How far will one man go to manage the male, digital version of his wife to Tour de France glory in Pro Cycling Manager 2020?
Before we begin, it’s important to make clear that I do not care about nor understand professional cycling. I have, quite literally, never watched a race in my life and am the last person you should be coming to if you’re looking for a review for Pro Cycling Manager 2020. Or any cycling game, for that matter.
However, my wife watches the Tour de France every year with her dad and they take part in local races relatively often. She’s also bad-to-mediocre at video games. She’ll dispute that, but it’s a fact. And so, I decided to put our two brains together and see if we could somehow win the virtual Tour de France. Going in, I felt I had some idea of what was going to happen. I’ve played quite a bit of games like Football Manager and Total Extreme Wrestling. My management experience mixed with my wife’s knowledge was sure to be a winning combo.
At least, that’s what I hoped.
So, this isn’t a review of Pro Cycling Manager 2020. This is one man’s journey to create the male version of his wife and lead her to virtual glory in the greatest cycling race known to man.
Season 1 – What Have I Gotten Myself Into
The first thing I’m greeted with is choosing what type of racer we’ll be building. Honestly, I was hoping for something a little more granular. We were totally planning to go out to the local park and time her cycling to give our racer the most accurate starting stats possible. Heck, my wife even did something she calls “math” to figure out how tall the racer should be in comparison to her. It looked like wizardry to me, but she’s a computer engineer, so I assume she knows what she’s doing.
Anyway, Amos Frech was quickly created as the world’s next great “Stage Racer.” I don’t know what that means, but it sounded better than “Northern Classic” or whatever “Baroudeur” is. Frankly, it seemed like it would only be a matter of time before we could join my wife’s favorite team, Team INEOS. I’m told that’s “where the good ones are from.”
In our first few races, I immediately started to realize I might’ve bitten off more than I can chew. In games like Football Manager, you don’t directly control the on-field action. Instead, you’re setting up tactics and choosing the players to execute on your plans. Maybe the team mode on Pro Cycling Manager is more like this, but in the Pro Cyclist mode, you’re in complete control.
With zero understanding of how the sport works or what any of the terms mean, this feels like one of those nightmares where you wake up in your old high school and are about to have a test that you didn’t study for. And, for some reason, you’re naked.
In our first race, I see an option for something called infinite relay. As far as I know, this could mean your racer hops off the bike to have a cup of tea or he instantly wins the race. It could mean anything and I would believe you. That said, it is, by far, the coolest-sounding option, so, being an idiot who loves action, this becomes my go-to maneuver.
It seems to work decently well. I mean, we’re not winning any races, but we aren’t in last either. Slowly, I start to get objectives in races. Most of these tell me to “get in a breakaway for 100 km.” I read this as “be in first place for two-thirds of the race.” At our current skill level, that’s impossible, so I just ignore them.
By some miracle, I’m able to win a few races during the season. But the most notable thing to happen is seeing a cyclist get ran over by a pacer car. Most of the time you just phase through them and all the other cyclists. However, in one race, he just blows right through him and I get a notification that the racer has “withdrawn.” But we all know they left out “from this mortal coil” at the end of that notification.
We end the first season in one of, what I assume is, the bigger races in our division. I assume this because members of Team INEOS are here. My wife’s favorite dude Chris Froome is, unsurprisingly, not one of them. However, I go for a good showing in the hopes that these men will tell their senpai tales of Amos Frech’s dominance and get us a spot on the team.
Amos gets 31st and we’re on to season two.
Season 2 – Lesson From The Past
Heading into season two, I start to think about how my dad must have felt when he realized he had a soccer-playing child. My old man had probably never even seen a soccer ball before randomly signing me up for the U4 league. However, he quickly realized that his abnormally tall three-year-old was going to be half-decent at this weird British sport.
Much like three-year-old me, Amos is unquestionably skilled. He is one of the best in the world already at climbing mountains and whatever “prologue” is. However, I don’t understand the strategy of the game and cannot consistently guide him to victory.
Well, just like my dad once picked up a book on how to play soccer, I too will pursue knowledge. And so, I do the modern-day equivalent of reading and watch some YouTube tutorials. I know now what a breakaway is and somewhat understand how to correctly set myself up for success in races. It’s time to finally turn that corner and become the racer we’re meant to be.
However, there’s a problem. See, as I mentioned above, Pro Cycling Manager isn’t a “set it and forget it” kind of game. If Football Manager is the Easy-Bake Oven style of management sims, Pro Cycling Manager is more like working in a high-class restaurant that requires everything to be perfect.
Except, in this analogy, nobody comes to your restaurant. So, on your eight-hour shift, you’re maybe doing ten minutes of actual work. The rest of the time you’re just fiddling with your cell phone, watching the world burn on Twitter. While that ten minutes of actual cooking is pure bliss, the rest of the time is something between boring and distressing because you’re realizing you could be doing something much better with your time.
Pro Cycling Manager requires you to watch entire races where you don’t really have to do anything until the last 20 kilometers of a race. Sure, you can speed it up, but it’s still mostly boring. And even when you’re outside of the races, you’re just staring at the screen watching all the other races sim.
Honestly, Steam says I’ve played Pro Cycling Manager for roughly 40 hours now, but realistically, I’ve probably only “played” the game for four or five of those hours. For the most part, I’m just sitting around waiting to do something.
At this point, it’s not a question of “can Amos win the Tour de France?” It’s a question of “can I mentally stay engaged long enough?” Amos’ body is willing, but my brain? Not so much.
So, sure, Amos pulls out all the stops and wins three smaller tours in his second season. He even moves up into the next division and joins a more prestigious team. I just don’t know if I’ll be able to see out the final victory.
Season 3 – The One That Breaks Me
I tried everybody. I really did. There’s just only so much sitting and staring at men riding bicycles at hyper-speed that one man can take. Sure, Amos is quickly moving toward a spot in the Tour de France, but this third season has broken down my will to continue. What started as a fun lark has become borderline soul-crushing. It’s just so much waiting.
To be clear, I’m not saying Pro Cycling Manager 2020 is bad. If you like cycling and want to play a management sim, this is probably the best way to do that. Granted, I’m far from an expert, so what do I know?
It’s also worth noting again that I only played the Pro Cyclist mode. In that mode, you don’t have complete control of your team. Meaning it was very difficult to set up sprint trains (see, I learned something!) at the end of races. It also meant that there was no way for me to use my other cyclists to pick up points in other ways besides winning races. So, playing in that mode could easily mitigate my boredom. I’ll just never know if that’s the case.
So, no, Amos Frech will never become the best cyclist in the world. And yes, I can’t remember playing a more consistently boring game than Pro Cycling Manager 2020. However, until it just got to be too much, I’ve never had so much fun playing something so tedious. If that’s not a ringing endorsement from someone who literally couldn’t care less about cycling, then I don’t know what is.