energy gels

Cycling, like no other pastime, allows amateurs to emulate professional sportsmen and women to the nth degree.

If you can afford the gear – and have a smattering of an idea – there’s no holding you back. From replica team kit, to expensive carbon-fibre road machines, to Lance-alike shades (maybe no longer such a cool investment) all the way to those obligatory, ruler-straight, tan lines, it’s perfectly possible to look the part.

Most cyclists of this inclination inevitably take the fantasy onto the road whenever they get the chance. Just check out the grim-faced chain gangs churning their way round south west London’s Richmond Park on Sundays. Enter any amateur sportive or triathlon and weekend riders who look and act like their pro heroes are in plentiful supply.

All of which is totally harmless and great for the sport. The explosion in cycling in London and elsewhere is to be applauded. But there is a down-side. Many Lycra-clad pedallers as explained, look up to the pros as roles models in the saddle. It’s when they start aping some of the behaviours of the pro-peleton that eyebrows need to be raised.

Richmond Park hosts part of the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 sportive event. Last year (2015) the Friends of Richmond Park warned that some riders had thrown used foil wrappers from their gels onto the road – but concluded that most had been well-behaved. A relatively small matter you might think, as littering goes – hardly a discarded fridge or fly-tipped bedstead. But this year, 2016, park authorities revealed that the amount of such litter left by some of the 20,000 cyclists (predominately foil wrappers) was up a staggering 90%. They say this poses a deadly health risk to the 630 red and fallow deer who inhabit the park.

“These (foil) strips” says a Friends of Richmond Park press release, “…are particularly dangerous for deer as they are small enough to get hidden or trampled into the grass and undergrowth and mistakenly eaten by deer. Litter can gradually clog deer digestive systems, leading to them being unable to eat properly and so starve. Examination of deer that have died unexpectedly often shows the contents of their stomach full of litter.  Every year several of Richmond Park’s herd… die due to litter ingestion.”

The statement highlighting the gel wrapper problem sparked a flurry of media interest including from The Telegraph, the Daily Mail website and Cycling Weekly, to name but a few.

Cue a swift response from the event organisers. They have promised a “dedicated clear-up team for the park next year”. They’ve also pledged to put up “signs to riders as they enter the Park and cameras to catch litterers”. All eyes will therefore be on Richmond Park in July 2017.

There’s also an undertaking from the Royal Parks and the organisers to start working together to educate riders ahead of next year’s event. Such an admirable task should start by trying to understand why some riders feel the need to jettison their rubbish on the move.

team skyI believe the crux of if has been inadvertently pinpointed by the author Tim Moore, in his comic cycling classic, French Revolutions. As he pedals his accident-prone way round the Tour de France route, spying discarded packets glinting alongside the road-kill, he muses that the amateur riders tackling the daunting alpine monster, the Izoard, are trying to emulate their heroes. “I supposed that by squeezing a covert sachet of glucose and amino acids into their mouths they somehow felt they were taking look-alike drugs,” he opines. He may as well have gone on to say that their nonchalantly chucking the foil aside was just another way of paying tribute to the cycling stars of the day.

Do these amateurs forget that top riders have domestiques and soigneurs running around serving them? That’s not to mention the rise of  biodegradable bidons as used by Team Sky. In any case the baying spectators will hoover up any water bottles casually tossed aside by a professional. There are also the new waste zones introduced by the UCI, which says any race with a feed zone must provide designated areas where riders must throw their garbage.

These plastic peleton wannabes however just do as they see the pros doing – and that includes ditching  unwanted gel wrappers. As accomplished cyclists, they may think they are somehow entitled to have others clean up after them – believing that stuffing used wrappers in their jersey pockets is below them and would slow them down.

cycling gelsDuring my Surrey 100 ride, I decelerated and veered significantly off-course, just after I’d passed Harrods on London’s Brompton Road. The reason? I’d spotted a pavement litter bin and wanted to unburden myself of the gooey gel debris accumulating in my jersey pocket. A nearby policeman chuckled approvingly as he saw me dump this detritus before pedalling off. Painless for me, painless for the environment. And cool or not, no-one except the bobby was paying me any attention.

It’s time for pro-pretenders to realise they are merely fast amateurs and are ten a penny. They should learn to behave with a modicum of humility and consideration for the environment. Many seem to think this kind of littering is acceptable. But Lycra litter louts should not be tolerated.

To repeat – my radical, blissfully uncomplicated solution, is to stuff used wrappers in my jersey pocket and decant the gelatinous mass of syrup-coated foil into a bin whenever I spot one, or at the end of the ride. Sticky fingers is surely an ordeal worth enduring to stop a deer from starving to death.


IainAbout the Author: Iain has been pedalling through London and Richmond Park, believe it or not, since 1989. He definitely predates the genus, ‘mamil’. If you enjoyed this post please consider donating money to Iain and his Gurning Grimpeurs team who are raising vital funds for Bloodwise – who are fighting to beat blood cancer. Bloodwise have been named the official charity of the Prudential Ride London for 2017. Iain and his wife have just completed their third London to Paris cycle ride as part of their fundraising which began over two years ago in memory of Iain’s brother-in-law Mike who’d lived with acute myeloid leukaemia for almost a year before he died. The Gurning Grimpeurs include Mike’s two children and his wife.

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