Jock, and the zen of pedalling up a climb

Just coming off a great weekend of training rides here, despite a little more humidity than was really comfortable.  A nice break from racing and mid-week interval intensity, this weekend was a stellar opportunity to get some endurance miles in.  I did two hilly 3+ hour rides Friday and Saturday, each with a different pair of riding partners - all four guys good friends, and excellent experienced riders.

Both rides followed a similar pattern, a scenario you all probably know oh-too well.  You hit a good sized climb, one of the guys with you sets a very brisk tempo - a pace not quite hard enough to be called a climbing repeat, but hard enough to hurt the legs, quicken the respiration...and ensure the third guy gets popped off the back.  Boom.  So you tool along slowly to wait and regroup.  And on the next hill, repeat.  Again and again.  Have to admit I was feeling great, and just as guilty of forcing it a bit myself a few times when I should have known better.

The pattern of these rides got me reflecting.  It's funny, I've many recollections of similar training rides with real professionals, and in my experience, they virtually never 'surge' on climbs.  In fact, on steady distance days they just pedal nice and steady, spinning and chatting all the way up.  No stress, no distress - at a tempo even a shamateur like myself could follow.  Easily.

It brought back memories of a similarly warm June afternoon about 30 years ago, in 1979.  I was 18, an ambitous espoir and setting out on a training ride around Cape Ann.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  I was spanking along the Rt. 127 coast road, on my way to meet a teammate for 30 miles of what would undoubtedly end up in lactate-producing, kicking-the-crap-out-of-each-other drag racing up every short climb around Gloucester and Rockport.  You know, hard enough to hurt.  But not hard enough to get any better.

On the road ahead of me in Beverly Farms I came up on a taller, leaner guy in wool tights and long-sleeved LeJeune-BP team top.  Aha, I thought, some wannabe who thinks he's top US pro Jacques Boyer...I'll show him!  This guy had a small backpack on, and just tooling along at about 17-18 mph, in a 42x14.  He looked overgeared to me (~80 rpm), and wasn't going fast.  In contrast, I was energetically spinning along, spanking a 42x17/16 at about 19-20 mph.     .

I came up on him fast, and spun by with nary a glance.   But about 500m further on, I realized he was coming back.  I turned, and was shocked to see that it really was Jacques (aka Jonathan, or Jock) Boyer.    Feeling a total idiot, I laughed out, "Hey! Shouldn't you be in France or something?" introduced myself, and was privileged to be invited to share an unforgettable ride with him:  A master class in how a real Euro-pro does an endurance ride.  Boyer was on his way back to a relative's home in Gloucester after already putting in 4 hours or so that day.  A few minutes later, my rendezvous Chuck hopped onto our train, and the three of us rode steadily, easily and in perfect harmony.  It turned out Chuck went to school at Pingree with Jock's cousin.  Yes, I know. Small world.

Boyer was as smooth as silk, incredibly relaxed.  I was surprised to notice that he didn't change gear when the road rose, instead just rising from the saddle on the climbs, riding in a style that  I'd later learn the pros called 'musculation'.   Brought up on the John Allis super low gear spinning doctrine, his pedalling style was very different than what I'd been taught, and had seen most US amateurs doing.  But he never pushed hard, just turning like a metronome in an incredibly steady, consistent tempo.  Sports Illustrated later wrote that his ACBB coach said about Boyer, "when I first saw him race, I saw Anquetil."   I could see why.

I recall him being quiet, polite, and friendly.   He advised me that it was better not to get too fanatical about cycling.  When I quizzed him about why he was going so 'easy', he smiled and that the majority of his training was just doing a lot of long rides just like the one we were on.  He said that he got his intensity from the races, and from motorpaced sessions.   This was how he normally rode between races.

There's a point to this.  This was a guy who would go on to finish 2nd in that year's Coors Classic, and then win it in 1980.  He'd take 5th in the 1980 professional world championship road race, won by Bernard Hinault on the super hard Sallanches circuit up and down  the Cote de Dommancy climb (the same circuit that will be the grande finale of this year's Dauphine Libere this coming Sunday - you can see it on Versus).  He was the first American to ride the Tour de France in 1981 on Hinault's winning Renault team.  And I believe he would have won the '82 worlds in Goodwood, England if Greg LeMond hadn't chased him down in the final 500 meters and provide the lead out that launched Beppe Saronni's famous winning fuciliata.

So what's my point?  Simply that Boyer wasn't out on a ride gassing it up every little hill he came to. No, he was just crusing along with two other guys, enjoying the final hour of his 5-6 hour ride.  

So I ask you - why is it so hard for most of us to just cruise up the hills like that?

It reminds me of a great interview I read with Italian national team director Alfredo Martini in BS magazine back in the mid 90's:

Alfredo, is it preferable to train alone or in company?

"Training brings fruit when one pedals outdoors, and alone.  The important thing is not to be obsessed with the average speed.  It's evident that if you go out with seven or eight guys, you can ride for four hourse at an average of 33 km/hr, but alone it could be also under 30 km/hr.   It doesn't mean a thing: Franco Bitossi as a top professional did his training at 27 km/hr, but look at how many beautiful victories he had!"

"The important thing is to pay attention to turning the legs, with an 'agile' (low) gear; the kilometers in training you should 'pedal' everything.  With bigger gears, you cover more road, and with apparently with less work/effort.  But only apparently... because the big gears break down your muscle fibers."

"When you want to travel along at a good speed, in the right gear, I'd say go in an agile hear, say 53x16.  Anything bigger, leave it for the races"

"Training should serve to accumulate energy, not dissipate it."

So how can one train to climb better?

"To get better on the climbs, you need to 'ride' up lots of climbs.  But just ride them, spin up at a steady pace, not too hard, in good form 'relaxed', not all training you shouldn't use the rappertone (biggest gears).  A lot of guys have it in their head that in order to push the big gears in the races, you also need to push them at home"

This is an error?

"The worst.  The miles that you put in a home training, you should pedal everything, not try to shorten it with large gears that keep up your speed, but take away the advantages of the training ride."

What do you mean by rapportone (big gears)?

"Anything over 6 meters higher than 53x16."  

Training with big gears causes more harm than good?

"Exactly.  The big gears you should push in the race, when your body is already ready.  If you push them in training when the nervous system is spent, there's not really the tension of the race, so what advantage do they provide?  You empty yourself, and not for the better."

How can you push them in a race if you don't train the power to do it?

"But in a you should never go in the eleven from beginnnig to end... you need the big gears in certain times, it's useless to deny it, you'd be a fool.  But you should use them as little as possible, just what's necessary to make the difference.  Then the speed you should maintain with rythym."

Won't agility wear you out?

"The muscles consume energy, the knees and ankles are saved.  Otherwise, how do you explain a ninety year old without muscles an legs swollen who can still grind out the kilometers.?  And how do you move a pile of bricks?"


"If you take them one at a time, you can do it all day and finish the work.  If you take ten at a time, after half and hour you have a broken back and need to stop."

Just pedalling up climbs in a relaxed way is a lost art to most American amateur riders I come across.   Fast Eddy's Law:  The ability to ride up a climb easy and relaxed is inversely proportional to the palmares of the rider.

Epilogue:    At the end of that ride, as Boyer turned off toward home and waved Chuck and I back on our way, I figured that was that.  From that day on, I was always a big Boyer supporter.  Like many, I avidly followed his exploits in the old newsprint VeloNews, never figuring I'd cross his path again.  

But exactly ten years after that ride, I was in Atlantic City, working at the Tour de Trump for LOOK.   The final stage TT had just ended, and I bumped into my friend Kinnen Laramee, the NH district USCF rep - a really super lady who I always liked and respected tremendously.   Kinnen was chatting with Jock Boyer, and she introduced us.  To my astonishment, Jock immediately remembered me, smiled and recalled our ride those many years before.  I couldn't believe it.  What a class guy.  

If you follow cycling, you probably know that Jock went through some ugly times in his life over the last few years.   I for one am very happy to see him out of that dark tunnel, and working with the Rwanda national cycling team.   For me, Jock Boyer will always be a true gentleman whose accomplishments - both cycling and human - should be afforded greater honor and respect.  

No better way than to think of Jock next time you're on an endurance miles ride and the tempo surges on a hill.   Just chill.


  1. Nice post Rapid Ed. I agree, Jack was a rider I looked up to, and glad to see him finding his way after the troubles. ACBB talent for sure.

  2. You said it RIHans! ACBB 'Foreign Legion' was a survival-of-the-fittest talent harvesting screen that made American Idol look like kid stuff. Their director Mickey Wiegant blew off Jock after a lacklustre '76, so he just moved to cross-town rival US Creteil where he won a few amateur classics and quickly turned pro for Henri Anglade's LeJeune team. From ACBB discard to riding shotgun to Tour winner Lucien Van Impe in 6 months.


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