Football players – from all codes – and cyclists, have a lot in common. Shaved legs? Yep. Tight shorts? Of course. End of season bender? Ab-so-bloody-lutely.
As spring blossoms bloom and magpies begin to swoop we also see the various sporting icons of Australia begin to embrace their respective ‘Mad Mondays’.
In a tried and true Aussie fashion we like to celebrate, or commiserate, a year of hard work and sacrifice.
In cycling vernacular we call it the ‘Offie’. Given it is our ‘off’ season it’s more than necessary to shorten just two words into one.
It’s more than necessary to celebrate hard. And it’s definitely more than necessary to let our hair, albeit not on our legs, down.
For European-based cyclists this strikes the continuance of what is an endless summer. Enjoying a season of racing overseas in sunny lands while our Australian based sporting compatriots shiver and shake through winter is certainly a perk.
To then come home just as the Aussie weather picks up is the icing on the cake. And whether it’s a chocolate cake at 3pm or a potato cake at 3am, we’ll no doubt be enjoying some in between drinks.
During a traditional season once the Tour de France has passed, most people start looking towards the World Road Championships in September as the goal posts for the end of the season. Most teams start winding down. Most riders have already signed, or are desperately scrambling to sign, a contract for the following season.
And the ‘Offie’ is on everyone’s mind. It comes as an added bonus that unless your name is Cadel Evans, you can have a few drinks wherever you want and not have to smile for the camera.
During October, life is good.
Unfortunately, if something seems too good to be true, then it probably is. For professional cyclists the off season is getting smaller and smaller as professional cycling gets bigger and bigger. Over the last decade in particular, professional cycling has globalised at an extraordinary rate.
It has spread to countries other than its traditional European stronghold: Oman, Qatar, China and of course Australia. As these new countries try to get their own slice of the action, the racing calendar has gotten harder and longer.
January used to be a month reserved for preparation, relaxation and resolutions. Not anymore.
Now January and February are studded with southern hemisphere races of which the Tour Down Under (TDU) is one of the highlights. The reality is though, the TDU was until recently considered just a training race. Most European cyclists got to come and do some shorter racing, cuddle the odd kangaroo and realise that no one in Australia drinks Fosters.
Traditionally, many of the European teams racing the TDU would be spending that time away from home anyway. Training camps usually held in Majorca we swapped for a ‘training’ race in Adelaide.
The advent of the Tour Down Under created the opportunity to travel and train in a warmer climate, but no one was going to really race that hard. Although the race calendar was expanding, the lack of importance of these new races meant that our traditional off season was in safe hands.
The creation of a new ‘World Tour’ points system, however, has sent the importance of the Tour Down Under skyrocketing.
Now we see teams lining up with their A teams, all racing for valuable points in order to protect their rankings. To stay in the ‘Premier League’ of road cycling, the big teams can’t afford to not take the Tour Down Under seriously. The TDU is now the pride and joy of Australian Road Cycling.
It’s grown to be a massive tourism boon for Adelaide and many South Australians are now laughing at that little car race around Albert Park in Melbourne every March.
The downside to Down Under is that we lose a couple of weeks of R and R. The upside is that Australia becomes the focal point for yet another world class sporting event. It’s a trade-off most cyclists are happy to make.
In the modern era, any sporting profession is truly a yearly occupation only briefly punctuated by the odd moment of ‘boys will be boys’ (or girls for that matter). For cycling, this is no different.
The Tour de France may be the big highlight in July. But the Tour down Under is certainly no sideshow. So this January, spare a thought for all those cyclists who didn’t get to party hard through Christmas and New Years.
But it’s no drama. Really. The next ‘Offie’ is only 10 months away. And then the whole cycle can start again.
Whether it’s from a ditch in China or from the roadside at the Tour de France, Jonathan Lovelock has seen a lot in his young semi-professional cycling career. From junior racing in Italy to a yearlong stretch with a European based team, he is now back in Australia and racing for Huon Salmon-Genesys Wealth Advisors p/b Praties he endeavours to bring the world of cycling into focus for you.