Those who have attempted race cycling in Greece or just taken a short ride to work know that this country can be a bit bike unfriendly, even though the weather is perfect for such sport.
Cycling, in general, is a solution to big city ills like congestion and pollution in European countries — Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy and the UK, to name a few — and a practical and social infrastructure exists to support and encourage it. When Lance Armstrong garnered seven consecutive Tour de France wins, its popularity in many countries exploded.
Greece is another story. Bikes are only allowed on public transport during non-commute hours (a few months ago, not at all), there are no racks on buses, rules that protect riders are ignored, and the rare bike lane abruptly ends or is often occupied by parked cars.
A woman I know was inspired to start race cycling. When you consider the sport is dominated by men, a good bike and its necessary gear are overpriced in Greece compared to other countries and legitimate coaches are hard to find, this was no small or inexpensive feat. None of her female friends wanted to join, and the men she knew were far more conditioned, so she went solo.
Training four days a week, she endured Athenian traffic, roads with no bike lanes, pollution, lots of close calls with drivers claiming ignorance, packs of unleashed dogs chasing her down the street, and the constant harassment of men of all ages winding down the car window to yell vulgar things, throw garbage and grab her a$$. But she had a goal and stuck to it.
So what changed her mind after a year? On an afternoon ride, some guys were following and taunting her with insults that she ignored. Her ability to block them out and continue only made them more angry, so they threw water in her face. Again she shook it off and continued. Then they took the car and bumped her bike, causing her to tumble head first into a ditch and break her arm with the bike laying on top of her. After laying unconscious for some minutes, she woke up, called someone to pick her up and vowed to never cycle again.
Is this a story about why it’s dangerous for women to cycle? Absolutely not. Men endure similar treatment.
My fiance is on a cycling team in Athens, races competitively at various locations around Greece from March to October, has an Australian coach and trains five days a week. We purchased and shipped his brand name carbon frame from California because it was literally half the price in comparison to anywhere in Greece.
He takes one water bottle for rehydrating and one for squirting dogs in the face when they chase him, keeps one ear iPod-free to hear danger approaching and rides with friends when/if their customized training programs somewhat mesh in regards to target heart rate, training length and type.
At races arranged in cooperation with the municipality’s mayor in exchange for money from the cycling federation, police escorts ditch them to get coffee, cars don’t obey roadblocks and graze riders, spectators pelt them with coins and food, and there are often no doctors or safety personnel for the duration of the race. After the race, which can be as much as 200 km, there is no water. So why do they do it? Beautiful weather, challenge, companionship and it’s great exercise! This is as good as it gets.
Today, like every day of every year, my fiance was out training and had a close call with a driver who didn’t see him. But this time was different because she actually hit him.
It wasn’t as bad as it could have been because he was able to react quickly and avoid a full-on collision that would have put him in the hospital and caused considerable damage to his bike. He only needed a few stitches, suffered a few bruises, and his bike mechanic was able to align both of his 600-euro rims after one hour’s work.
Ironically, today is the name day of Christoforos, the patron saint of driving. Let’s make the roads safer for everyone and drive safely.
In the News
Interested in cycling in Greece?
I can recommend the following:
www.cyclist.gr – A shop with reasonable (almost cheap) prices, run by nice guys
www.pepa.gr – Men’s club divided into categories, organizing annual races
www.poli-podilato.gr – Cycling site in Greek providing general information
www.cyclist-friends.gr (In English) – For English-speaking friends in Greece or visitors to Greece with a bike
Finding a coach is a uniquely personal choice depending on goals and rapport. Current cycling information for women is an area I need to research since I no longer cycle in Greece for personal reasons.