Want to find out what a pride lion is made of? Toss a bunch (of lions) into a saltwater pool filled to the brim with great white sharks. The one still living, looking for more fish? That’s your pride lion. To find out what a champion bike racer is made of, have them compete in a pull-up contest.
“The pull-up contest strips away the tallied fitness and the nuanced stratagems, catches our competitor off-guard, offers them no advantage, no recourse, no out.”
For the competitive road cyclist, the pull-up is anathema to all that they work for: it adds muscle where muscle is not needed; it is therefore useless and forgettable. The upper body, its shoulders and arms, are at best mechanisms for steering, control rods whose only duty is to manage the exacerbated effect of wind on the front wheel’s advanced technology and the impressive totality of what has become the modern headset, and the function of these relies much more on subtle nuance than any kind of true or primal force. In short, a professional road racer’s arms only ever need to hold on to the handlebars, nothing more.
The lack of need, the bare essence of the muscle, the atrophy, we are venturing into Jack London territory here, man at his quintessential, man at his most naked. A long season of hours alone in a basement watching past seasons of Arrested Development or on the wet, windy hometown streets blasting hard house music while vigilantly controlling wattage output leaves a competitor coming into training camp anxious, unsure, and ready to see all the hard winter work pay off. Take this away and leave it cold: if you are looking for character on your team, assign them something they haven’t been preparing for, this is the acid test, the true challenge—and those who come out satisfied, those who give it their all, with them you know where you stand.