Our sport is supposed to be about the fun. Yes, there is suffering. Yes, plenty of cycling involves challenging oneself and being uncomfortable. In the end, however, it is supposed to be about the fu, the pleasure of riding.
I am reading the autobiography of Manx sprinter Mark Cavendish and found a similar conclusion. He describes the suffering of the mountain stages in the grand tours, about the exhaustion of riding for three weeks. He also writes about the disappointment of leaving the Tour early in 2008 and not getting to Paris for the last sprint.
He also had harsh words for the riders ejected from the ’08 Tour for doping. It made me think, why would someone risk health, career and standing for a win. My conclusion was they put something else ahead of the fun.
I don’t mean to judge. Cycling in Europe is akin to prize fighting in the US, or a lot of pro sports. They often attract athletes who feel it the only shot at rise out of dire economic circumstances. If that’s the case, I could see how someone might be lured into doping to get as far from poverty as possible. Some don’t have the luxury that most of us leisure riders have.
I’m not condoning this behavior, either. The reason Cavendish was so animate about the dopers, in this case Riccardo Ricco, Leonardo Piepoli and Stefan Schumacher, When the dopers set there enhanced paces, they threatened guys like Cav’ who is clean and not a climber. The major Tours set a time limit based of the stage winner’s time. Come in after the cut off and you go home. Ricco broke away and won stage nine that year, putting pressure on the sprinters, then Piepoli put in an inhuman ride the next day.
You may have heard of the Autobus, or Grupetto. These are the groups of big men at the back of these climbing stages, generally sprinters working together to make the cutoff. They are not lollygagging. They are suffering just to suffer all over again the next day. When the cheaters put in the crazy-fast rides up the high mountains, they not only take away the chances of the clean climbers, they endanger a great many sprinters. This same sort of event also reenforces the notion that a rider has to dope to win. Luckily, the ’08 Tour also showcased the advances in the doping tests, resulting in the aforementioned ejections.
Fear is a big motivator. Fear motivates a kid from a broken home in a Dallas suburb to cheat, cheat to an unprecedented level, and deny cheating to protect all that was gained by cheating. Fear, in turn, causes corporate sponsors to flee the sport. It causes coverups and improvements in catching the cheaters. I have to count myself as lucky that I never got to ride at a level in which any of this was a consideration. I’m lucky that I can just ride for fun.
Last weekend was a great example of fun and suffering. The Paris-Roubaix, possibly the monument of Monuments, was won, for the third time, by Swiss RadioShack rider Fabian Cancellara. While everyone predicted his triumph, it was not as predicted. Spartacus did not simply ride away from everyone as he did in the 2011 Paris-Roubaix, or even as he did the weekend before in the Tour of Flanders. He found himself working hard to catch a break in the last half of the race, then dragging a formidable group with him to nearly the end. Bad luck derailed a few, then Cancellara had to out-sprint Belgian hopeful Sep Vanmarcke of the Blanco Pro Racing team on the track in Roubaix.
Cancellara was clearly happy to win his third cobblestone trophy, but he was also clearly spent. The cobbles of the road took a toll on big Fabian, who now looks forward to a break before the summer grand tours start in May.
Many expected Spartacus to have his way with the race on Sunday. Gone was his chief rival, four-time Roubaix winner Tom Boonen. The big Belgian crashed out of the Tour of Flanders a week before. Boonen was hoping to add his name to the short and distinguished list of five-time Paris-Roubaix winners which includes, of course, Eddie Merckx. Tornado Tom now awaits the healing process and the grand tours of summer.
One last Belgian Monument note; On the podium of the Tour of Flanders, Slovak sprinter Peter Sagan was caught in photos grabbing the backside of a podium girl as she was presenting the winner with his trophies. This week, Sagan saw the young lady again. Maya Leye is a 25-year-old who works for Flanders Classics, the organization that promotes and stages the Tour of Flanders. Leye was on the podium with Sagan again on Wednesday, April 10, to present Sagan with his prize for winning the Brabant Arrow race. Sagan presented Leye with his winner’s bouquet and a public apology. Perhaps the swaggering Slovak learned a little tact out of the who incident.
I plan to continue having fun. It’s a challenge with the late-season snow. I have ridden outside perhaps three times this year, once on the course on which I race this Saturday. I have to remember that it’s about the fun. It does not really matter how well I place. It matters that I am able to push myself. It matters that I get to compete. This won’t determine a paycheck. It won’t change the course of my life. It’s just for the fun of it.
Have fun, be safe. I’m going racing.
BTW, the photo was taken by Tom de Waele for Omega Pharma/Quick Step