Pride Goes Last

The season has been slow to start, as I’ve said before, but it’s coming along. Still, I’m 5 kg heavier than I was at Haute Route (I blame 2 of them on Le Shanghai all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet, but that’s another story) and not feeling that sprightly yet. So it is with some satisfaction that I tell you this short tale of a climb I did last week. 

I was out for a 1.5 hour ride in the afternoon, descending gently down from the hamlet of Vic, when a cyclist glides past. This, unlike any Saturday or Sunday morning in this area, is odd. Mid-afternoon, even in the south of France, means most people who can afford road bikes are working. I let him go. He seemed like a nice guy.

At the bottom of the hill he turned right, which could only mean one thing: he was going back to Nîmes up ‘my’ climb (3 km). Suddenly I became interested in this guy and a story between us began to unfold. I kept my distance behind him on the approach to the climb, sizing him up as best I could (looks good on the bike, big calves, wonky pedal stroke), while questioning my conditioning and cursing those 5 extra kilograms.

As soon as the climb started I saw that I had nothing to worry about; he slowed noticeably and I passed him easily. Then I heard it: his squeaking chainring. I have rarely passed a fellow cyclist in France who has not tried to latch onto my wheel. It’s a mystery to me why this is, but I’m new to this game so maybe it’s the same the world over.


The god I probably most resembled.

Anyway, the squeaky crank caught up to me and, whether I wanted it or not, the game was on. I picked up the pace, trying not to let him know I was aware of his presence and, obviously, that I was starting to hurt. After a kilometer or so of this it became apparent that he was in better shape than he showed at the start of the climb and I was now nearing ‘red’. What can you do in this situation? Exactly, cross that line into the red and hope he didn’t do 15,000 km last year like you did. At 2 km he was still there, even getting closer,  I thought. I shifted down 2 gears and stood on the pedals, breathing hard enough to muffle all squeaks…or maybe, maybe, he had dropped off? I sat back down, perked up my ears and heard….beautiful, glorious silence. He was gone and I hauled my 70 kg to the top of the climb, still not daring to look back. I felt like a god.

I am guessing you, dear reader, have lived this drama once or twice in your own mind. If you haven’t, and I’m the only one, I shall seek professional help immediately.

34 thoughts on “Pride Goes Last

  1. Good on you … and yes, it happens here too. No professional helped needed.

    Coming from my slow (insert other deserved adjectives here) cycling self, I admit it: my perspective comes from behind. I have jumped on other cyclists wheels. But, I always announce myself right away with a bonjour or hello, and hope for a quick chat, instead of being dropped immediately. It’s the same mechanism, but a different motive, or I think so, anyway…..

      • Oh, I’m sure you’re listening hard enough, and you heard me when we talked riding into Nimes. Nothing wrong with those ears. People only very rarely say hello here either. I have thought it depends on why someone is on a wheel. … social, or free pull/competitive.

  2. Catching up and passing another cyclist….it’s like a dream to me….and cycling up hill at the same time…..I am lost in admiration. I hope your trainer doesn’t give you trouble for inappropriate red zoning.

  3. There is a lot of truth in that story Gerry. Since I have been riding with the club up here in Brittany I have noticed that as a big hill approaches in the distance they all slow down (much gear changing) and start sitting in behind each other almost as if the hill was going to hurt them!!! As a bit of a light weight, I end up on the front and then they are all happy to sit on my wheel to the top!! Not sure why but it is the way most club rides!

    • I find it on the flats here, too. I don’t really understand it, to be honest. If you catch the wheel of someone going faster, then tuck in for the ride, what are you accomplishing? You are probably expending the same, or even less, energy by doing so.

      Unless you’re late for lunch or something, I don’t get it.

  4. I think there is an imaginary finish line at the top of any hill and there is nothing quite as disheartening as coming up to the ‘finish line’ and being passed by someone who has come out of nowhere. I now occasionally look behind me on the way up the hill, just in case. And if I see someone coming up behind me, I’ll give them a race to the top. Still get beat but hey, I’ve made them work a little harder. Kind of doing them a favour.
    I’ve actually experienced the opposite on the rare occasion where I’ve passed someone going uphill. I’ve said “Hallo or Gruzi or guten Tag or bonjour” as I’ve slowly eased past them, only to be ignored. Some people are just like that.

    • I think you’re right, Luc. To be fair, when passing by riders (going the opposite direction) down here you almost always get a lifting of the hand or a ‘salut/bonjour’. Maybe you are no threat when you aren’t going the same way as them!

  5. Ahh love it … isn’t it the same all over the world. I experienced exactly the same. And to be honest was a bit disappointed when the guy behind me just wasn’t up for a race … I was well up in my reds when I turned around just to see … no one …
    Agree with Luc. Don’t know why that is … but there are lots of other riders who on the other hand are really nice!

  6. When I pass someone (or he/she passes me) I’ve learned not to judge. I don’t know how far they’ve already gone or plan to go. I don’t know if they’re on a recovery ride from an epic race the day prior. We are all on different paths and unless you start at the same time/place and agree you want to beat the other to another spot, then it’s not a completely fair comparison of skills.

    Having said that, when I pass someone and he tries to hang on, it really pisses me off and it is “game on.” I try not to do the reverse when passed. If the guy bonks a mile or two down the road, I’ll reel him in and pass, but I don’t wheel suck on training rides. My ego is already too badly damaged to attempt to prove my manliness to a complete stranger. 😉

    • It doesn’t irritate me too much, but it does take my concentration away from what I’ve been doing and, like you say, it’s always ‘game on’. I just wish people would leave me alone!

  7. egos get in the way of everything…bike riding should always be free yourself from extraneous thoughts etc…there’s always someone who has something to prove..if I’m out in a training ride and someone whom I don’t know jumps on my wheel, I just pull off and let the putz go…no ego, nothing gained by dropping him/her. If you want competition for real..race.

  8. It’s a difficult one, this. I think it all depends on the intent, which is not always evident. I have a cycling friend who always need to be first even on non-competitive rides. As you might imagine, he is considered a muppet by the group. When I’m out on my own, it’s nice to find someone that will give me a push to go a little faster, either in front or behind me. Of course, there is a bit of competitive streak at play somewhere below the surface, but that is not the primary driver. If the intent is mutual (demonstrated most of the time through a friendly ‘hello’ of some sort), then I think it’s all good clean fun. However, most of the time, the other cyclist is way above my station or is out for just a leisurely jaunt…

  9. Interesting discussion. Being around other cyclists of similar ability is the best part of riding. It doesn’t usually happen unless you’re in a race, so on the rare occasion that you come across someone close to your ability on a training ride, enjoy the moment and the mini-competition. Regardless of where I ride in the world, when I pass someone that I had to really worked hard to catch, I pay my respects and I always invite them to draft if they wish (except Mt Ventoux, or Alp D’huez, because there are too many people to pass and more to the point, I can hardly talk). And my hardest efforts on a training ride happen when someone is trying to catch me, because I know I’m reaching deep into the hurt locker to stay in front, so when he does make the catch, I pay my respects and ask for permission to draft. We’re all cyclists and there’s lots of things on the road to get annoyed at; some guy that wants to suck your wheel or use you to pace himself up a hill isn’t worth getting fussed about. And if he does try to pass you in a sprint at the top of the hill, dig deep and give him a good race. I’ve met a few interesting people on a bike this way.

  10. It is an interesting discussion, I agree with Rob.

    As surely the slowest rider commenting, if not the oldest, doesn’t anyone else have this experience? But first, the picture. Me, grey-haired, woman, riding a loaded touring bike, passed by Other Rider: man, usually younger, dressed in kit, riding a road bike, unloaded. I say hello, usually so does he (virtually always he.) If he doesn’t slow to chat, my instinct is always to kick up my pace and try to follow. It is stupid, but there it is, an instinctive reaction. I no longer do that, no longer try to pace the person, I have discovered my competitive switch and turn it off, but I think I hold my own pace only because it is so silly, and I get so wasted, usually with many miles left in the day. Sometimes I do jump on a wheel, but not of someone who has just passed me.

    Anybody recognize that reaction?

    • Duly recognized, Suze! I do the same thing when it happens. The difference between what you and I are doing (I think) and what I find strange in France, is that we are ‘pacing’ the other rider, i.e. trying to ride at his speed, while keeping our distance. The other is wheel sucking and therefore doing the same thing, but with much less effort and, I might add, more risk (John had a guy on a tri bike hit his back wheel the other day when J sat up).

      At least that’s the kind of ‘pacing’ I do. Is that what you’re talking about?

  11. I know absolutely nothing about cycling, as you well know. But I DO know a thing or two about Lord Ganesh (whom you think you might resemble at this point). Ganesha is widely revered as the remover of obstacles, the patron of arts and sciences, the god of intellect and wisdom, and the god of beginnings. We have several in the house (very useful in the kitchen) and I have one on my dressing table at work (opera is surprisingly full of obstacles). I would think he might be helpful as you approach a hill, when you begin training for a new race, or when you are trying to drop someone from your wheel. (what ever that might mean). And I hear that he rides a Pinarello Dogma.

    • I also have a Ganesh in the living room (where I work, so definitely full of obstacles), but I’m afraid he’s too heavy for the jersey pocket. Perhaps you can get your Dogma-riding Ganesh over here, so I can use him…!

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