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Burgers, beer, and no bikes. For 11-months of the year, pro-cyclists are shackled by training plans and diets. One-month a year, they’re allowed to break free…
As the autumnal sun set over Milano, the 2020 season finished for a majority of the peloton – hope you’re having fun at La Vuelta, guys. It’s the craziest cycling season in living memory, possibly the craziest cycling season ever.
There were signs that 2020 would be a strange one back at Tour down Under. The whole world was thrown out of sync when Richie Porte was beaten up Willunga Hill.
What is the off-season?
For 11-months of the year, wherever a cyclist goes, their bike goes with them. Their lives revolve around the bike.
Pro-cycling contracts aren’t like normal work contracts. There aren’t a set number of working hours, or a holiday allowance. Pro cyclists are expected to be available without any questions at the drop of a hat.
That is, until the off-season. The off-season is that glorious month where the more time you spend away from the bike the better. Your scales turn dusty, and you may as well delete TrainingPeaks from your phone.
For most, the off-season starts in early October, and depending on how mentally fried you are, can last anywhere between two and four weeks. However, COVID has messed things up, quelle surprise. Off-seasons are now later, probably shorter, and not as much fun.
For the sake of this article, let’s forget COVID. I shall introduce you to the off-season in a normal year.
Step One – The Night Out
Off-season will almost always start in a restaurant, migrate into a bar, and then end up in a nightclub. The night-out after the final race is obligatory.
Cyclists have a complicated relationship with food. A sport which celebrates those who have impossibly minuscule body fat percentages, eating disorders are often an elephant in the room. Come off-season, all of that dieting, and debating if you really need that extra piece of broccoli goes out the window. All bets are off, it’s time to eat as much as your body will allow.
Do you want to get revenge on the pro-cyclist who has been ripping your legs off all year? Just take them to a bar in off-season. Their competitive nature will ensure that they try to keep up with your drinking rate. They’ll fail much before you do. Trust me, I’m speaking from personal, messy, experience…
Step Two – Family Time
A majority of the pro-peloton live away from their family home, so off-season is spent back where they grew-up. You’ve missed birthdays, anniversaries and weddings and you’re only in town for a matter of weeks. You suddenly regret telling everyone ‘yeah, let’s meet up for a drink when I’m home’. Having a real life can be more tiring than a 30-hour training week.
Step Three – The Holiday
Off-season is the one month a year that cyclists can go on holiday. The usual holiday destinations across Europe are off the cards as the weather has started to turn. It’s time to Google ‘Sunny places in October’ and let that dictate your trip.
There are a few requirements for the holiday. A good beach is essential, and the bar must be within walking distance of the sun-lounger. The breakfast buffet must have cake as an option too. There also has to be some adrenaline spiking activities, sunbathing is fun but so are jet-skis.
Step Four – Exercise
You realise that off-season is coming to a close, so it’s probably time to do a little bit of exercise. Your coach has banned you from touching the bike, so you dig the trainers out of the wardrobe
Do you remember the competitiveness in the bar that I spoke about? It’s back, and as a professional athlete, there’s a duty to run as fast as possible. Without warming up, you sprint out of the door. Downhill hurts just as much as uphill and you realise that there’s no freewheeling when running. Crawling back home, you collapse on the floor in pain, and struggle to walk for the next few days.
Step 5 – The End
The ping of an email indicates that your training plan has arrived, and off-season is over. There’s a small hint of sadness, followed by relief. It’s been fun, but it’s time to get back to the structured normality
Off-season is over for another year. Your super tight kit is all the motivation you need to get back on the bike. You promise yourself that you’ll hold back a little next year, so it’ll be easier to regain fitness. Then a wry smile comes through as you remember the good times you’ve had. Some memories will be clearer than others.
What is off-season for me in COVID times?
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a 19-year-old British cyclist, racing for a development team in France. I’m based out in France full time. If we were living in normal times, I’d pop home every six-weeks or so to visit family. Mr. COVID19 Travel Restrictions has said otherwise this year.
I returned to France in July to restart my season, and my final race marks a little over 3.5 months I’ve spent here. 2020 is my first year living abroad. I’ve loved it, but I’m looking forward to coming home for winter.
My off-season started with a 13-hour drive home. I then went straight into the mandatory two-week confinement that we have in the UK. After 3.5-months away, I’m looking forward to spending some time at home.
My off-season will be spent devouring my Mum’s baking, playing with my dog, and generally catching up on family life. It’s a far-stretch from last year which was spent on holiday and in nightclubs, but 2020 is different, and family time is the best time.