Does this World Champion jersey make me look fat?

Yesterday, after his win at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, World Champion Mark Cavendish was asked by a Sporza reporter if he needed to lose a few pounds – an odd question since he had just WON the race. No wonder he didn’t want to wear the white shorts. Considering Mr. The Missile is oft criticized for his weight, much discussion in the Twitterverse ensued – some (including your truly) taking some exception to the question. In a normal context, such a question is unthinkable – perhaps even punch-worthy. But on further reflection, in the context of professional cycling, I believe the question was squarely North of the belt.

I dug around in the CycleChick archives and dusted off this old post about the subject of weight in professional cycling. With some nipping and tucking, I figured it was worth another look.

Originally posted on July 12, 2010

During the Tour de France my friends and I are as unbearable as Star Trek fans during Comic-Con. The other day after a race my fellow Spandexians and I were in full-on TdF geek-out. The topic of this particular conversation wasn’t about climb categories, gear ratios or points… it was about weight. It started when someone mentioned seeing an image of Luxembourgish (it’s a word, I checked) brothers Frank and Andy Schleck, and how shocked he was to see how skinny they were. They are some skinny dudes alright. See, they even make the Podium Chicks look fat.

Pro cyclists tend to have very slight builds, like gymnasts, or runway models, and I always figured they must be just as prone to the eating disorders that keep them that way. The reality is that pro cyclists are skinny guys who eat like fat guys, but rather than throwing up, they burn enormous quantities of calories riding their bikes.

Of course this phenomenon has nothing to do with aesthetics and everything to do with performance. In Daniel Coyle’s book, Lance Armstong’s War, he explains “the obsession is bent toward strategic purpose, because fat is not fat, nor is an ass merely an ass – it is time. It’s a simple idea: the more your weigh, the slower you go.” Coyle goes on to explain the peculiar ritual the riders have at the start of the race season of sizing each other up with probing looks, “accidental” belly pinches and – my personal favorite – the “ass check”.  Apparently, when a rider is in top form, his ass is small and vaguely feminine, like a teenage gymnast. If you know the rider, and know the ass, you know that rider’s potential.Some of the pros – like the aforementioned skeletal Schlecks and Bradley “Twiggo” Wiggins – are very thin even by pro standards and suffer the opposite side of the sword that slices poor Cav into fatty ribbons. In an interview Frank admits they “don’t look pretty”.  And it’s true – they are almost paper thin. But it goes to show the enormous importance of weight in the complex equation that determines the optimal performance of a cyclist at the highest level of the sport.But they aren’t all built like 12 year old girls – take George Hincappie for instance – a workhorse rider who is considered a bit of a clydesdale, yet has kicked more than his fair share of skinny ass. He’s 6’2″ and 182 lbs. and probably has poops that weigh more than Alberto Contador. I still find it amazing when someone like Brit sprinter Mark Cavendish is criticized for being somewhat rotund. At a whopping 5’7″ and 154 lbs, I hardly think he’s the sort that should waltz into his local pub and call some big rugby player a pussy.

I am 5’10 and about 140 lbs. on a good day. For a woman, I fit squarely in the clydesdale category and will never be much of a climber, or a sprinter for that matter. I also enjoy my food way too much to ever be thin enough to be very fast. (But call me fat, and make no mistake, I will punch you.) I ride an aluminum bike and have no idea how much it weighs, and I kind of like it that way. I’ll leave the obsessing about weight to the pros and the supermodels.

Note: Since the original post was written, I invested a small fortune on a carbon bike that weight precisely 15.7 pounds without water bottles or pedals. But I still enjoy my cake and eat it too.