Love. Hate. Love. Hate. Pro cycling

I knew the Santos Tour Down Under was underway last week. It was just something in the back of my mind the first couple of stages. Then I sat down to look up a show I had recorded on my DVR and found that because of my automatic setting from last season my DVR was recording the NBCSports coverage of the race.  So, while doing some stretching exercises on a rainy Saturday morning I pushed the play button.

Ahhhh, pro cycling. It is a love hate relationship. I won’t get into all of the baggage here, but will just say that much of the past has left me jaded. Granted, last year seemed to be an improvement over some previous ones. Perhaps the peloton truly is casting out its demons… but like most demons, the specters won’t go quietly. I fully expect that we’ll have our share of announcements during this year.

Still, despite the times in the past where I’ve flown too close to the flames of disappointment, the first few stages that displayed on my TV screen awakened the love for the sport. I realize that if you have never competed in cycling it might be hard to understand. However, if you have ever felt the pain of riding to the edge of your endurance to advance a teammate or maintain a breakaway — not to mention the exhilaration of having that pain pay off with victory — you understand.

I’ve said it before, but that is the thing that makes the sport so intimate. Watching most other sports and you can plainly see that the ability of the participants vastly exceeds your own. I admire watching my favorite basketball player soar to a thunderous dunk. However, I’ve never experienced that feeling first-hand (except maybe the times I played on an 8ft. goal). I’ve played backyard football before, but it isn’t anything like what we saw this weekend with the AFC and NFC championship games.

Pro cycling is deceptive. “Hey,” I’ve even heard, “It’s just a bunch of grown men riding bicycles.” How many times have I been asked, “Are you ever going to ride in the Tour de France?” It is in that way that pro cycling — especially on TV — is deceptive. It is harder to tell the difference between the professional and the amateur.

Is there a difference? You betcha! The power output, the speeds, the skill, the close quarters of the peloton… they are steps above. At the same time there is a relative similarity. A top sprinter is putting out 1800+ watts going toward the line. I’m pegged at 1300 at best. Those guys would leave me like I was sitting still. However, if you were to look at our faces and attempt to judge our efforts, you couldn’t tell that much of a difference. The uninitiated would not have the same sense of awe that I would.

While I was watching Will Clarke riding to hold off the rushing peloton around Sterling I not only got caught up in the excitement of the chase, I also had an inkling of what the Tasmanian was going through. I was on that bike with him willing the break to succeed. As he rolled across the line with his limbs shaking I could empathize.

I climbed on the trainer later that day with a little more motivation than usual. Watching the pros helped awaken a little more of the desire. During one stretch on the trainer when I set a goal to hold a certain wattage for a certain period of time, Clarke came to my mind as my mind started questioning my ability to do it. I imagined myself trying to hold off the peloton and if I could just hold the wattage until that time I would be the winner!

Of course, I was reminded once again of the darker sides of cycling when Alejandro Valverde took the fifth stage. I guess that is part of the story as well. I guess we all hope for forgiveness and redemption. In a way, I’m looking for a little of that myself in 2012.