I have never smoked although growing up in the 1940s and 1950s it was an era when it seemed everyone smoked including many cyclists.
It was always strange to me to witness a finishing sprint in a race and then see many of the riders collapse exhausted at the side of the road and immediately light up a cigarette, usually followed by a bout of coughing.
The picture below I sure you have seen many times; it is from the early days of the Tour de France and shows the riders taking a cigarette break.
Below is a pretty cleaver modern day re-enactment of the above famous picture. Note the guy in the second row, center crouching down, and the rider further back holding up his water bottle.
In 1978 I was lucky enough to see Eddie Merckx race in London towards the end of his career. I was surprised to see him light up a cigarette at the finish line of the event. In later years I saw Merckx several times at various trade shows throughout the 1980s and witnessed him smoking several times.
This is how Eddie looks today.
Just kidding, that is not Eddie Merckx.
I couldn’t find any pictures of Eddie Merckx smoking, but here’s a shot (Below.) of Italian pro cyclist Mario Cipollini taking a drag while riding. Cipollini’s career highlights include World Road Championship and the Milan-San Remo in 2002.
Of course the whole key is, you have to start young.
The rest is just training.