Every July, upon switching on the Tour de France, the spectating public is greeted by the statement “cycling is the truest example of a team sport”. It is a comment that confounds and confuses the wider sporting community; how can the outcome of an athletic pursuit that pushes the bounds of an individual’s own physical capabilities be dictated by the strength not only of your team mates, but also your rivals?
Indeed, it is at this time of year that anyone who has thrown a Lycra clad leg over a bike is confronted with the prospect of explaining this fact to befuddled office colleagues, disbelieving family or skeptical neighbours. But how does one explain this reality to someone who has never felt the momentum of a group ride, or the safety of your mates’ wheel when you are fading and still hours from home?
Well, one of the best places to start is the team time trial. Every couple of years or so Christian Prudhomme throws the cycling fraternity this perfectly formed sample of cycling team work, a bite size metaphor concentrated into one easily consumed package.
Playing out over a 10-30 minute period are the many different aspects of teamwork that can normally take two to three weeks to subtly appear in the larger sportives. The team leader safely unconsented in the group, the big road captain spending long periods on the front, and the domestique ensuring the captain is looked after.
Then as the terrain of the time trial changes, the different capabilities and strengths of the individual riders that make up the team become evident; the small climbers pulling up the inclines, while the larger power men take the downhill and flat land sections.
But surely the idea of cycling as a team sport is reserved for the professional classes? Right? Not necessarily. As the amateur rider knows, the professional peloton is not what gives our sport life; it is the thousands of amateur cyclists who roll out from their garage on a Saturday morning to meet their own team mates, the ones who will wait at the side of the road if someone has a mechanical and offer a spare water bottle when the going gets tough.
Indeed it is one of the most beautiful aspects of our sport, we can watch our professional goliaths struggle up a climb or fight to hold the wheel of their team, then go out there the next day and ride that same alpine pass or try to hang on to that mate who is slightly fitter then we are.
Whilst racing is not for everyone, the team time trial offers a special dynamic particularly for the amateur cyclist. Gone are the dangers of the bunch, replaced by your riding buddies,.the wheels you are familiar with following. Gone are egos,trying to rip your legs off up the local hill; in a team you are only as fast as your last man or women.
Most state governing bodies in Australia hold a team time trial championship, and whilst this title may be a little threatening, there are categories for everyone as this is a truly inclusive event.
Inclusive and unique; to be standing on the start line with your riding buddies, the people you normally spend more time with at the café then in an aero tunnel, can give you a far better experience of teamwork then any professional team, not to mention enough riding banter to easily fill the next 12 months.