The A to Z of French Racing
So here it is, the A to Z of French amateur racing, a path trodden by many professional cyclists for years. For those who have raced or are racing in France, this article is sure to make you giggle. For those who haven’t, it will give you an insight into the French racing culture. Please note that a lot of these are jokes and I love living and racing in France and wouldn’t change anything about it. Many of their ways are just different, not wrong.
A is for Abloc
To ride flat out; riding as hard as possible. A term many cycling fans will be familiar with and a phrase you’ll hear a lot when you listen to French riders debrief or chat about a race they have just ridden. This is especially the case in an amateur Elite National, as they tend to ride the first two hours Abloc, followed by tranquille riding (Calm).
B is for Bordure
Another French phrase many British cyclists will be familiar with, particularly if they have ever ridden in the Vendee or Normandy. This phrase is another way to describe an echelon or the splitting of the peloton due to a crosswind and the riders at the front riding 'Abloc'. You will definitely hear this being yelled occasionally in races or if a few riders get giddy on the local club run.
The artwork of Bordures at the UAE Tour. © Getty Images
C is for Crashes
Of course we all know that crashes are part of bike racing, however the French amateur scene takes it to a whole new level. With sketchy town centres to negotiate and deadly descents in most races, the French scene is a hotspot for crashes. With the lack of control and chaotic full gas racing, it makes the perfect recipe for crashes.
D is for Dry Chicken
The choice of protein for every pre-race lunch and every post-race evening meal. Dry chicken is a French cycling delicacy- no sauce, no taste, no flavour- perfect for every race weekend.
E is for Eight BARS
For those of you who like me use good old fashioned Brexit British PSI, 8 BARS is 116PSI. This will always be the choice of tyre pressure for every French racer. So make sure to check your pressure as the mechanics like to get trigger happy with the pump.
F is for Flunch
Got a Camion (lorry) filled with hungry cyclists or a hotel without a restaurant? There’s only one place to take them for dinner and that’s Flunch! The French equivalent of a Brewers Fayre or Beefeater, cheap prices for a lot of food. Perfect for a team of cyclists. But remember you can only Flunch at Flunch!
© Par Githek- Travail personnel
G is for Gites
Alongside various Campaniles and Ibis hotels, as a French bike rider you’ll tour the countries Gites. Gites come in all shapes and sizes, some being lovely, almost posh hotel style accommodations, whereas others will remind you of your days spent at PGL. But cheap and cheerful is the best way!
H is for Half-wheeling
Another must on a French club run or training camp is to slowly make the training harder by inching away from you every few kilometres. Making the ride not fast but ever so slightly uncomfortable, that being said I know plenty of Brits who are just as bad at doing it!
I is for Interdit
Another well known French word that you’ll hear in the French peloton and see on race roadmaps, alongside attention! Interdit means stop for those non-French speaking readers.
J is for Jus de raisin
Of course, this is to go alongside the sparkling water or Vichy after a long hard day in the saddle. The perfect combination to quench the thirst, too old school for any coca cola. Keep it simple!
K is for Kaput
The usual response you’ll receive as to why the rider got dropped in the race or didn’t do as well as they hoped. It’s pretty much a guaranteed no questions asked after answer, perfect for a grumpy rider.
When Fabio Are is Kaput, you'll know about it. © Bettini Photo
L is for Lait
NO MILK! The sworn enemy of every racer is lait before the race, as it will for sure upset your stomach and give you problems in the race, even if it is just a splash in your coffee. But of course butter and cheese are welcome on your bread or pasta pre-race.
M is for Massage
Good for many, not good for Thomas De Gendt. Some of your downtime in the evenings between races/stages will for sure be spent on the massage bed. Getting a rub down is big part of French racing. *Note Thomas is well known for hating massages and not getting one post-race.
N is for NO Time Trials
The dreaded Contre La Montre is not the most popular discipline in France, as seen by the French GC riders who always lose large chunks of time on the TTs to their fellow racers. Perhaps this is rooted in the deep dislike for the discipline at the amateur level in France.
O is for Old School
One of the things that many British riders are split over in France, whilst some fall in love with the French old school ways, others simply cannot cope. The Team Sky/ British Cycling thinking of the UK has driven riders marginal gains mad, but the French very much stick to the old ways. Say what you want, they produce bloody good bike riders.
© Public domain via Wikimedia
P is for Pasta or Pâtes
Of course, what would your dry chicken be without plain pasta(?)! French teams love to keep the race meals simple, plain pasta with a sprinkling of salt and a bit of butter if you’re lucky. Not to forget the most important P of all, there has to be a tonne of Pain (Bread) to go with it.
Q is for Quoi
The word you’ll hear British or foreign riders in France saying the most when a French person speaks far too quickly, or you’re French isn’t quite up to scratch. Quoi, for those of you who don’t speak French, is “what”.
R is for Ravito/ravitaillement
The sprinters' favourite part of the race! Otherwise known as the feed zone and the packet of goodies you’ll receive just before the start of the race.
S is for Syrup
The old school energy drink. For those of you who have been to France and have bought syrup from the Supermarche, it is the classic French race drink. For those who don’t know what it is, it’s a syrup cordial with a variety of flavours.
T is for Terminee
A crash took you out during the race? A mechanical during the race? Or just no legs? Then you TERMINEE!
U is for U, as in SUPERU
Yes, as in Super U the supermarket chain in France! This supermarket company seems to sponsor every other team in France. You’ll see a big red U logo on the Jerseys and in the titles of a lot of French amateur teams, including my own Team U Cube 17.
How many U logos can you spot at Avallies Limouzines GP? © Gérard Photos
V is for Vichy
Forget coca cola or other high calorie and high sugar drinks for just after the race. What you need is Vichy, otherwise known as sparkling water. Don’t forget to pour a bit out before adding your grape juice. I have got to say this is something I adore after finishing a hot, hard race- guzzling down some ice cold sparkling water and grape juice.
W is for W.C
A problem that not only affects us French racers, but a problem for cyclists across the globe, the continuous hunt for a toilet for when you have those pre-race nerves. However, when in France the challenge is even harder. With a lot of races starting on Sundays, not a lot of places are open in sleepy French towns they start in, and sometimes there are no public toilets or they’re locked. There is a reason why every team camion has a good supply of loo roll.
X is for x35 Tours de France without a French winner
The bane and heartbreak of every French cyclist and fans' existence. The last French winner of the Tour de France was way back in 1985, with Bernard Hinault, AKA The Badger. With 36 years since their last winner, will the French have one in the next couple of years? They can only hope.
Y is for Yoann Offredo
Darling of the Tour De France and ex professional cyclist, Yoann Offredo, the Frenchman who finished his career in 2020 and rode for FDJ and Circus–Wanty Gobert. Offredo is a well known and respected cyclist, but has now gone on to become one of the big French commentators of the sport.
Z is for Z Team
What would a French A to Z be without mentioning the historic and prestigious Z Team? The Z Team, also known as Z Peugeot, Z Tomasso and later, Credit Agricole, represent the glory days of French cycling. The team are known best for their wins at the Tour De France with Greg Lemond and being one of the best cycling teams of all time. Oh, and their kit wasn't half bad either...
© Vêtements Z-Peugeot Cycling Team postcard from 1987