Next to riding our bike, checking the other’s riders plate is a sport among bike riders. We check what’s on there, and mostly, what’s not. We secretly study how the food is consumed. Are they really eating? Or are they only stirring around on their plates? Do they go for a second serving? How much? What do they take secretly in pockets, in empty bidons or what ends up in the bin?
You are used to the eating habits of your teammates after the first training camp. By then you know exactly who only piles up lettuce leaves, which rider always carries a bag around with exotic spices and pastes and who prefers half a dozen of hardboiled eggs – egg whites only – for breakfast.
Especially during stage races we practice the habit of secretly studying each other’s eating habits. Sometimes teams stay in different hotels but quite often the entire peloton is in the same hotel which means we dine together. That can be in a hotel restaurant but we also eat in school cafetaria’s, communal rooms on a campsite or the auditorium of a city hall. Usually we eat from a buffet which is the ideal place to study each other without them noticing.
Next to checking the eating habits we also use that moment to see who’s ‘sharp and focussed’. That is an eufemism for being skinny. You take pride in being sharp. The more veins surfacing on arms and legs, the better. In cycling everything is about weight. Your bike needs to be as light as possible and your clothing as tight and aerodynamic as can be. But what weight can gain, or mostly lose you the most? Exactly, your own body’s.
‘Being sharp’ can go the wrong way. Top sports means balancing on an edge, and sometimes you trip over. Two years ago, during the Giro Donne, practically the entire peloton of 140 women was staring at the plate of one rider. We waited for the inevitable. It was a very skinny colleague in this case. One year she weighed so little but was strong enough to win the Giro. The year after she fell over with even the slightest breath of wind. Her teammates needed to push her on the flat roads to keep her inside the peloton. It led to dangerous situations and one day one of my teammate yelled in despair; “Stop pushing her, just give her an energy bar!” She has quit racing meanwhile. To regain her strength.
This is an exception, though. No matter how tiny, petite or skinny we look, we eat like workmen. When we enter a restaurant, we look like a swarm of locusts. The staff watch us in dismay when everything they prepared and served beautifully, is gone within minutes. Out of the entire eating thing, that is the most fascinating part to watch. Tiny girls with arms and legs like sticks who devour mounts of pasta, huge steaks and kilo’s of bread.
So hotel owners, be warned when the women’s peloton decides to come over for dinner. We may look skinny but we don’t eat, we gulpe.