Ah, the besoin naturel – the call of nature! When you gotta go, you gotta go and though this may not be the most troubling issue when you are cycling with friends or on a club run, what to do when nature calls halfway through a cycle race is a far different matter.
As a general rule in mens racing, if the peloton is travelling at speed – chasing down a breakaway for example – and a rider needs a pee, he will to so dexterously off the side of the bike, usually assisted by the willing hand of teamate in order to keep up his momentum (the bikes, that is). If, however the peloton is travelling at a more sedate pace, then it is not uncommon for large groups of riders to stop and line the road en masse.
The unwritten rule of the peloton is that no one attacks if a GC contender has to relieve him or herself, though this was not the case in the 2010 Tour of Qatar when the Norwegian rider Edvald Boasson Hagen lost the leaders jersey when the peloton failed to reduce its pace as he took an ill-planned toilet break.
Urinating in public is an offence in the rule book of most cycling organisations, leading to either time penalties or even disqualification. The organisers of the Tour de France, for example, will penalise any rider reported urinating in the view of a member of the public – a ruling all the more ironic given the laissez-faire attitude of the French to urinating in public places! In truth though, race organisers acknowledge that a call of nature is unavoidable and if riders are seen to have used their discretion, then action is rarely taken.
For women riders the issue of taking a pee is a little more complicated and the need for a little more discretion is necessary, so hedges and public toilets offer a slightly less public place to stop! Fortunately, women’s races do tend to be slightly shorter in length so toilet stops are less of an issue and bear in mind that in most races, especially in the heat, rehydration is the main concern of riders and riders will not need to stop that often, if at all.
Peeing is one thing, but number twos offer a far more complicated scenario for the rider.
Most riders will stop, relieve themselves then chase back to the peloton, but a story recounted by the Irish cyclist Paul Kimmage in Rough Ride, his 1990 book about life in the professional peloton illustrates the lengths some riders will go to win the coveted maillot jaune. In this case the American, Greg LeMond. Determined to protect his narrow lead over Bernard Hinault in the 1986 Tour de France despite a violent bout of food poisoning, LeMond chose to ride on: ‘LeMond was in trouble,’ recalled Kimmage, ‘he had a bout of diarrhoea. He rode by me with thirty kilometres to go, surrounded by his domestiques bringing him to the front. God, the smell was terrible. It was rolling down his legs. I know if was me I would stop. But I am not capable of winning the Tour de France. He is, and I suppose that’s the difference.’
Another tale, possibly apocryphal but funny nonetheless, relates to the British cyclist Tom Simpson who demanded that one of his Peugeot domestiques hand over his brand new cycling cap. When the humble domestique asked why Simpson needed his cap when he already had one of his own, Simpson responded: ‘I’ve got to take a shit and I need something to wipe my arse.”