Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Can you read my Poker Face?



"I rode so hard to break my riding companion, I nearly broke my lungs.
I just sat on the front and kept the pace high, she stuck in there, while I made a poker face.
Half way through the 10 minute interval I managed to drop her but she got back as we stopped at a red light in Regents Park.

When the 10mins was up she could hardly talk, I tried to chat loudly, repeating the weather forecast. Simple repetition. The only thing I could get my brain to compute. First victory to me.

Then we began again, she was on the front this time, then the next rider rolled through and then me, face muscles as relaxed as possible, my body upright rather than hung over the bars, hands on the tops. My heart working hard echoed like a monstrous beat in my ears. I focused on fighting the need to stretch my face.
Each time I passed my other riding 'companions' as we rolled through and off, I tried lifting my eyebrows to stop them instinctively burrowing into a deep frown. Another victory chalked.
I wanted to rock my body, I wanted to wrestle the bike over the dragging hill to release the tension. I wanted to get out the saddle.
By the last interval I managed to put some daylight between us, then proceeded to ride as hard as possible to lap her. Final game awarded to me.
I win, the set, three games to love.
I got in at 8pm & went to bed at 8.40pm"
note: this artistic contribution was sent in to blog HQ. This is what I look like when riding in regents

The Poker Face, as vital to a cyclist as it is to James Bond sitting at a green baize Baccarat table. I believe it can be used three ways.
1. To discourage your competitors from attacking. If they see you starting to fade, then they will attack you and you will need to respond. The longer you make them wait wondering if you are weak then less time they have on the road to attack.

2. Double bluff to encourage support from the crowd. This is where you want to reverse your calm tranquil poker face into a contorted ball of anguish. After attacking your group of competitors, over exaggerate everything as your ride out front battling on for victory. Spectators can really see you are digging at every ounce of energy and putting it out there for the victory, they will salute you for it.

3. Double bluff your competitors - I don't advise this. This is a tricky one to make work it has the probability to back fire. It is a tactic Lance has used. His ruse involved pretending he was suffering on early climbs so when Ullrich road harder earlier in the stage Lance go ride with him when Ullrich used up his energy, only then did Lance uncurled his pained face, give Ullrich a long stare and attacked on the Peyresourde. Ullrich had no answer.


A Poker Face must be practised. It is a difficult thing to pull off because you cannot see your face as you pedal, unless you have a mirror on your bike. The weather has an effect on the Poker Face, a bitter wind can pinch and freeze ones skin. With some many muscles in your face and so much to concentrate on the face can be difficult to control.
Lance Armstrong is one of the best Poker Face makers the world of modern cycling has ever seen.

Below we see Bradley Wiggins, the underdog in 2009 is grimacing while Lance appears to be contemplating his next more. As the supposed weaker of the riders, this plays well for Brad as spectators should side with the Brit as he heroically struggles. Tyler Hamilton waxes lyrical about how great he was at Poker Face, but I disagree, he was pretty useless at it.


A standard evening training session in the park is not part of a formal competition, so why would we be using our Poker Faces?
Sport is a social institution because of some key characteristics it exhibits - this has inevitably lead to ridiculous behavioural norms and the creation of the 'The Cycling Poker Face'
Cycling particularly has a ranking system (one of the characteristics). Within all institutions, groups and societies, a hierarchy exists. This is often based on something of value. In business, positions are valued. In sport, a hierarchy exists based on skills, ability to perform and to a lesser degree how long you have been involved in the sport (seniority).
Secondly the need for social control has created a large number of rules in sport. All organisations have formal written rules as well as informal rules.

As soon as we entered Regents Parks and began the training session we all informally agreed to a form of competition and a set of informal rules.

Throughout the training session we all tried to establish ourselves at the top of the ranking system by obeying the informal rules, in this example the task was through and off so to shake my companions I would not be able to suddenly start sprinting or nip through a set of lights that were changing to red. That would not be fair. I would also not be able to side swipe my companion to take them down to exclude them from the game.

Thus we rode applying pressure, slowly sending the pace up and up. Until someone cracked. No one wanted to crack because they would automatically slipped down the ranking system. When we eased up after the interval the rider who showed the most weakness heavy breath, inability to converse would slip down the ranking system.
The Poker Face serves to keep you high in the ranking system. If you appear to your riding partners that you can hold this pace almost indefinitely while they are finding it harder and harder, they will eventually give in .

In our heads we all tallied up our victories and evaluated our performances. 
As we left the park I knew I was top of the tree thanks in part to my ability to play the Poker Face.

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