Category: history of cycling

The Hour, the UCI, and how to **** up something so beautiful in one easy step

It has just been confirmed that the UCI have imposed a new range of criteria on those who seek to break the hour record.

The governing body is now demanding all potential candidates for the hour record must ride a traditional steel-track frame and commit to a year-long diet of food not only similar to that eaten by Eddy Merckx in 1972 but also actually cooked in 1972.

Candidates will also have to grow their hair to a uniform length of 2.5 inches, dye it black (if it not yet that particular hue), and lash it down with three ‘generous spoonfuls’ of Brylcreem, a la Eddy.

In this way, and only in this way, officials believe that we can reach a record that will truly be in line with the spirit of Merck’s record which was set a whopping 42 years ago.

This means that – wait, there seems to be more breaking news coming through on the fax machine….

BREAKING NEWS: Apparently, all riders will now be allowed ‘any damn haircut they like as long as it’s not a mullet’ (sorry Aussies), and any bike as long as it has two wheels that are ‘relatively round’.

There is one more qualification: all competitors will have to travel back in time to 1993 (‘don’t forget your license’, advises the memo, ‘or you’re not riding’), and will have to attempt the hour ‘in a Scottish accent.’

Makes sense? No? Good, because it’s not supposed to – which might well be the motto of the UCI, come to think of it.

While the above news was a slight fabrication, in spirit it’s not that far off the UCI’s recent track record when it comes to the hour.

For the uninitiated, a brief outline.

There’s a thing called ‘the hour’. It’s a discipline in cycling that demands that a rider ride around a track on his own for an hour as fast as he can. The distance he travels in that hour is recorded and compared to other cyclists who, also on their own, have themselves ridden around a track for an hour.

Whoever travels the most distance is the holder of the hour record.

Simple. Right? Well, not quite.

See, a chap christened by his parents as Edouard Louis Joseph Baron Merckx (a name good enough to win Crufts, they said) – but known to all and sundry as Eddy – went and set a very handy distance at altitude in Mexico in 1972, on a traditional steel bike. He rode 49.431 km that fateful late October day, and when he got off the bike he said:

“That was the hardest ride I’ve ever done.”

merckx_hour_record_1

Eddy on his steel machine, 1972

Not easy, this hour thing, and our Eddy was quite decent on a bicycle too.

A few attempted to break Eddy’s record but the problem was that Eddy was a bit better than decent. He was actually very decent indeed, and no one could manage to get close to the record for many a moon.

Fast forward to 1984 and an Italian stallion called Francesco Moser. He rolled up to Mexico City for a crack at the record with a bike that looked in all fairness nothing at all like Merckx’s machine.

Known (by me) as the LSD Machine, it was all bendy and curvy in odd places and had disc wheels. Apparently all this helped Moser slice through the air better, and that he did, managing finally to smash Eddy’s record with a distance of 51.151km.

The bike obviously did the trick, as did the blood doping that he was quite keen on. It wasn’t illegal at the time though so why anyone makes a fuss and dance about that, I have no idea.

The LSD Experience

The LSD Experience

So, Moser broke Eddy’s record on a bike that clearly gave him an advantage in his attempt, and, clearly, had Eddy used such a machine he’d probably have clocked over 53 kilometres. Moser was good, Eddy was better, there was no question about that.

Everyone knew it but this is sport, machines and humans evolve, technology improves, and cheats get better juice by the half decade on average.

(And for the pedants out there, yes – Eddy was also a doper too.)

Yet despite Moser having the advantage of the march of time no one complained, at least not in an official capacity.

Just as F1 cars improve and are raced and set new records, and just as tennis rackets get harder and lighter and demand their owners to adapt, so bicycles change and so everyone accepted the new record and saw no reason to implement any draconian requirements on bike design.

Certainly no one thought to ever demand that a rider in 1984 use a bike built to the same specifications as a bike built in 1972.

And even if they had, well they’d have best thought of it back then, implemented the rule and leave the bloody thing alone and let the riders get on with it.

Yet if you were to do that, where’s the appeal in a rider going for the record for the bike brands? Where’s the appeal for the helmet designers and the shoe companies? What about the wind tunnel experts and the riders themselves?

Who wants to ride around a track for an hour, which as Eddy said himself is proper knackering, on Merckx’s bike, only to learn at the end of it all just how much crapper you are than Merckx?

But I digress. Let’s jump again to the 17th of July, 1993, and a cycling pioneer called Graeme Obree. The Scottish rider set a quite incredible record on this day, on a quiet track in Norway, of 51.596km.

It was incredible in that Obree was relatively unknown, had hardly any funding, and had designed and built his own bike, a bike that looked less like a bike than just about any other bike ever seen.

It also won the Ugliest Mare in Competition award at the Scunthorpe County Fair of June 1993. That is a little known fact but a revealing one nonetheless, I feel.

Obree on his little beauty

Obree on his little beauty

An Englishman named Chris Boardman then snatched the record from Obree just six days later in France on a bike designed by Lotus and funded by mega-bucks. There was little doubt that technology was winning the day in this era, but then, this is life, and things tend to work like that.

Obree attempted to win it back from Boardman quickly but at every turn he was foiled by Hein Verbruggen, then president of the UCI, who’d taken a disliking to a man coming along and using a homemade bike that the UCI could see no way of profiting from in any way whatsoever.

Others went on to break the record over the next few years using bikes (and in some cases drugs) that took full advantage of advancements in technology, until in 2000 the UCI took the extraordinary decision to create two hour records.

One was known as the UCI Hour Record, and required riders to use equipment that was more or less the same as that used by Merckx.

The other was known as the UCI Absolute Record (not baffling at all, naturally), and allowed riders to use any old vehicle they wanted, with the exception of yellow Lamborghinis and post-1953 school buses.

The result was that everyone was confused, no one was sure which record actually mattered, and one of the greatest records in cycling, lost its allure overnight.

In a sport that usually makes it very difficult to say who in any given generation is really the strongest, the hour used to sort out that out quite precisely. There were few variables. You got on a track, they were all much the same size, and you pedaled. One guy could go to altitude to do it but then so could the next fellow.

Yes, too much of a variation on bikes would make the hour like an F1 race, where sometimes the best drivers are not the fastest. Technology must be given its head but not to the point where it is that which wins the race.

Yet surely the UCI could have set some kind of dimensions that would have meant that the actual bikes were not that different within in a given generation?

It was back with Obree that this all started, in my opinion, where all the fuss and kerfuffle began. It was economics and greed at the nub of it all and it was wrapped up in the skin of a man who was, as president of the world cycling union, as petty as he was vindictive.

Verbruggen had no time for this renegade who loped in off the Scottish streets with a hand-built bicycle and a disregard for authority who went on to snaffle the Crown Jewel of professional cycling from it’s bullet-proofed box.

Now, this is a serious question: what kind of a fool does it take to not see immediately the romance and beauty of Obree and his ugly bloody bike?

Obree broke the record on a bike he designed and built in a shed, with bearings from his then-wife’s washing machine, which is so tremendously and amazingly wonderful that you’d have to have a heart of stone not to see the sheer nutty majesty in that.

The UCI took away his records and banned his bikes, putting obstacles in his way at every banked turn. Why? Because they could, and because they were fools. They were so out of touch with the average cyclist that they failed to see the potential of trumpeting Obree’s amazing achievements.

Verbruggen

Verbruggen

After much wrangling with officialdom, Obree went and joined pro team Le Groupement and got kicked off because he wouldn’t dope, after a few weeks on the team.

“I was signed up to ride in the prologue of the Tour back in 1995,” he wrote later, “but it was made very obvious to me I would have to take drugs. I said no, no way, and I was sacked by my team.”

Dream realised, dream broken. The blink of an eye, the breaking of the cover on a vial. It’s not too far a stretch to argue that that was the UCI’s fault also, ultimately, for turning a blind eye to and facilitating doping.

Young men died in the early days of EPO, those who said no had their careers smashed, villains got rich and the king and his monkeys in their suits looked on and did whatever they could to let the good times roll.

I apologise, I digress yet again.

Back to the hour. The beautiful, amazing hour.

A few moths ago Fabian Cancellara, a man to challenge Merckx’s 1972 record if ever there was one, announced that he was going to have a go at it. His bike manufacturer was quietly confident that they could utilise new technologies and yet still produce a bike that fit the UCI regulations for the UCI Hour Record.

Then on May 15th, just a few days ago, the powers that be announced that they were scrapping the regulations set in 2000 and would now implement new rules.

Basically put, the Hour can now be attempted by any rider on a bike that conforms with the endurance track bike regulations of the day.

Cancellara, the poor lad, then said he’d have to rethink his plans. Quite how far down the line his bike was to being built and how many hundred of thousands of hours had been put into its development is unclear, but keep an eye on Ebay over the next few weeks.

You might pick up a 1972 Colnago frame re-decalled as a Trek for a few bucks.

Bradley Wiggins, who himself now is thinking about having a crack at the hour after hearing the new news, made a salient point in regards to all this changing and a-messing with the rules.

“It kind of begs the question: Why did they change it in the first place?” Wiggins asked, as though he lived in a vacuum in his house in Chorley and had never had to deal with the UCI and its Kafkaesque befuddling.

“We’ve lost a decade now of the hour record. It’s a shame that they changed it.

“It’s a shame, really, that we’ve missed maybe Cancellara doing it five or six years ago. So it’s good I guess that they’ve gone back now.”

It is good, indeed, but Wiggins is right when he makes the point about Cancellara. The rules needed looking at for sure back in 2000, but the heavy-handed, kneejerk reaction from the UCI at that time almost destroyed a once hallowed chalice of our already much-maligned sport.

No other sport would be stupid enough to have allowed records set with equipment made from new technologies to be entered in the books and then go back years later and say that those records had become void, then turn around again and say that they had once again become admissible.

Catch-22 on wheels? Very much so.

The ‘Old UCI’ showed time and again that it was neither the legacy nor the future of the sport that it cared about – just its bank account.

Wonders will never cease. Get Verbruggen to throw in an apology to Obree and I’ll eat that last remaining hat of mine.

Remembering Gino Bartali: A Man of Distinction

Until very recently, the Italian Gino Bartali (1914-2000) was known for his remarkable feats on a bicycle.

He was the most famous Italian cyclist to emerge from a formidable generation of top riders, having won the Giro d’Italia in 1936, 1937 and 1946. He also won the Tour de France in 1938 and then again in 1948.

To this day he holds the record for the largest gap between victories, at ten years. Indeed, had it not been for the Tour and the Giro both being suspended for the duration of the 2nd World War, it may well have been this unassuming and devout Roman Catholic, Bartali, that we’d be hailing as the most successful Grand Tour rider ever.

Bartali & Coppi

Bartali & Coppi

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The Classics and The Classics

this article originally appeared in the April edition of Spin Magazine

by Lee Rodgers

 

“Tell how at the first gods and earth came to be, and rivers, and the boundless sea with its raging swell, and the gleaming stars, and the wide heaven above, and the gods who were born of them.”

Hesiod, 4th Century B.C

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The Classics.

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Gino Bartali: the only truly clean Grand Champion?

Bartali-pp01-01

 

this is from wikipedia, i found it as i was writing an article on Gino the Great for a magazine.

it kind of blew my mind, to think that he was possibly the first in-competition drug tester of all time! as well as being a participant, and a huge one at that.

here are the quotes:

Drugs search

Bartali always suspected that Coppi took drugs. On the hairpins of the Col di Bracco, during a stage of the 1946 Giro from Genoa to Montecani Terme, Coppi drank from a glass phial and threw into the verge. Bartali drove back after the race and found it. He said:

With the meticulous care of a detective collecting evidence for fingerprinting I picked it up, dropped it into a white envelope and put it carefully in my pocket. The next day I rushed round to my personal doctor and asked him to send the phial to a lab for analysis. Disappointment: no drug, no magic potion. It was nothing more than an ordinary tonic, made in France, that I could have bought without a prescription.
I realised that I should have to try to outsmart him and I devised my own investigation system. The first thing was to make sure I always stayed at the same hotel for a race, and to have the room next to his so I could mount a surveillance. I would watch him leave with his mates, then I would tiptoe into the room which ten seconds earlier had been his headquarters. I would rush to the waste bin and the bedside table, go through the bottles, flasks, phials, tubes, cartons, boxes, suppositories – I swept up everything. I had become so expert in interpreting all these pharmaceuticals that I could predict how Fausto would behave during the course of the stage. I would work out, according to the traces of the product I found, how and when he would attack me. 

both quotes are from Miroir des Sports, France, 1946.

Cop-Tre-Uomini-Oro

 

Can Wiggins win Paris-Roubaix?

by Cillian Kelly

Milan San Remo: 2nd

Tour of Flanders: 7th
Paris-Roubaix: 4th
Liege-Bastogne-Liege: 3rd
Tour of Lombardy: 2nd

These are the best results in all five monument classics in the career of a particular cyclist. It’s an impressive collection of placings for any rider in any era. This rider, despite never making the podium there during his career, always wanted to win Paris-Roubaix.

He said: “I would have given anything to win Paris-Roubaix. I felt like I was good technically on the cobblestones, but I don’t think I ever had a peak day. I’ve always felt I’m a summer rider. I’ve always been a warm weather rider. The guys who excel in the early season either train all winter and are in their very best shape, or they’re Belgian or they’re Irish. Cold weather, rain, I’ve never felt good in it. I always wished there were more classics in August”.

But before we reveal the identity of our mystery classics rider, let’s consider another rider who has struggled of late in the cold and rain, Bradley Wiggins.

Now that Chris Froome and Richie Porte have taken over the primary and ancillary stage racing duties at Team Sky, Wiggins, aged 33, is in the market for one more specialist niche to occupy before he calls time on his career.

In recent weeks and months, Wiggins and his team manager Dave Brailsford have, apparently, been making noises about targeting Paris-Roubaix next year. The Belgian-born Brit has a habit of reinventing himself. He’s already shifted from track virtuoso, to time trial king, to Tour de France winner. Could he carve out one more niche as a classics contender?

The following are Wiggins’ best results in all five monument classics:

Milan San Remo: 44th
Tour of Flanders: 50th

Paris-Roubaix: 25th
Liege-Bastogne-Liege: 74th
Tour of Lombardy: DNF

Not great, but not terrible. Unlike every other Tour de France winner in the last quarter of a century, he has actually ridden all of them.

It is the 25th place in Paris-Roubaix coupled with his time trialling ability being roughly on a par with Fabian Cancellara’s that seems to be the foundation for next year’s plan to tackle the Queen of the Classics.

This subject is broached in the February 2014 edition of Cycle Sport magazine. It is confirmed that Paris-Roubaix is ‘on the radar’ for Wiggins and Team Sky. There are also the thoughts of directeurs sportif from all of Wiggins’ previous teams on whether he stands a chance against the seasoned cobbled competitors like Cancellara and Tom Boonen.

The responses vary from FDJ’s Marc Madiot, who says ‘yes… he can be a contender’, to Eric Boyer of Cofidis, who says ‘no, he can’t’, to more pragmatic answers from Jonathan Vaughters, Brian Holm and Roger Legeay who all think he could be good, but a win would be unlikely.

Wiggins won’t be the last rider to try to combine the Tour de France and Paris-Roubaix on to a single palmarés, but he most certainly isn’t the first either.

thumbs up for Roubaix?

thumbs up for Roubaix?

Fourteen riders can claim to have won both races during their career – Bernard Hinault, Eddy Merckx, Jan Janssen, Felice Gimondi, Louison Bobet, Fausto Coppi, Sylvére Maes, André Leducq, Henri Pélissier, Francois Faber, Octave Lapize, Henri Cornet, Louis Trousellier and Maurice Garin.

But it is becoming a rarer feat with the passing of time, as eight of those fourteen completed their double before World War II. The most recent rider to complete this unlikely career double was Hinault, having won the Tour in 1978 and 1979, he added Paris-Roubaix in 1981.

Although Hinault hated Paris-Roubaix, it is a common misconception that he only rode this race once. He actually rode the Queen of the classics on five occassions, never finishing lower than 13th. When he finally won it in 1981, he owed much of his success to a 19 year-old Greg LeMond – well, that’s according to LeMond himself.

The American was just beginning his first season as a professional cyclist. In an interview with Bill McGann, he said:

In April I felt actually quite good in Paris-Roubaix. I was really helping Hinault. He won his first and only Paris-Roubaix that year. I loved it. I did a big final attack that split the race up for Hinault and then I just bagged it after 230 kilometers.”

Let’s now revisit the list of monument classics results that we started with – these are of course belonging to Greg LeMond.

The American gets labelled these days as a rider who focused only on the Tour de France and world championships. This label is somewhat applicable to the latter stages of LeMond’s career, after he was accidentally shot in 1987. But throughout LeMond’s early years, he was as good a classics rider as any on his day.

If you take the best result in each of the five monument classics, as we have done here with LeMond, for every rider in the current peloton (who have ridden all five races), the rider with the lowest score of any active rider is Greg van Avermaet. The BMC rider ends up with a score of 36.

Perennial monument winners like Cancellara and Boonen don’t even make the list because neither have ridden either Liege-Bastogne-Liege or the Tour of Lombardy. The only monument winners to make the top 10 of the list are Alessandro Ballan (with a score of 41), and Phillipe Gilbert (with a score of 60).

Greg LeMond can boast an impressively low total of 18.

LeMond merely dabbled in the classics as he got older. He still had enough class left to finish ninth in Paris-Roubaix in 1992. But his last great classics result came in 1986, before his body had been blasted with lead. He had come close to a win on many occasions and by the time he had ceased focusing on the Spring classics he had most certainly learned what it was like to lose one.

Wiggins on the other hand, has none of this experience. He has ridden Paris-Roubaix and the other monument classics, but he has never been in the shake up at the end of one. All of the greats have had to learn and win, armed with the experience of losing – Eddy Merckx, Sean Kelly, Francesco Moser, Roger De Vlaeminck, Boonen and Cancellara all came close to victory in Paris-Roubaix before eventually winning it.

Wiggins’s Team Sky are meticulous. But there’s no amount of meticulousness will prevent a loose elbow from a rival nudging you slightly off the line you were taking over the cobbles and instead steering your front wheel into one of the places where a cobblestone used to be. Can motor pacing over the Hell of the North replace the experience and anguish embedded in the head of Zdenek Stybar having clipped a spectator last year, momentarily losing Cancellara’s wheel and forever losing that race?

It is no wonder that Team Sky remain coy about Wiggins’ chances over the cobbles. They have trumpeted classics ambitions loudly in the past and have fallen hugely short. However, if the 2012 Tour de France winner does decide to aim for Paris-Roubaix it is a hugely exciting endeavour and one we have not seen attempted for a generation.

One can’t help but think that Wiggins will need a few years to woo the Queen of Classics, as everyone else has done – to build up a classics palmarés similar to LeMond’s before eventually tasting success. LeMond voluntarily ran out of time because he shifted focus away from the classics and on to the Tour.

Wiggins is doing the opposite and at 33 years of age, taking the age demographic of Paris-Roubaix winners into account, he still has a fair amount of time left. But with talk also of an attempt at the hour record and impending retirement shortly thereafter, you’d have to wonder how much time he’d be willing to give it.

Eddy Planckaert: his greatest victory

by Cillian Kelly

which is better? winning a race or sex? hard to decide? Eddy Planckaert found the perfect solution…

Winning a race is the ultimate goal for any cyclist. It is the culmination of the work of dozens of people, team managers, masseurs, domestiques and of course the winning cyclist. Some cyclists spend their entire careers in the service of more capable team leaders and never get to experience what it feels like to cross the line in first position.

Thus, it is up to the riders who win the races to celebrate at the moment of victory and to savour the moment as best they can.

Eddy Planckaert was a classics specialist whose career spanned almost the entire breadth of the 1980s and into the 90s. As cyclists go, Planckaert got to taste victory more so than many others.

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Cycling or Psychling? The Insanity of A Life on Two Wheels

by crankpunk. this article is a re-post and originally appeared in Spin Magazine, March 2013. since the original publication of this article, Mr. White joined the Philadelphia 76ers but was waived by the team at the end of October… 

________________

Insanity

Defined by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as:

1: a deranged state of the mind usually occurring as a specific disorder (as schizophrenia)

2: such unsoundness of mind or lack of understanding as prevents one from having the mental capacity required by law to enter into a particular relationship, status, or transaction or as removes one from criminal or civil responsibility

.
3a : extreme folly or unreasonableness

3b : something utterly foolish or unreasonable

I’m going to talk a little about basketball for a moment, or, more precisely, one particular basketball player, a certain Royce White. I will, I promise, return to the sport of the shaven-legged, just hang in here for a paragraph or two.

It is, I promise, pertinent. I think. Though there is of course the possibility that the madness of a life on two wheels will consume me finally, before I get to the end, and then you’ll have just wasted a good ten minutes. But then if you’re reading this you’re probably a little nutso anyways, so all good…

Anyway, back to Mr. White. Mr. White is a phenomenally talented basketball player, and “plays” for the Rockets.

I put plays in inverted commas because, in truth, the 21 year old has yet to step onto the court in a Rockets jersey because he is locked in a contractual (and you could say philosophical) battle with the team’s hierarchy, because the two parties can’t quite come to mutually acceptable terms about White’s mental illness, one that all accept does in fact exist.

White has anxiety attacks that cripple him and a fear of flying that doesn’t stop him completely from flying, but that makes it an extremely difficult and exhausting experience for him.

What he wants, in a nutshell, is to be able to appoint his own psychiatrist who will then decide before each game whether he is mentally fit to play. The Rockets say no go, fella. Hence the stalemate.

Now that’s kind of interesting, but what is really fascinating is White’s belief about mental illness across society, which, according to the US National Institute for Mental Health, affects 26% of the population.

First off, White says in a recent interview with Chuck Klosterman that the number is higher in both society and sports, stating that the percentage of players in the NBA who smoke marijuana is never taken into account, claiming that those addicted are mentally ill.

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He cites the stress caused by the modern world and its attendant problems, which is without doubt a major cause of heart attacks and deaths, as another form of mental illness. He also cites the problems caused by financial insecurity as another form.

His question, at one point in the interview, was “How many people don’t have a mental illness? But that’s what we don’t want to talk about.”

What’s this got to do with cycling? Well let’s take a look. First off, let’s say that if in American society the number of mentally ill people is at 26%, the number must be similar in most western societies, where most of the top pro riders come from.

Now let’s consider the number of prominent cyclists who have had drug problems – and I don’t mean PEDs – that would take a book and a half.

Tom Boonen of course, cocaine. Frank Vandenbroucke, cocaine and alcohol, and the rest. Marco Pantani, coke by the Colombian truck load. Go back through the decades and you’ll find tale after tale of riders who took so much amphetamine that by the end they were more like drug addicts with a cycling problem than the other way around.

The Snow King, Marco Pantani
The Snow King, Marco Pantani

No doubt, our sport has its fare share of midnight monsters. Ride hard, play hard is often the motto for a sizable minority of riders.

And surely, to be even slightly into this sport of ours you have to be somewhat driven by some form of madness. First off, we shave our legs. Now, the pros have a reason to do so – nightly massages and frequent crashes make it essential. But what about the weekend warrior? See what I mean? Slightly nuts, for sure.

Definitely fits Mirriam-Webster’s description of insanity here:

3a : extreme folly or unreasonableness

We also have to be mad to actually go out and take the punishment we mete out to ourselves. What’s that all about? Yes it’s great to summit a hill, to fly down a descent at 85km/hr, to drop a rival or crush a young pretender.

But why do we need to do it? Personally I’ve stopped questioning why. Hour after hour of training. Banging up hills repeatedly til I’m retching. Missing out on parties and all the fun to get up at 6am to go out in the rain for 5 hours.

All I know is that, for some reason, it feels good and that’s ok by me, but I do know that essentially it is a little mad.

And that fits 3b:

3b : something utterly foolish or unreasonable

OK, but that’s the lighthearted stuff. Let’s look at what happens at the extremes. Two words.

Lance. Armstrong.

that'll be 7 vials for tomorrow, thanks...
that’ll be 7 vials for tomorrow, thanks…

Utter psychopath. Sociopath, even. To say he’s devious is like calling Richard Nixon ‘sneaky’. The adjectives don’t even come close.

Armstrong, like Nixon, crossed the line so thoroughly that even the knowledge that there once was a line was eradicated. They bent the truth to suit their own realities to such a degree that their reality became the truth, and thus all who opposed them opposed truth.

There are other drugs cheats in other sports but there’s never quite been one like Lance Armstrong, and there’s a reason why he managed to become so successful, both as an athlete and as a liar, in this particular sport.

Because this sport rewards the mad, the insane. It’s the premise upon which all our traditions are built. From Henri Desgrange’s wickedly brutal early Tour de France to the madness of the Classics such as Paris-Roubaix, you don’t have to be mad to be a cyclist, to paraphrase that popular office jolly, but actually you do.

Armstrong, by the way, fits Merriam-Webster’s definition #2 perfectly:

2: such unsoundness of mind or lack of understanding as prevents one from having the mental capacity required by law to enter into a particular relationship, status, or transaction or as removes one from criminal or civil responsibility

(And for the record, so do all the drugs cheats).

Finally we have the truly insane amongst us, who are worth a mention. Pantani and Vandenbroucke, may whomever bless them, were up there. Poor troubled souls who were not meant for this world, for they were far too fragile.

Another was the legendary climber Charly Gaul, the Luxembourger who won the Tour in 1958 and the Giro d’Italia in 1956 and 1959. An incredible climber, he was also a fan of amphetamines, and known to froth at the mouth during some stages.

Charly Gaul
Charly Gaul

His teammate Marcel Ernzer recalled a conversation he had with Gaul in his heyday (Gaul was known to speak of himself in the third person):

“Charly’s going to die,” said Gaul.

“Why do you say that?” asked Ernzer.

“Because Charly takes too many pills.”

“But everybody takes them.”

“Yes, but Charly a lot more than the others.”

When he quit the sport a few years later, Gaul went to live in a forest in the Ardennes, wearing the same clothes daily and known to locals to be suffering from depression. He lived as a recluse until 1983 when he somehow married and made a gradual move back into society.

Another was Jacques Anquetil. One of the true greats, the Frenchman won almost everything worth winning, including five Tour de France.

However when he retired he was known to be somewhat of an insomniac, heading off into the woods in his estate with his dog to sit quietly under the trees for hours on end.

He also – and this is truly troubling – began a ménage a trois between his wife and his step-daughter, eventually impregnating the girl, who was then only 18, and going on to marry her!

Yes, quite insane. But then again this is cycling, so, by our standards – no, still insane!

One could stretch the argument and say that both Gaul and Anquetil, and in turn VDB and Pantani, match Merriam-Webster’s definition #1:

a deranged state of the mind usually occurring as a specific disorder (as schizophrenia) .

Mad people in a mad sport. But then, I can talk. I am, after all, a cyclist. But then, so are you.

Welcome to Bedlam!

the wonderful Mr Graeme Obree

‘this is the embodiment of everything i am – no rules, no regulations… this is a form of artistic expression… the remit is to go and enthuse people to go and have a go at something… don’t sit about, cos you’re going to die… i am inspired by the fact that we are dying…’

that’s a whole bucketload of crankpunk philosophy if i ever heard one…

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he tried to leave this world more than once, but i am so glad that he is still in it…

Cycling or Psychling? The Insanity of Life on Two Wheels

Insanity

Defined by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as:

1: a deranged state of the mind usually occurring as a specific disorder (as schizophrenia)

2: such unsoundness of mind or lack of understanding as prevents one from having the mental capacity required by law to enter into a particular relationship, status, or transaction or as removes one from criminal or civil responsibility

.
3a : extreme folly or unreasonableness

3b : something utterly foolish or unreasonable

I’m going to talk a little about basketball for a moment, or, more precisely, one particular basketball player, a certain Royce White. I will, I promise, return to the sport of the shaven-legged, just hang in here for a paragraph or two.

It is, I promise, pertinent. I think. Though there is of coruse the possibility that the madness of a life on two wheels will consume me finally, before I get to the end, and then you’ll have just wasted a good ten minutes. But then if you’re reading this you’re probably a little nutso anyways, so all good…

Anyway, back to Mr. White. Mr. White is a phenomenally talented basketball player, and “plays” for the Rockets.

I put plays in inverted commas because, in truth, the 21 year old has yet to step onto the court in a Rockets jersey because he is locked in a contractual (and you could say philosophical) battle with the team’s hierarchy*, because the two parties can’t quite come to mutually acceptable terms about White’s mental illness, one that all accept does in fact exist.

White has anxiety attacks that cripple him and a fear of flying that doesn’t stop him completely from flying, but that makes it an extremely difficult and exhausting experience for him.

What he wants, in a nutshell, is to be able to appoint his own psychiatrist who will then decide before each game whether he is mentally fit to play. The Rockets say no go, fella. Hence the stalemate.

Now that’s kind of interesting, but what is really fascinating is White’s belief about mental illness across society, which, according to the US National Institute for Mental Health, affects 26% of the population.

First off, White says in a recent interview with Chuck Klosterman that the number is higher in both society and sports, stating that the percentage of players in the NBA who smoke marijuana is never taken into account, claiming that those addicted are mentally ill.

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He cites the stress caused by the modern world and its attendant problems, which is without doubt a major cause of heart attacks and deaths, as another form of mental illness. He also cites the problems caused by financial insecurity as another form.

His question, at one point in the interview, was “How many people don’t have a mental illness? But that’s what we don’t want to talk about.”

What’s this got to do with cycling? Well let’s take a look. First off, let’s say that if in American society the number of mentally ill people is at 26%, the number must be similar in most western societies, where most of the top pro riders come from.

Now let’s consider the number of prominent cyclists who have had drug problems – and I don’t mean PEDs, that would take a book and a half. Tom Boonen of course, cocaine. Frank Vandenbroucke, cocaine and alcohol, and the rest. Marco Pantani, coke by the Colombian truck load. Go back through the decades and you’ll find tale after tale of riders who took so much amphetamine that by the end they were more like drug addicts with a cycling problem than the other way around.

The Snow King, Marco Pantani

The Snow King, Marco Pantani

No doubt, our sport has its fare share of midnight monsters. Ride hard, play hard is often the motto for a sizable minority of riders.

And surely, to be even slightly into this sport of ours you have to be somewhat driven by some form of madness. First off, we shave our legs for goodness sake. Now, the pros have a reason to do so – nightly massages and frequent crashes make it essential. But what about the weekend warrior? See what I mean? Slightly nuts, for sure.

Definitely fits Mirriam-Webster’s description of insanity here:

3a : extreme folly or unreasonableness

We also have to be mad to actually go out and take the punishment we mete out to ourselves. What’s that all about? Yes it’s great to summit a hill, to fly down a descent at 85km/hr, to drop a rival or crush a young pretender.

But why do we need to do it? Personally I’ve stopped questioning why. Hour after hour of training. Banging up hills repeatedly til I’m retching. Missing out on parties and all the fun to get up at 6am to go out in the rain for 5 hours.

All I know is that, for some reason, it feels good and that’s ok by me, but I do know that essentially it is a little mad.

And that fits 3b:

3b : something utterly foolish or unreasonable

OK, but that’s the lighthearted stuff. Let’s look at what happens at the extremes. Two words.

Lance. Armstrong.

that'll be 7 vials for tomorrow, thanks...

that’ll be 7 vials for tomorrow, thanks…

Utter psychopath. Sociopath, even. To say he’s devious is like calling Richard Nixon ‘sneaky’. The adjectives don’t even come close.

Armstrong, like Nixon, crossed the line so thoroughly that even the knowledge that there once was a line was eradicated. They bent the truth to suit their own realities to such a degree that their reality became the truth, and thus all who opposed them opposed truth.

There are other drugs cheats in other sports but there’s never quite been one like Lance Armstrong, and there’s a reason why he managed to become so successful, both as an athlete and as a liar, in this particular sport.

Because this sport rewards the mad, the insane. It’s the premise upon which all our traditions are built. From Henri Desgrange’s wickedly brutal early Tour de France to the madness of the Classics such as Paris-Roubaix, you don’t have to be mad to be a cyclist, to paraphrase that popular office jolly, but actually you do.

Armstrong, by the way, fits Merriam-Webster’s definition #2 perfectly:

2: such unsoundness of mind or lack of understanding as prevents one from having the mental capacity required by law to enter into a particular relationship, status, or transaction or as removes one from criminal or civil responsibility

(And for the record, so do all the drugs cheats).

Finally we have the truly insane amongst us, who are worth a mention. Pantani and Vandenbroucke, may whomever bless them, were up there. Poor troubled souls who were not meant for this world, for they were far too fragile.

Another was the legendary climber Charly Gaul, the Luxembourger who won the Tour in 1958 and the Giro d’Italia in 1956 and 1959. An incredible climber, he was also a fan of amphetamines, and known to froth at the mouth during some stages.

Charly Gaul

Charly Gaul

His teammate Marcel Ernzer recalled a conversation he had with Gaul in his heyday (Gaul was known to speak of himself in the third person):

“Charly’s going to die,” said Gaul.

“Why do you say that?” asked Ernzer.

“Because Charly takes too many pills.”

“But everybody takes them.”

“Yes, but Charly a lot more than the others.”

When he quit the sport a few years later, Gaul went to live in a forest in the Ardennes, wearing the same clothes daily and known to locals to be suffering from depression. He lived as a recluse until 1983 when he somehow married and made a gradual move back into society.

Another was Jacques Anquetil. One of the true greats, the Frenchman won almost everything worth winning, including five Tour de France.

However when he retired he was known to be somewhat of an insomniac, heading off into the woods in his estate with his dog to sit quietly under the trees for hours on end.

He also – and this is truly troubling – began a ménage a trois between his wife and his step-daughter, eventually impregnating the girl, who was then only 18, and going on to marry her!

Yes, quite insane. But then again this is cycling, so, by our standards – no, still insane!

One could stretch the argument and say that both Gaul and Anquetil, and in turn VDB and Pantani, match Merriam-Webster’s definition #1:

a deranged state of the mind usually occurring as a specific disorder (as schizophrenia) .

Mad people in a mad sport. But then, I can talk. I am, after all, a cyclist. But then, so are you.

Welcome to Bedlam!

*Royce has since been released by the Rockets.

This article originally appeared in the March 2013 edition of Spin Magazine.

old bikes vs. new: are we under-appreciative of the modern machine?

as is often his wont, crankpunk was sat at a local coffee shop a few weeks back, before the back got crocked, talking to a friend after a training ride. weʼd just done 150km and were discussing the differences between our bikes, the ride quality and comfort, the aesthetics, carbon lay-ups and so on and so on.

i asked my friend, an experienced ex-pro who has ridden and raced many bikes over the years, which bike, of all the bikes heʼd owned, was his favorite.

“1984 Bianchi,” was his immediate reply.

i wasnʼt surprised that this accomplished bike racer would choose a bike that was now more than 25 years old and cost a fraction of a modern bike over his Shimano Di2, slick 50mm carbon wheel-equipped, ultra-modern carbon bike that sat glistening in the sunlight just a meter or two away.

“you?’ he asked. without hesitation:

“1987 Battaglin.”

a corker!

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