When you’re soaked through and freezing cold 45 minutes into a race going full gas in the gutter with bad legs, it’s easy to question what you are doing. You wonder why the heck you are on the other side of the world racing against the best amateurs in France, just hoping your results are good enough to earn one of the coveted rare spots in the pro ranks. This internal crisis happens a lot, trust me.
The strange thing is, the only real distinction between amateur and pro is the paycheque at the end of the month. It’s not about free bikes, kit or what you do all day. We all just love racing our bikes so it boils down to that the pro’s get a paycheque, amateurs don’t. Simple as that. Yet despite not being paid, every weekend there are hundreds of amateurs on the start line of numerous races all over the country hoping to get noticed. Of the hundreds, maybe even thousands, most riders are strong enough to stand a chance of winning.
Where there are riders, there are teams. Just like professional teams, riders wouldn’t be anywhere without team support; however, unlike the professional teams, money and equipment are scarce. We squeeze into cars (there are no busses at this level) and drive anywhere up to 4hrs to get to the race. Hotels before and after races drain the budget so driving in the early mornings and late at night are part of the package. Kit is not delivered by the 100s it is delicately dolled out in 2s and soft chamoises quickly turn into hard, compact material.
Housing is a place to sleep and nothing more. If it has a bed and a power socket it is enough for a team of cyclists. Trust me, I’ve heard some horror stories from friends ranging from no heating in winter to a permanently broken toilet the landlord wouldn’t fix (thank goodness for the laundromat next door).
Bikes are not about the latest models, it is about what the team can get their hands on. DI2 is not in our vocabulary. If it shifts, it’s good enough and my 10 speed 105 groupset shifts just fine. If you can’t win on 105 you aren’t going to win with DI2.
So how is the amateur scene thriving here in France? Passion. Passionate people organizing and running teams, searching for equally passionate riders and driving them 100s of kilometres to races. Every time we head off to a race, it’s with a working ex-cyclist who is giving up their weekend or taking a day off work to drive us to a race just to give us the opportunity they once had. No one moans about getting up early or arriving home at 2am from a night criterium or a race on the other side of the country. They are happy to help a youngster with a dream and, just like us, they are not paid, just passionate.
It’s the same reason I can race with extreme optimism every weekend. It’s passion that gets me out of bed to train in the pouring rain and let’s me win the daily stare down with the chocolate croissant begging to be eaten. So after a bad race that makes you question everything on the way home, you remember without your deep sense of passion or that from others you wouldn’t be on the start line in the first place, fighting to make the break in the pro ranks. It’s not Euros that make the amateur cycling world go round, it’s pure passion.