The Off Season (or What the Hell Do We Do Now?)

The absence of competitive road cycling from mid October has not really been a big issue for me in the past. As a kid and then as a teenager I only followed the Tour de France and never even considered the fact that cycling had a wider season which waxed and waned around it. The Tour was everything and everything was the Tour. It was like going on holiday – something that only happened in the Summer and would not even be on the radar in April or September.

A good few years ago, when I finally became aware of the Giro, the Vuelta and the Spring Classics I realised that the Tour was part of something bigger but even then I paid little attention to it in truth. The stars of the day were increasingly focussing on specific races so it was natural that I did too. I consumed my cycling through Channel 4 and ITV rather than through Cycling Weekly or Eurosport so options were pretty limited. From August to May I followed football. In June I watched a bit of cricket. I really didn’t know what I was missing.

When I finally caught up (thanks mainly to Steephill.tv and the live streams coming out of Europe) it was like realising that the Mona Lisa isn’t the only painting in the Louvre. Suddenly cycling was something that happened in other places and at other times. Those trips to the seaside were now happening in March in Holland, in April in Belgium, in May in Italy, in June in Switzerland.. It was like being permanently on vacation.

And that changed things. The Tour used to take up 3 weeks in July. It was a summer fling whose brief, passionate touch would leave an indelible mark but which was always looked back on fondly. Now it’s the high-water point of a repeating 9 month affair that coyly starts each January in Australia and which peters out, inevitably, in jaded fashion each October in Beijing. Along the way there are great days (often early in the relationship) in the Ardennes, in Flanders, in Nice. Exciting days of discovery, possibility and revelation. The same fiery freshness each year.

But there are also tedious memories:  an excruciating week (which felt like a fortnight) in Turkey, a forgettable trip to Poland, an extended visit to Spain that threatened to rekindle the spirit but which only brought home more questions than answers. Then comes the brief resurgence of the flame in late outings to Florence and Lombardy… A rainbow comes out from behind the clouds of doubt at the right moment for a short while but it’s still too late and we are already fighting against the dying of the light.. And then it’s gone. It’s over until next year when a new relationship will start back in Australia..

2012 was the first year I started planning for the Tour; watching the build-up races,  looking at teams, comparing form, questioning tactics. Up until then it was enough to know the main likely players and then await the stages. Following a whole season of racing makes this transience impossible.  It turns that summer fling into a full blown relationship. The element of surprise maybe lessened but the satisfaction gained from greater understanding is felt far more richly. But also the emotional investment is greater and, when it’s all gone, the feeling of loss is much greater too.

So here we are. Late October with nothing but memories to look forward to. We knew this would happen. We accepted that as part of the bargain. We’re not so desperate as to keep on chasing the flame into November’s Vuelta a Bolivia, or December’s Tour of Vietnam. We have some self respect yet. But the leaves have most definitely fallen and we are facing the spectre of spending the winter alone. It’s time to look at our options for seeing out the cold months.

1. The Younger, Cooler Sibling.

Just as the summer’s love interest fades into the night, a younger, cooler sibling steps out of the shadows. Cyclocross is starting. Looks similar but likes beer and chips and is also a bit dirtier..

2. Idle Gossip

Who is going to be with who next year? Who has gone where and how will they fare? Transfer speculation and predictions can easily waste a good couple of months.

3. Self Enlightenment

Get a good stack of cycling books on your Christmas list and you can stay busy until Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

4. Self Abuse

Don’t forget that, if all else fails, even in the deep, deep Winter, you can always get out on your own bike!

3 thoughts on “The Off Season (or What the Hell Do We Do Now?)

  1. A blog that echoes my own experience this year. Discovered pro cycling beyond the TdF thanks to an online fantasy cycling game. Cue researching courses and cyclists, along with watching ‘my’ riders in each of the races! Loved the Spring Classics. Wow, I have to be there in person to soak up that atmosphere.

  2. Looking forward to the Tour coming to my area got me through last winter and it will do this winter as well but after that I might actually need to go to France as I don’t think ITV4 highlights will be enough anymore, or I could just turn the sound up and see if listening to Ligget and co improves the experience and saves me the cost of a passport.

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