Professional Descending

Copy the pros, they say...

Look at how the pros do it they say, but when it comes to descending there are some that you should copy and some that you definitely should not!

If someone is good enough to earn a living as a professional cyclist, how on earth can they be bad at descending? How can they get away with it? How did they make it to the top? Why didn't someone sort them out?

Descending really well isn't a key requirement for success as a professional cyclist - just as climbing and sprinting aren't. By that I mean that there are pro cyclists who don't climb well at all and pro cyclists who don't sprint well at all. But whereas climbing, sprinting and time trialling well translate directly into results, descending well doesn't. Moreover, climbing, sprinting and time trialling are very visible, whereas descending happens almost in secret. The riders are out of sight of spectators, team cars and, apart from the next few riders behind, pretty much out of sight of each other. And out of sight of the TV audience too: It drives me nuts that the TV coverage always cuts to adverts as soon as the riders cross the tops of the climbs.

One upshot of this is that the vast majority of bad professional descending goes on unnoticed by the coaches, directors, selectors or even other riders who might do something about it. So the only people who know how they descend are the riders themselves - and the last thing that a professional cyclist wants to admit to is a weakness. One quality that every pro has in abundance is 'cojones': it takes balls to fight for position in the peloton. Nervous descending? Me? ME!?!

Here are a few photos of top pros racing downhill. They appeared on this blog. They're all from stage 17 of the 2011 Tour de France which featured a twisty descent, the Colle Pra Martino, a few kilometres from the finish.

As you can see, when the pressure is on, not all pros descend the same.

The pick of the bunch

Cunego is really racing - he's attacking the corner and is in complete control. Textbook stuff

The good

These two, Boasson Hagen and Gilbert, know what they are doing: They're in complete control. Boasson Hagen, incidentally, won the stage.

The bad

Contador and Chavanel have no fear - they're flying but they're not in control.

Roche and Basso are hating it. They're not in control and they don't like it.

Vanendert looks pretty relaxed. But he's not racing. He's coasting.

The ugly

I remember watching this stage. Hivert was in front, on his own, and simply could not control his bike. For a professional cyclist to be unable to race his bike downhill on his own is simply shocking.

(For another example of a shockingly clueless professional road cyclist incapable of riding along a road have a look at Lloyd Mondory.

The photos above were taken on a dry day. The previous stage was wet and also featured a descent before the finish. I love the picture below: The cyclist in front is Cadel Evans who went on to win the Tour that year. He knows what he's doing. That nervous looking 4th cat in the background is none other than Alberto Contador - fearless in the dry (see above), terrified in the wet!

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