For the last months I have been given the gift of getting to discover such a fascinating world as the professional women’s cycling. Working as filmmaker on-the-road for one of the top teams, I share large amounts of time with these very special athletes.
In this article I will not intend to describe such a complex discipline which I am far from fully understanding yet. I will simply try to illustrate what I have seen a united group of courageous women is capable of, which in other words is, what the power of a team is.
As soon as I started working in women cycling I noticed that, as in many other disciplines, the gap between males and females is gigantic; vehicles, logistics, salaries, awards... - the differences in all these aspects can only be balanced out with passion, there is no other way. It was thrilling meeting a group of young women racing every week-end in a different part of the World, training intensively day after another with the same excitement as on the first day. I have seen dozens of meals where they eat nearly the same specific food and share the table with the same people. I have seen the same frenetic schedule, people and goals over and over again; warming up, massaging, signing autographs, racing, celebrating or regretting and going early to bed. Nonetheless, I have never experienced the same day twice. The atmosphere around the women cycling world is special and unique and it is such mainly because a vast majority of the people involved is not there because they need to, not even because they enjoy it. Someone is in women’s cycling only because (s)he is passionate about it.
Race after race, I keep seeing how fans ask the athletes about their way of life with immense admiration; “What an amazing life, huh? You keep traveling all the time!” “You race all around the World, you must have seen amazing places!” …and I have seen every time the girls awarding them with a broad smile of approval. Nonetheless, the reality is quite different. They do travel and they do see the World, but it also carries numerous sacrifices often unknown for the audience. During the 9-month road season the athletes spend most of the time far from their beloved ones and when they are finally home they must train hard in order to keep the shape up. They spend hours and hours at airports, on planes, buses and on the team Camper, where six of them change their clothes and get ready for the races sharing a six-meter square compartment.
I have seen the way these women carry every week-end their enormous baggage along airports from one place to another while helping carrying the heavy boxes containing their bikes. Budget is limited and so is the staff of the team, therefore the cyclists often have to involve themselves in logistics tasks in order to keep everything going. They arrive to a new destination just with time enough to get ready to race and right after they have done so it will be time to take another plane and fly to compete somewhere else. That is how much they see the World.
Training camps, races, travels, meals and hotel rooms - the athletes spend most of the time together sharing aspirations and fears, hopes and doubts. They are simply indispensable for each other, all of them. If one is down the team is down, if one wins they all do. I haven’t seen a team of riders, but a family where they take care and respect each other till the utmost extend. I’ve seen failing, victories, success and defeat, but mostly I’ve seen fighting till the end, giving it all and dying trying. I’ve watched athletes falling against the concrete while racing full speed and I’ve seen them standing up with the legs and hands bleeding and the cheeks flooded in tears of pain and rage. But I’ve also seen how right after that they clench their fists and their teeth with pride, come back on top of the bike and ride on till the end, disheartened but not discouraged, disappointed but not defeated. I’ve witnessed glorious victories and great deeds, but I haven’t seen delusions of grandeur. The real victory is not to win, but fighting to deserve it and knowing how to taste it.
I have discovered that to be a cyclist is not a hobby, not even a profession, it is a passion marked with fire. A cyclist never stops being such because even though she may quit riding, she never stops competing, fighting to arrive first. They show it in every activity they undertake, it is written in their DNA: “conceived to fight”. I have met riders bubbling over with strength and pride while racing and I have observed the same cyclists out of competition and felt no difference in their behavior. If this was an easy sport to practice perhaps it would not be the same. They are fighters in race, warriors in life.
Pro cycling, where the aim for improving becomes nearly an obsession. Everything makes a difference and you rely on your team fellows but at the same time you know they entrust you. It is everybody or nobody, glory of grief, champagne or desolation. What is clear is that success is only possible if the team makes it possible. Victory can only happen if the equation of individual sacrifice and mutual respect works out, understanding victory, of course, as having the chance of fighting for their dream while enjoying the challenge, serving as example of happiness is the ride not the destination.
I wonder about everything I have seen and all I have seen makes me wonder: What if everything in life was about building a strong team around so we can carry our mates when we are up and we can be lifted when we are down? What if all was about finding friends that empower our capacities, push up our emotions and encourage us to help overcoming our adversities and expanding our limits? Wasn’t life perhaps designed to be played in teams pursuing for a same dream?
Thank you champs, you have taught me a precious lesson that I will always bring with me: Dream alone for success, ride in team for victory.