There are two obvious end of the spectrum for the spectator – either watching professional riders or having a gander at amateur racing but there is a third option that is little considered. Let’s deal with the two principal ones first.
You can (and should) watch professional cycling in a number of ways. If you are a fan of the big tours, you can go and stand on a corner in the Alps or Pyrenees and watch your heroes ride past you. You can run alongside them drunk in flip flops with your shirt off if you really want to. I mean, don’t, obviously because you’ll look like a complete pillock, but you can if you want to.
Alternatively, you can watch cycling at a velodrome. This is easier – you get a seat, toilets and, if you go to Manchester, access to a guy who will make you a chocolate and banana crepe so good you’ll forget you’re a cyclist anyway. The big advantage here is you get to see the riders at least once every 250 meters and you won’t get sunburned or freezing cold. Unless you’re at Newport, then you will get freezing cold. And no crepes.
The audience for amateur racing is mainly restricted to parents (forced by guilt), children (forced by parents), aspiring photographers (forced by a desire to stop doing their proper jobs and become cycling photographer) partners (forced by partners) and officials (forced and/or bribed by riders and club mates). Amateur racing is for the enjoyment (I use the word loosely) of the competitors – it shouldn’t be watched really. It’s embarrassing - well, it is the way I do it – nobody needs to see me do a 25 min 10 mile TT in a pointy hat and tight Lycra.
The third and least considered option for spectating at a bike race could be seen today in the Olympics where the riders representing the rest of the world spectated and got a cracking view of Team GB as they were dragged along in their slipstream. I’m surprised they didn’t get out cards or board games to keep them entertained for a few hours. Great free seats though and cheaper than an open top bus tour through the capital.
This happens in amateur racing to – a guy rode pass me this week on the way back to HQ after a handicapped road race event and told me how strongly I’d been riding (he must have been after something). It was the first time I’d seen him all evening – he’d be spectating from behind. Much like their roadside counterparts, these spectators also take it upon themselves to offer advice and encouragement to the riders up front – often when they feel they are not working hard enough or doing enough to help them win the race. Bless them.
One guy who was riding in my group was kind enough to tell me how fat he thought I was - he’s right, I am a fat bastard -but at least this time I had the presence of mind to mention that from his position he would have been able to give a physiological assessment of all the riders in the bunch. Particularly the size of their arses….
Rich Smith is a Level 3 British Cycling qualified coach, the current British, European and World Transplant Cycling champion and the author of ‘ReCycled, a funny book about cycling and less important things like life and death.