In the introduction to my rundown of what went into Rouleur 116: Mind, I mentioned that the best thing about road racing was that clever riders can beat stronger rivals. I stand by that. But as I was putting together the latest edition of the magazine, Rouleur 117: Body, it occurred to me that the best thing about road racing is also that it is open to so many different body types.
There’s a famous stat, cited in David Epstein’s book The Sports Gene, that 17 per cent of American men aged 20 to 40 who stand seven feet tall, played in the NBA. Of course, not many people grow to seven feet, so we’re not talking about many people, but the point is that basketball generally selects for height. Most professional basketball players are tall, and the presence of a few shorter individuals does not alter the general truth.
Other sports also select for body type. Sumo wrestling is an obvious example. Elite marathoners are all slight. Swimmers generally have long arms relative to their heights and big hands and feet.
But road cycling? Power to weight counts, and so at the elite level the sport does select for leanness, plus, obviously, cardiovascular fitness. But riders can be short, tall, broad and narrow, and everything in between, and can find success. Climbers are always light, though they can be short or tall; sprinters may present in a more muscular fashion, but they can also be tall or short. Puncheurs may be light or stocky; rouleurs tend to be taller. Many riders thrive on specific territory, but the sport’s terrain is so varied that there is something for everybody.
However, it’s important to acknowledge that cycling as a sport and activity has also in the past been less inclusive. The iconography of the sport has celebrated the idealised, lean body type of the professional athlete and the keen amateur. But cycling is not just for people whose body fat percentage is below a certain number. As Beau Marksohn, the Instagram influencer I interviewed in this magazine points out, anybody who turns a pedal is a cyclist, and cycling must work on creating a space that is welcoming to everybody. Rouleur 117 celebrates the diversity and inclusivity of life on two wheels. To paraphrase René Descartes, the philosopher who wrote extensively on the mind/body duality: we cycle, therefore we are cyclists.
So what’s in the magazine? Rouleur photojournalist James Startt caught up with Julian Alaphilippe at a Soudal-Quick Step (taking me some time to get used to that) pre-season training camp. For a cycling magazine, securing an exclusive interview with a rider like Alaphilippe is always a dream – he’s interesting, prominent and has huge box office appeal. But James and I both agreed that it was important to get Alaphilippe into the ‘Body’ edition of the magazine because he is such a physical rider. He races with a compelling, dynamic, spiky style and he’s never quite still on the bike. James asked the Frenchman about that, and he admitted that if classy style and elegance on the bike is your thing, you’re better off being a fan of Tom Dumoulin. But there’s a humanity to Alaphilippe which means you cannot take your eyes off him in a race. To add to the revealing interview, we worked with our designer Enric Adell to make a unique photoshoot to complement the words. Alaphilippe was happy to pose on a stationary bike, which Enric photoshopped out, leaving the double world champion suspended in mid air. In this case, it really wasn’t about the bike.
Kate Wagner is one of my favourite cycling writers. She came into cycling having already built a reputation as a cultural critic and architecture writer, with a polymath’s appreciation of the nuances of the sport and its crossover into many different subject matters. So I was delighted when we came up with the idea of exploring cycling’s relationship with pain and suffering for her feature The Many Faces of Suffering. Every cyclist has experienced the burning sensation that comes with pushing on pedals; Kate’s questions were, is that experience the same for everybody, can we compare the suffering of cycling to the suffering we experience in life and can that ability that the pros have to embrace pain turn into something a little more dark and complicated?
I enjoyed interviewing Tao Geoghegan Hart for this magazine, and couldn’t resist the headline we eventually ran with. Geoghegan Hart is a thoughtful individual who has found great success in cycling and he always says interesting things, whether in a long interview like this or a quick mixed zone interview. What strikes me the most about him is that even though he lives the peripatetic life of the international athlete, his roots are firmly established in his London background. He talks about his memories of growing up in Hackney and of still enjoying walking and exploring there, but that also translates into wanting to explore the world. Some people miss home enough that they don’t like to leave: in Geoghegan Hart’s case, his attachment to home gives him an appreciation of the new places that he has the privilege to visit. The impression I got from the interview that he’s an individual who knows very well where he came from, and is going through life with his eyes open.
Also in the magazine: Lizzy Banks on her long comeback from concussion and covid-induced pericarditis; James Witts delves into the science behind the different body types that thrive in the WorldTour; Rachel Jary sends us her eyewitness report of the Singapore criterium, in which Jonas Vingegaard’s trishaw-riding skills are scrutinised mercilessly; Rouleur Italia editor Emilio Previtali writes about the relationship cyclists have with their scars; James Startt visits Trek’s performance research lab to find out how the American company are investigating how bikes and bodies can fit each other better; Beau Marksohn - @dadbod_cyclist; Victor Lindholm talks to Mattias Skjelmose about growing up fast and never giving up; we meet some riders who love their Brooks saddles-equipped bikes; Art Cycle with Salvo; handmade bikes; Badlands and much, much more.