Kim Andersen (DS for the newly merged Radioshack-Nissan [Trek] team): “Jakob Fuglsang needs to lose some weight…”
That simple statement sent cycling fans, followers, armchair Directors Sportif, and casual observers into a Jenny Craig-esque tirade. How could Kim say that to poor, adorable Jakob? He is a professional cyclist who is nearing the peak of his career and Kim thinks Jakob is fat? The simple and bottom-line answer is “yes, yes he is.”
To dig further into the question you must step away for a second and remove the fanboy/girl hat for a moment. Pro racers are – for lack of a better comparison – Thoroughbred race horses on two wheels. Granted they are not bred for this specific task, but once a rider is scouted and selected for the Pro-Tour ranks, they are treated much like their four-legged brethren. Given what they need, nothing more, and nothing less. Well, maybe they are given more in the sense of pharmaceutical assistance, but I will save that for another article. Often I believe that the Thoroughbred horses are treated much better than a Pro-Tour rider. They are expected to turn themselves inside out during races. They feel the sting of the crop via the crackling of the race radio to attack or cover attacks. They are expected to push their bodies past the limits and be ready to go the next day or weekend. But unlike their equine counterparts whose nutritional needs are in the hands of the grooms, veterinarians and trainers, the cyclists are left to their diets but expected to fuel themselves appropriately. Sometimes *cough*Jan Ullrich*cough* a rider may get a little carried away in the off season and indulge in those taboo menu items that tend to add a few unwanted psi to the off-season spare tire. Now to be completely fair to Der Kaiser, he came from an era when the off season was a little longer and Grand Tour riders were allowed to ride themselves into shape during the spring classics. Nowadays the off season is painfully short, and the expectations to be race fit at the beginning of the season are that much higher.
But I digress, back to Jakob and Kim.
Kim was an accomplished racer and has been involved with cycling for many years and knows what it takes for his horses, er, I mean riders, to be competitive. Kim was specifically speaking of Jakob being able to climb with the best at the upcoming Giro. Jakob has shown that his ability in the high mountains should garner some attention and respect. Kim and the other DS understand that the top ten riders at the Giro will be separated in ability by fractions of percentages. The riders will all have the best equipment, the best nutrition, the best clothing, and the best umbrella girls. Ok, I threw that last one in because I hope they all have the best umbrella girls! Kim knows that shedding a few extra percentage points of body fat will allow Jakob to go faster as the legendary steep terrain of the Giro points ever higher. Jakob is on a strong team and based on past performances should contend for the overall at the upcoming Giro.
Weight is a controllable factor for racers. After genetics, weight is the biggest demon for a racer when the roads point up. Racers can control how much their machines weigh (up to the UCI limit of course) and more easily control how much their body weight contributes to the overall battle against gravity.
To call out Jakob – especially in a public manner – may seem harsh to the uninitiated, but it is the harsh reality of professional cycling. At pre-season training camps all over world right now, DS are walking up behind their riders pinching and poking the backs of arms and thighs to gauge fitness. Now I will never admit to doing this or having it done to me, but an old school trick to get riders to lose more weight is to remove tags from team kits and give a rider a smaller size. How could a set of jerseys and bibs lie? There are other stories, especially from Italy, that speak of food rationing at team houses and denial of meals for poor performances or preparations.
In recent years as riders have opened themselves to new ways of coaching and training methods, nutritional habits have become more realistic in terms of maintaining acceptable weight limits so such drastic methods aren’t needed. That is not to say once the season starts and riders realize they may need to drop a kilo or two that meals won’t be skipped.
So with that, I will finish my huge breakfast of warm water with lemon and munch a few Altoids before I hit the road.