Laurent Cipriani / Associated Press

Bjarne Riis of Denmark, left, and Alberto Contador chat during a training ride Monday, a rest day on the Tour de France.

11 reasons not to ride like those guys in the Tour de France

Published: Tuesday, Jul. 19, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1D
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jul. 19, 2011 - 10:04 am

After weeks of the epic and exhausting Tour de France, millions of viewers have been treated to beautiful scenery, inspiring athletic achievements, huge crowds and sometimes bewildering behavior on two wheels.

There have been sprints, climbs, breakaways and yes, more than a few roadside "natural breaks" caught on camera. There have been crashes, torn jerseys and multiple cases of the skin condition known as road rash – what your body looks like when the skin is removed by sliding on asphalt.

Tailgating, harrowing descents, riding too fast for the weather conditions, littering, doctors treating their patients while sticking their heads out of a moving car. For better or worse, they all are parts of the Tour de France.

While this great bike race, which concludes Sunday, teaches us plenty about form and fitness, about determination and preparation, it can also serve as a guide for what not to do on a bike. Some of it may be amusing, some serious.

Here is an unscientific collection of what not to do. Some are suggestions, some are hints and some involve potentially serious legal consequences.

1. Dressing in skin-tight, colorful clothes: Sure, someone with 4 percent body fat and chiseled quads is going to look pretty good in pro cycling attire. But mere mortals carrying 20 to 40 extra pounds could be setting themselves up for ridicule. The best bet is to start with looser clothing. When your friends start to express concern that you look too skinny, make the transition to snug-fitting Lycra. If you're heading to the coffee shop or grocery store dressed like a pro, remember this axiom: the farther you get from your bike while dressed like Alessandro Petacchi, the sillier you'll look.

2. Shaved legs: Pro cyclists are known as some of the toughest athletes in the world. They endure hours of suffering. They battle exhaustion. When they crash, they generally get right back on their bikes, even if they left half their skin on the road. And yet, these tough guys spend as much time primping their legs as a Hollywood starlet. This is a controversial topic. Experienced cyclists think hairy legs look weird and unsightly. Non-cyclists think shaved legs on men look weird and prissy. You decide.

3. Riding in large groups: This doesn't apply to the increasingly popular bicycle pub crawls or tweed rides, which are generally low-speed affairs. But riding in large groups at full speed when you don't make your living that way is a recipe for disaster. Commenting on the 190-rider pack during the Stage 5 on the cable network Versus, Phil Liggett said, "One mistake by one rider and everyone is sliding 100 meters on the floor." Group riding is part of cycling at the highest levels, and drafting is the art and science of going faster while conserving energy. But riding in large groups can lead to mishaps – merely touching your front wheel to the rear wheel of the rider in front of you is enough to make you hit the deck. What's more, in the real world large groups are unwieldy. They stress out motorists and make it difficult to pass. Smaller, more manageable groups work better and show courtesy to others.

4. Riding with no hands: This one may seem obvious. If Mark Cavendish can raise his hands in victory while traveling 40 mph, why can't you? Because he knows what he's doing and people actually care that he won.

5. Going down hills at high speed: You'd think this would be another no-brainer. High-speed descending is part of pro cycling. Often, they top 55 mph on winding mountain roads. The pros also ride on a closed course. Many amateur cyclists are injured or killed while descending at high speed. Even in the first week of the Tour de France, there was a high-speed pile-up on a twisting downhill section that led to several serious injuries.

6. "Nature breaks:" If you're riding 100-plus miles a day for three weeks, when you gotta go, it's usually on the side of the road. In the Tour de France, it's considered part of the charm, though competitors who go in areas visible to spectators are sometimes fined by race officials. In the real world, it's called "urinating in public." It's not cute. It's a crime.

7. Littering: Watch the peloton long enough and you'll see things flying through the air. Those are water bottles. Pros don't refill their bottles. They toss them, to the delight of spectators who chase them down for souvenirs. They also throw away empty energy gel packets. But the Tour has scores of workers to clean up after the riders. In the real world, cyclists trying to imitate their favorite pro by littering can face a fine of $100 to $1,000.

8. Throwing your bike: Probably the best bike toss ever was by Bjarne Rhys during a calamitous time trial in the 1997 Tour de France. This year, we've seen tosses by Alberto Contador and Robert Gesink, among others. David Millar is known for tossing bikes in anger. But the pros get their bikes for free. If you toss your bike, it might break the frame, bend your rear derailleur or break a spoke, making it impossible to ride. In the real world, no one is following you in a car with a spare bike on the roof.

9. Blowing through stop signs and red lights: The pros do this because they race on closed roads. Dozens of police officers and race officials keep traffic at bay. Ordinary cyclists who roll through stop signs or barrel through red lights face the same fines as motorists. In Sacramento, that's $380 or more. It's also an unfortunate signal to others that you don't think the rules apply to you.

10. Multitasking: Pros can eat, drink, change clothes and ride at the same time. But this one really applies to the managers, known as directeurs sportifs, who follow along in the team cars. Their driving is just scary. While driving, they watch a TV monitor showing the race, listen to the official directives on race radio, look at maps, check times, and shout encouragement (often in several languages). They do this on flat open roads and on narrow mountain passes. Outside of the Tour de France, if you tried that you could be cited for driving while distracted.

11. Riding behind cars: Yes, this is part of the Tour de France, too, and it can be scary. When a rider gets a flat tire, he will often catch back up to the peloton by drafting the team cars. It's not really legal and it's potentially dangerous, but officials usually look the other way. If it is blatant and persistent, riders can be fined or even ejected. Competitors sometimes hang onto the team car while a mechanic reaches out to make adjustments to the bike while traveling at high speed. Defending champion Contador did this on Stage 6, and it could have been disastrous – his rear wheel nearly swerved into the side of the car.

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Read more articles by Blair Anthony Robertson

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