We turn the pedals ourself but cycling is not alway an individual sport, watching a Grand Tour with the Team Sky train dominating the race should be evidence enough of seven men working for one. The role of a lead out is simple yet hard. To take the wind, to push air, to make it easier for the cyclist behind, less energy expended, protected, looked after until it is time for them to go on their own. One by one they take their turn playing to their strengths, each potentially as good or better than the one they work for. Whilst the one they work for sits in waiting, trusting the team to do their job until the point where they have to go alone. It can be a long job and one that can require selfless acts of enduring pain and hardship knowing there is no glory for you today. Only reflected glory if your man/woman does their thing and is successful. The Lead Out does not a cover for weakness or lack of ability – instead it means that the strength is deployed at the exact moment that it is required to maximum effect. If you understand that pushing air is about 90% of the effort in cycling you will see how hard this job can be and how beneficial it is to have a Lead Out!
At 6am on the 3rd of September I was in need of a Lead Out more than any other time in my bike life so far. They were there, Holly, Chris, Jonathan, Steph, Lee, Les all ready to push the air for us on the first 48 mile stretch. Waiting on the corner just past the start line at the Manchester Velodrome ready to support Jill, the BIke Boss and me. Experienced ride leaders and all having played a part in my training. Jonathan – towing me along a sprint segment pushing BIG watts for me! Chris – teaching me that the Peaks are a cruel mistress! Steph – whose bravery and guts never fails to impress, Holly – the coolest person I know she can ride a bike really fast up hill and play bass. Lee, who tells me not to ride like a dick and get on my pedals at roundabouts….it’s encouraging! Les, who showed me how to get up hills and how to descend on the drops – because it’s better for bike handling ….and looks cool as fuck!
Organised and calm they make the first few miles seem like a club ride which helps stop the stomach churning that has been going on since 3:30am when we started force feeding ourselves porridge. Jonathan is moaning about missing his train yesterday after waiting for me. so having to ride home – standard! (100 mile day) I can’t really explain how great it is to see him there, back shouting at me “little ring Sue” after a horrendous crash on the way to meet me back in June left his shoulder in seven bits. I will tell him all this next time when I am not concentrating on facing my Peak District demons at sun rise! He hands out rice balls that he had stayed up late making like a delux domestique that he is! These would be declared by Jill many hours later as a culinary master piece that fuelled the last part of our journey.
As the road started to rise I fell back from the group (this always happens) conscious that I needed to save my legs for the day ahead I knew I had to take it steady and today was not the day to try keep up! This is where the Lead Out thing gets clever. Chris the ultimate mountain goat is quick to offer support and reminds me that I need to stick to my plan and settles next to me. Les and Lee drop back from the main group and slow until I am on the wheel. Immediately it eases my effort. Now the skill comes in, they have to go just fast enough to get us back to the main group but without dropping me. They can do this whilst chatting away with just an occasional look to see that I am still there. Safely cocooned in the middle I have an overwhelming feeling of being supported and looked after. They were doing all they could physically to get me where I needed to go in the best shape.
As we all spin up the first climb out of Disley towards Whaley Bridge the sun rises over the Peaks and whilst reminding the Bike Boss to eat his jam and cheese Bagle quarter at 20 miles I try to drink in the view and also the feeling of doing something great with some really great people. How glad am I to be alive seeing this view. Thankfully photos have captured this moment. When the email arrives with the title “it makes a good screen saver” I know what it will be. For me it will not just be for the computer screen but for any time I check the inside of my eyelids. (p.S I managed to set my own screensaver for the first time ever) Despite many planning meetings on food, a long shopping list and many bags of food, the combination of jam and cheese was my fault due to a forgetting to check the date on the marmite in the fridge. Apparently the Bike Boss was not prepared to chance a best before date of 2016. Anyway they seemed to work well enough! Marginal gains for next time.
We roll on, with the Bike Boss trying one of the areas that I usually push all the air….talking to strangers! On a bike with eyes forward and knowing you have enough of a watt bomb to get away if needed he chats away. I choose to ask questions about the things the lead out crew had achieved this year…. They are an impressive crew with Lee having done the Tour D’Etape and the Mallorca 312….I decide probs best not start moaning about a few little hills! Wise words are shared with me that I hold close. Whilst the road continues to rise and fall the support and encouragement is constantly lifting.
We charge along a pretty much deserted Monsal Trail. Steph by my side chatting away and talking herself into doing M2L next year. Young enough to be my daughter, I admire her bravery, at her age I could not ride round the block! I commit to myself to push as much air as I can for her always.
On the day we were also joined by Jill’s husband Stuart providing his wife with the ultimate lead out and show of support. He knows she is a toughie and would be fine but chose to be there and push air. Having not been well he still made it on to his bike to accompany her through the first stage. In the blur of start line preparations Stuart turned to Rafal (that’s the Bike Boss) saying simply “look after her” You have to have complete trust in the lead out. Big ask of a man you have just met in the dark in a car park.
Continuing to follow the little red and gold signs navigating us through the countryside and before I know it there is a “10 miles to food stop sign” now it’s “just a 10 Mile Monday Night Time trial” Holly helpfully points out (keep ticking off the milestones) We arrive at Carsington Water in splendid time over 25 mins ahead of my plan. I can not thank the above mentioned enough and will probably bore them silly with my thanks. You got us off to the best start. Just the 188 miles for the Bike Boss to lead out now……
Lead Outs don’t just happen on bike, our friends, family, loved ones and even colleagues provide us with Lead Outs of sorts push air and provide shelter, build our confidence, offer support all the time knowing that the final yards and steps will be taken alone by that person. The day before my cycling friends had waited in the Club House long after their ride had finished. I suspect partly to check that the Bike Boss was not really an Incredibles Avatar! But mostly to support with the daunting task of signing on for the M2L ride – the moment of reality. They had sheparded me upstairs literally leading the way. Made sure I had put pen to paper – I had to write my own name!
We can also offer to Lead Out – whether it is our fellow cyclists, a colleague, friends, our children It might be by offering kindness, a constant presence, cocooning them until they reach the point where they have the strength and ability to go on alone. For my boys I Lead Out. By doing things like M2L I try to show the art of the possible how to turn your dreams into a goal, a plan, then a reality. The engine will not fail. When Moo takes his mark to run his 19 steps in to bow, he takes the field alone and delivers the ball that hits the stumps but only after a he has had a Lead Out from his coaches his family and his team. Protected down at 3rd Man in the field, batting mid order to give him time to recover. They let him do what he does best in the moment he needs to. To win. When Tom Tom takes a clean hip shot in handball that scores a goal it is because the rest of the team have taken the tackles and blocked the other team to give him the time and space he needs to get the shot away. Maybe different to on the bike but same principles apply. Protect and enable your team.
So if you have done a Lead out for me ….on a bike or in life. Then I thank you and I will always try and do the same for you if there is an opportunity to push air for you. Ultimately I will do you proud and go it alone when it’s time.
Dedicated to the Lead out Man – the Bike Boss. Thank you for pushing air for me all the way to London. Good Tow!
And the Manchester RCC super stars – Chapeau.