them because they did it to Museeuw back in the day.
“I was on the cusp of a big win but then the team folded.”
They only lasted a season at best in Europe and they have a ton of reasons why they returned to normal life. Excuses will range from the team folding, to the fact that they didn’t want to join in the drug culture, to the fact the Belgian cycling federation conspired against them because they were too damn good.
Sure, you’ll get a few guys who may leave due to a team folding or having a conscience when it comes to drugs. But if the fake ex-pro was even half-talented and truly aspired to being a pro they would have found a different team and continued in their hunt for that true pro contract.
“The team never ended up paying me for some reason.”
The fake ex-pro paid their own way because the team gave them the slip (this may also be used as a reason they only lasted one season in Europe). Many teams are dodgy and will happily give riders a reason or two as to why their pay checks aren’t coming through. If you’re bright you’ll see the pattern and hunt for a new team early on, or find external help in funding your pro lifestyle.
“I can never eat rice or tuna again. That’s all we were given at the team house for the first four months of the year. And you should have seen how small the servings were!”
There will be tales of them living off free food that an old woman cooked for them. She was probably the manager’s long-suffering wife or, in many cases, his mother. She will have also been under strict orders to dish up portion sizes that wouldn’t fuel a seven-year-old let alone a racing cyclist (this will be a frequent story if they claim to have been pro in Italy).
You will hear other stories of them dining regularly on free products from the local supermarket sponsor but this will only have been for the first two to four months of the season. This is because the manager of the team took 50 tins of tuna, 50 tins of peaches and 40 bags of cheap rice as half the sponsorship agreement.
9. The racing
“The 1998 Tour of Flanders? Nah, I didn’t race it that year. I think I was doing another big race that weekend. Did I tell you I used to train with Museeuw?”
When you quiz the fake ex-pro on the big races or even smaller one-day and stage races they’ll say that they didn’t actually race that particular edition, but did in fact race on the same roads in a race called something like Het Werzelgummage. In reality this was one of five amateur races held that and every weekend in the region that used the roads close to a particular professional classic.
Just because a race has a foreign-sounding name doesn’t mean it’s a pro race.
10. Racing today
“I mean, I could have finished in the bunch if I wanted to.”
The fake ex-pro may still do the local crits mid-week and on a Sunday morning. But they never seem to get a result, or even finish in the bunch. They’ll have an excuse along the lines of: “that guy doesn’t know how to hold a wheel and I couldn’t be bothered racing with fools like that. You wouldn’t get that in Belgium/Holland/France/Italy”.
Another favourite excuse is: “I’m using it as training for a bigger event” — an event that, oddly, they won’t start due to illness.
So there we go: 10 relatively straightforward ways to spot a fake pro. Let us know in the comments below if you’ve come across other ways of spotting a fake ex-pro, and don’t be afraid to name and shame your mates!