Words by James Startt. Photos by Olivier Haralambon.
The Classics season had been a hard one this year. And then I got on the scale! Near non-stop travel since early January had clearly taken its toll, as my scale neared 94 kilos, and I realized that for the first time in my life I was clearly over 200 pounds. Something had to change, I thought. No, several things needed change. But there was no way to sugarcoat this reality. As a bike racer years ago I was often under 165 pounds. But somehow I was now 40 pounds heavier.
The extreme side of my nature took over as I devised my own draconian measures to cut weight and get back into shape. I called it the Sergeant Bilko regime. Gone were any unneeded calories. Up was the amount of kilometers that I would ride. Rocket science it is not. It is an age-old truth that any cyclist understands—decrease calorie consumption, increase calorie burning and the weight will come off. What did I have to lose, save perhaps for the enjoyment of my evening dinner? On the bright side, I had a solid six-week stretch with little travel, spring was breaking into summer, and I had a new bike.
Late last year I acquired a Ritchey Road Logic. I remember seeing it sitting in the offices of a French cycling magazine I had collaborated with for years. I had seen a lot of test bikes in the office over the years, but I was impressed with the Road Logic’s classy lines and intelligent build. And I was even more impressed once I started riding it. But the winter rains hit early as they are known to do in Paris, and I spent most of my time riding it on my rollers in the kitchen when at home.
But now it was time to get back outside. First, I started increasing my loops around the Hippodrome de Longchamp, a 3.5-kilometer circuit closed for cyclists on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne. It is a safe, well-contained loop, perfect for a two-hour spin in the city. But soon enough, I understood that I really needed to up my game, and three hours riding around in circles was unimaginable. So it was time to hit the Vallée de Chevreuse, a highly accessible expanse of country roads south of Paris.
It was along these roads where Jacques Anquetil raced to his nine Grand Prix des Nations time trial titles, and still today it is the common training ground for any cyclist living on this side of the city. Soon enough I was meeting up with my buddy Olivier at the Saclay roundabout just outside of Paris, and off we would head. For a cyclist living in Paris, the Vallée is in many ways a sort of pastural playground. Barely twenty kilometers from the city is all that is needed to find yourself riding down lonely farm roads and through quiet farm villages.
Olivier was the first cyclist I ran into when I first came to France to race bikes in 1989 and we frequently trained together. Later we worked at the same said magazine for nearly twenty years, and somewhere in the middle, our daughters were born within weeks of each other. Our world vision is similar, as is our vision of the sport. In short, he is the perfect training partner as we can ride and talk for hours. And for a six-week period this spring, we both had time to ride.
Bike talk rarely gets better than with “Olive,” constantly flowing between our families, recent races or sundry world events. As a general rule, we don’t talk much about bikes themselves. We are not tech oriented. We just don’t roll that way. But this spring, rare were the rides where I didn’t mention to him at least on one occasion just how much I was loving the Road Logic. I couldn’t get over it, really. The way the bike grabbed the road on fast descents or snapped out of turns just floored me. Sure, the bike was a bit heavier than the most sophisticated carbon machines (mine checks in at an honest 8.2 kilos), but I wasn’t feeling it. Was this the magic of modern steel I wondered?
Interestingly I recently spoke with Andy Hampsten for the upcoming interview issue of Peloton Magazine, who I have worked with since 2015. We talked about his epic Giro d’Italia victory 30 years ago and we talked about bikes. And he echoed my own sentiments. Andy said that, while he has numerous bikes in his garage, inevitably he prefers riding his steel bike. “When I go out for a ride, I have to come home because it is getting dark, not because I am tired.” We talked about the forgiving nature of steel and how it gives you something back and propels you in a unique way. We didn’t have any numbers to back up our convictions. But we had our own experiences amassed from decades of riding.
Like Andy, I had continually found myself going further than I expected, turning left when the direct route was right. Unlike Andy, I came back plenty tired from certain rides. But I couldn’t be happier.
Meanwhile the kilos continued to disappear as I followed my Bilko regime. Gone was most gluten and dairy products. And for a while at least, gone was wine with dinner. That was the hard part.
Interestingly I ate plenty of steak and potatoes. After all I needed energy and strength to go out for the next ninety kilometers. My energy levels were good, and the weight was coming off to the tune of two kilos per week. Perhaps the fact I had a well-defined window of opportunity helped. In knew that after six weeks, when I left for the Critérium du Dauphiné, I would once again be on the road for the better part of two months. As two brothers in black suits once said, I was “on a mission from God.” And by the time I hit the races again, thirteen kilos had disappeared.
The next challenge, of course, was keeping it off during my summer travels and the beast that is the Tour de France. It is simply a brutal month on the road for any us who do it in its entirety. But while I could not ride my bike in July, I did my best avoid any dietary excesses acquired in recent years. But mostly I simply tried to avoid snacking and went easy on desserts. Wine, especially on the Tour de France, no longer qualified as an excess.
Returning from the Tour I was relieved when my scale showed less than a two-kilo weight gain, something that quickly came off once I started riding again. And I took my Road Logic with me for a one-week vacation in Marseille at the end of August. Although I was riding less, it was the perfect way to get out of the city and discover some gorgeous roads along the Mediterranean coastline. The hills are more demanding than in the valley around Paris and the winds can be brutal. But the landscape is stunning. Inevitably I would return from each ride telling my wife about a road or climb I had discovered. Even 25% pitches, like that I found on La Route des Crêtes, were somehow fun. And inevitably I would tell her how the Road Logic just seemed to eat up the road. Those were just the best words I had to describe my bike. And I repeat them frequently.
As summer will soon enter into fall, I think back on how my Sergeant Bilko scheme to cut weight somehow morphed into my own little journey back to serious cycling. And I couldn’t be happier that my Logic has been along for the ride.
James Startt, the European Associate to Peloton Magazine, spcializes in racing and reportage. He has covered the Tour de France for the past 29 years, and the sport of cycling for even longer.
Olivier Haralambon is a bicycle racer-turned cycling editor and photographer. He’s currently a freelance journalist and has published a novel about the life of Frank Vandenbroucke, “The Fierce Side of Joy” and a small essay on the cyclist and his body "The Cyclist and His Shadow".