One of the great things about cycling, as a sport, is that we amateurs get to test ourselves on exactly the same terrain as the pro’s.
But timing is everything.
If you want to go and ride up Mont Ventoux then there’s nothing to stop you. Unless you want to do it on Bastille Day 2016, when the authorities of the Tour de France might have something to say about it. If you jump onto Chris Froome’s wheel half way to the summit you might find a handful of angry gendarmes roughly manhandling you, and putting a swift end to your fifteen seconds of fame.
When the pro’s aren’t racing the chances are they’ll be training on some public road somewhere. If you can find a pro cyclist, and jump onto his wheel and hold it, in theory there’ll be nobody to stop you. Not in the eyes of the law, at least. Were you to roll up alongside Peter Sagan mid-training session and start having a chat with him about his season so far, his haircut, or his wheelie technique, then unless the authorities decide to invoke anti-stalking laws you’re well within your rights.
Having said that, if you can hold Peter Sagan’s wheel whilst still having enough breath to hold a conversation with him it won’t be long before Mr Tinkoff is on the phone and signing you up to your own pro-contract. And if you’re a team-mate, then technically it’s no longer stalking.
Talking of mingling with the pro’s (at an admittedly slightly lower level than Sagan and co.) I was once riding along the lanes of Lancashire when I heard a commotion up the road ahead. Out of sight and around a bend, something was going on. Before I knew it a couple of cyclists came flying past me looking for all the world like the leading breakaway in a bike race, an image which was confirmed by the sight of the race commissaire’s car following them.
Twenty seconds later an entire peloton appeared and began to loom in on me. I slowed and steered politely towards the edge of the road, and then hopped up onto the grass verge, and then all but threw myself into the hedge as they swamped the entire width of the road and more. They were apparently unconcerned about my rights as a road user, or the sharp thorns of the hedge poking through my best merino jersey.
I suppose they did have other things on their mind.
I’m not quite sure how I ended up being swallowed up by a peloton. I don’t recall leaping over a barrier, sneaking past a man in a high-viz jacket, or avoiding a rolling road-block – things which I’m pretty sure I would have remembered – and yet there I was smack bang in the middle of a bike race. It’s fair to say that never have I felt less pro than when squashed up against a roadside hedge and flinching which the sheer kinetic energy of a hundred odd cyclists barrelling past.
Of course, I was tempted to jump onto my bike and slot myself in somewhere near the back of the bunch. But the stalking laws are pretty strict around these parts.