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The ABC’s of Bike Racing

A Is for Attack


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Amgen Tour of California Amgen Tour of California is back! This year, Santa Barbara will host the race for two stages, so put May 15 and 16 on your calendars now. On the 15th, cyclists will race from Santa Clarita to finish at East Beach. After an overnight stop, the tour will start from North Cabrillo and finish 116 miles later in Avila Beach.

This year’s eight-day-long race features 16 elite professional teams with riders from all over the globe. The course starts in Escondido and covers nearly 800 miles before finishing in Santa Rosa. The Amgen may not be as old as the historic Tour de France, which started in 1903, but organizers are proud that since 2006 the race has gotten bigger and better each year.

I’m excited to watch the Tour. I’ve never been a spectator at a professional road race but did catch some of the Tour de France on TV last year. Fortunately, I was watching with a dedicated amateur road racer who explained, for example, that hors catégorie is an incredibly steep climb up a mountain, not a small tasty morsel to enjoy with drinks.

Knowing some basic racing lingo will increase your enjoyment of the Tour of California. So, before you head out to Cabrillo Blvd. or other prime viewing spots, take a few minutes and review this brief A-Z dictionary of basic racing terminology. (In honor of Big Bird, listen to this classic song while you’re becoming an expert.)

Attack: When a lone cyclist (or small group) attempts to build a gap between themselves and the other riders in the peloton by suddenly and quickly accelerating.

Bag of spanners: Refers to loss of ability to pedal smoothly after overexertion. Example: “After riding hard up the Micheltorena overpass from the Westside, I’m usually pedaling like a bag of spanners.”

Climber: A rider, usually very light and muscular, who excels in riding uphill at a fast pace.

Danseuse: From the French word donser (to dance), someone riding out of the saddle, usually standing up and rocking side to side for leverage. Sometimes you’ll also hear the phrase “dancing on the pedals.” (When I do it, I look like a dancing bear in a circus.)

Echelon: A line of riders riding in a diagonal line across the road for maximum drafting in a crosswind.

Feed zones: Locations along the course of the race where team personnel hand riders canvas musette bags containing food and beverages.

Granny gear: The lowest gear ratio on a derailleur-equipped bicycle (the smallest chainring in front and the largest at the back.) For example, “When climbing Gibraltar, I need a granny gear, and turtles are still passing me.”

Hit the wall: When a rider completely runs out of energy on a long ride, aka bonk, hit the bonk, or (in the U.K.) the hunger knock.

Individual time trial: A race where riders set off at fixed intervals and complete the course against the clock; fastest time wins. Overall race leader starts last.

Jump: To try and surprise your opponents by aggressively increasing speed without warning. For example, “Two Hello! riders got a jump on Team Thunderbolt, and it looks like they’ll sprint to the finish.”

Kite: A cyclist who climbs powerfully but rides poorly on the descents.

Leech: A derogatory term for a rider in a group who does not share the work of riding in the front, where wind resistance and, therefore, pain is greatest.

Musette: Small, lightweight cotton bag, used to hold the food and water given to riders in the feed zone. Worn like a messenger bag, the bag is thrown away after contents are removed and placed into bottle cages and jersey pockets.

Neo-pro: A first year professional racer.

On the rivet: Riding at maximum speed. Riders pushing hard are usually leaning forward on the nose of the saddle where old-fashioned leather saddles had a large rivet. For example, “The only time I’m on the rivet is downhill with a hurricane tailwind.”

Peleton: The large main group in a road race. Meaning little ball or platoon in French, this is where riders save energy and individual and team race tactics are developed. Check out this video of the Amgen Tour finishing Stage 4 last year and watch the peleton hard at work.

Queen stage: The stage of a multiday road race that includes the highest elevation point. In the 2012 Amgen Tour of California, the first stage climbed up Mt. Palomar (5,318 feet) and had a total elevation gain of 11,132 feet. Meet the queen!

Road rash: Severe skin abrasions resulting from a crash and the rider sliding on the asphalt.

Soft break: A group of riders allowed to get away from the peleton because the breakaway poses no strategic threat to any of the major race leaders.

To stick the knife in: To finish off a group of riders who are about to crack.

Vultures: Race spectators who gather at a tricky point of the road where a crash is more likely to occur. Also found in NASCAR, downhill skiing, and many other racing events.

Water carrier: The French use the picturesque term domestiques for the team members who protect the team leader and wear down the competition. They are also called water carriers, and another of their functions is to ride back to the team car and pick up water bottles for the team. In Italian, they are gregarios.

Yellow jersey: Worn by the race leader in the Tour de France.

Zzzzzz: What cyclists and spectators do after a long day of riding, racing, and celebrating.

If you want to get into racing mood and practice your cheering, here are a few of my favorite bicycle racing films: American Flyers, Breaking Away, Flying Scotsman, 6 Day Bike Rider, The Triplets of Belleville, and The Yellow Jersey.

Finally, on May 16, at 7 p.m., Singletrack High, by local filmmakers Jacob and Isaac Seigel-Boettner, will be shown at the Lobero Theatre. This evening of bike enjoyment is brought to you by their production company, Pedal Born Pictures, and by the Santa Barbara Bike Coalition, Santa Barbara Middle School, Santa Barbara Mountain Bike Trail Volunteers, and Santa Barbara High School’s Bike Club, SBici. Be there to cheer.

Allez! Allez!

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