I have ridden thousands of kilometers with my friend Zdenek (Stybar’s cousin, rumor has it). He’s Czech, I’m Algerian; we are from opposite shores of the Mediterranean. In the eight years since our unlikely encounter in Tour de Bintan in Indonesia, he’s become one of my best friends. Thinking about him got me thinking, what makes a great — read “time-proof” — cycling buddy?
Well, the man is gold and we might’ve become friends even if we weren’t cyclists, but answering that question might help you choose who to invest your precious cycling time with.
Here are nine things I value in my relationship with Zdenek.
1. Common passion
We both ride for the love of cycling, not a quid pro quo to win races, poach KOM’s or lose weight. We reaped all those, but as unintended perks. If you ride only to get something in return, you risk quitting when you stop receiving the reward. If you’re into this sport for the love of it, you’ll do it for a lifetime.
2. Common mindset
We both believe in structured purposeful training. This doesn’t have to be your mindset, there is no right or wrong in how you approach cycling, but if you’re following training plans, and your buddy likes stopping every 20 minutes for selfies, you might not be meant to be bike besties.
3. Be kind
Ideally, your fitness levels should overlap, but there will be drops along the way, due to injury, sickness or a benign off-season; support each other when that happens. If you think you’re too pro to stop when your companion has a mechanical (I’ve seen that), you missed your WorldTour calling.
4. Learn from each other
Zdenek grew up cycling on frozen lakes. I learn bike handling skills every time I ride with him. I’m a data geek, and I didn’t get off his case until he bought a power meter, then I taught him its use and jargon.
5. Tolerate your differences
Whether that is differences in background, favorite terrains, preferred routes (they don’t have to be yours all the time), training blocks, even your favorite post-ride cafés.
6. Race with each other
Training for the same races means you’ll be peaking together and hitting quality simulation rides together. Having a reliable ally in the peloton is priceless; your race goals are more likely to be achieved, and you’re more likely to have fun. Notice I said “race with,” not necessarily “race each other,” but if you do, keep it healthy and benchmark your progress versus your individual performance, not your buddy’s.
Use your buddy’s strengths and weaknesses to complement yours. Zdenek is a Nibali-like descender, and I’m a better climber. So, he hangs onto my wheel uphill, I follow his line downhill, and we take turns on rolling terrains.
8. Positive energy
Mr. Stybar never complains about rain, heat, potholes or steep gradients; he embodies “Rule V” and radiates enough positive energy for both of us.
9. Don’t take them for granted
Finally, great cycling buddies are scarce; if you have one, don’t take her or him for granted.