do it right
Confessed dopers Tyler Hamilton, Levi Leipheimer and George Hincapie are rumoured to be planning a surprise party for Stuart O’Grady, welcoming him to the club.
It’s a very select club, one that refused entry to the likes of Jan Ulrich, Floyd Landis and Riccardo Ricco.
In Ulrich’s case it seems he crossed the line by taking recreational drugs (ecstasy) and having a drinking problem – so he wasn’t ‘just’ a doper, he was also not quite presentable.
Ricco? He made the mistake of getting busted too early in his career (and not just once), and by not being ‘contrite’ enough when he was busted.
Not that it matters if the contrition is real or not.
And Landis? Well, he was just a mess from the off, got too big for his boots, got on Armstrong’s wrong side (many now see that the wrong side is in fact his only side) and got busted at a time when is just wasn’t fashionable to do so.
The Great White American Hopes in Floyd’s days were not supposed to be dirty – he was, as Ricco was once described by Mark Cavendish with a naivety that strayed well into stupidity, one bad apple in an otherwise healthy basket of bright, shiny and very clean apples.
A crock? Yep, obviously, but the majority of the cycling public smelt that load back then and declared it to be smelling of roses.
How times have changed.
Such are the levels of envy among former pros who did in fact dope, but never got caught, at the post-confessional financial successes of riders like Hincapie and possibly now O’Grady (if enough people buy his book), that many are thinking of making a comeback.
Of loading up on EPO, getting caught, then getting busted before they take a six-month career-ending ban to go off and write a book.
It’s interesting that O’Grady has titled his book Battle Scars. I can’t help think that the choice of title has been heavily influenced by the news of his doping.
Had he finished his career on the bike and not been exposed, how different it all could have been.
From hero to zero, so very quickly.
He says he’s just enjoying “being normal”, but I don’t know many ‘normal’ people that profited from doping (he says just once), got busted, wrote a book, made profits from that book and then headed out on a national book tour.
That’s not normal, not in my book (and no need to excuse that terrible pun).
In an interview with CyclingNews, O’Grady said, “We had pretty much wrapped up the book when my personal situation came out so obviously we had to rewrite it a bit and add a few chapters.
“It will be interesting to see how people take it on board. I just hope people can put into context and try to understand what it was like back then.”
So, the “extra chapters” – ie, the truth would about him doping and cheating – may never have been included had he not been busted.
Instead, his devoted fans would have read the ‘clean’ version, but now it is in there with ‘yes I did dope but please try to take it all in context’.
But wait – that was then, this is now. There is zero excuse for the fact that until the news of his positive came out he was quite prepared to bury it. That wasn’t ‘then’, it’s very much now.
So he was still willing to connive and perpetrate fraud by hoisting a blood, guts and glory but no mention of doping cos ‘I never did it’ tale onto a fawning public.
He also says he never had any idea that Armstrong was doping. Well, to counter that, anyone who has ever raced a bike kinda wondered, even if they were really into the Texan’s feats, if the big guy was maybe, just maybe, digging into Dr Ferrari’s bag of tricks to aid his superhuman performances.
Do we need any more wool foisted over our eyes? Do we need anymore ‘confessional’ books that make money for the confessors?
What ever happened to the ‘Son of Sam’ law that was enacted in the USA and Australia, to prevent criminals from profiting from their illegal activity?
Is it time that doping in professional sport be made a criminal activity on every country with an Olympic body?
I’m sick of these guys rolling out the books and the films and the Gran Fondos and the double toaster sets.
Vote with your wallets. Don’t buy this book.
This isn’t a new story. It’s been kicking around now since the end of January.
Yet there’s been very little commentary written on the deal that will see last year’s surprise Vuelta a Espana winner of 2013, Chris Horner, twinkling his little magic toes all over the World Tour again this year.
I haven’t written more than a dozen words on Horner, ever, and I wasn’t going to write anything this time. You may be of the camp that thinks ‘Good on him’ – after all there aren’t many 41-year-olds who’ve won a Grand Tour for the first time in their life.
Well, there has never been another, in fact.
The magnitude of Horner’s feat did not go unnoticed, though the reaction to it was a little less in awe than I’m sure he would have wished.
The cycling forums went mad with all kinds of allegations and suspicions that were largely to be expected.
Horner’s win though came at a point in the history of this sport when older riders were suddenly finding themselves without contracts in greater numbers than ever before.
If you were older and had any kind of suspicion of doping infringements lingering around you, like Luis Leon Sanchez, then boom, you were cut loose and cast into the wilderness.
Horner was rumoured to be going to Christina Watches for some time until the news that he was being welcomed on to Lampre-Merida, a move that some in the UCI would have been less than thrilled by.
See, there is something about Horner that just doesn’t smell right. I’m not saying anything new there, but it’s still worth looking over the reasons why for a moment.
First of all, a little known rider (outside of the USA) named Matt DiCanio went on record as far back as 2005 to say that another rider, Phil Zajicek, was offered help by Horner to purchase EPO and HGH when both rode for the American professional team Saturn.
DiCanio has also gone on record to say that Horner once said many years ago “It isn’t cheating if everyone is doing it.”
Secondly, Horner’s blood values from the 2013 Vuelta “fit with the patterns that anti-doping authorities look for as a sign of cheating.” Not my words, those of Michael Puchowicz in Outside Magazine.
The article states that Hornet’s hemoglobin concentration is simply too high to be natural. The other marker is the lowered reticulocyte count which is another sign of the use of EPO.
Puchowicz’s observations were seen by Shane Stokes of VeloNation, who passed them on to anti-doping authority Robin Parisotto, who works with the Athlete Passport Management Unit in Lausanne, France.
“It is not 100 percent clear that there is anything untoward happening,” Parisotto told Velonation, “[but] there’s certainly unusual patterns.”
He compares Horner’s bio passport to other profiles he has seen working as an anti-doping authority and concludes that “…most of those that come across to us are suspicious. Most are there for a reason. What I have seen with this particular profile is similar to those other profiles.”
Why didn’t the UCI investigate this? No idea.
Is any of this enough reason to suspend Horner? My gut says no, but if an anti-doping authority is stating that Horner’s values are suspicious why isn’t the UCI investigating?
One person who is probably asking himself these very questions and who has far more of a divested interest in all this than just about anyone else is another American rider – or should I say ex-rider – Craig Lewis.
Some of you may remember the now 29-year-old rider, who has just announced his retirement.
At 19, riding in the Tour de Georgia, Lewis was hit by a car and suffered two punctured lungs, internal bleeding and several fractures all over his body, almost passing away as a result.
Months of recovery followed before he returned to the pro ranks with Slipstream before moving on to HTC, where he won the team time trial at the 2011 Giro d’Italia. Days before the end of that race he broke a femur, forcing him out and eventually on to the Pro Continental Champion Systems team, which folded just last year.
Then he got a berth on the Lampre-Merida team. Well, he would have had a place there, had the management not decided to go and sign a 41-year-old American called Chris Horner.
The same guy who says he saw no doping on Bruyneel’s teams, the same guy who defended Armstrong until it became impossible even for his greatest apologists to do so, the same guy about whom all those rumours have been flying around.
“I thought we had already hit rock bottom, but it keeps going down,” Lewis said in an interview recently with Cyclingnews. “The sport just doesn’t market itself, and it needs some big changes – a lot has to happen for the sport to be appealing for companies to sponsor. It’s not sustainable the way it is.”
With riders like Horner still finding places to ply their trade, you’d have to agree with Lewis.
yes, it’s that time of year again, you know the racing has really begun when i’m back reporting on PEZ…
check out my take on Dubai, Qatar and what it means for the Classics right here…
brilliant article here from Suze Clemitson in The Guardian, thoroughly investigating the links between the pressure the sport brings, doping and depression.
“Perhaps Obree put it best: “It’s not that sport makes people depressed. A lot of people who suffer from depression have a tendency to have obsessive behaviour – that’s why more of them exist in the top end of sport. The sport is actually a self-medicating process of survival.”
is it just the pros though? i don’t think so.
this may seem a bit patronising to many but judging by how many riders i see wobbling through corners, braking on the apex, changing their lines on the way in and not pedaling when at the front with others behind when on the straights thus forcing others to brake unnecessarily, it might be worth going on a little about this crucial aspect of riding a bike.
why is it crucial? simple: going downhill at speed is where you are most likely, if you do crash, to be seriously injured or even killed.
if you do find yourself at the front with riders behind you on a descent, always pedal on the straighter sections, unless you are in a tucked position and going so fast that pedaling is redundant. there is a case to be made even here though that you should still be pedaling even if you’re not actually putting any force into the pedals, as it lets others behind know that you are not braking unnecessarily.
if you find yourself at the front and the road is too narrow for others to pass but you feel unsafe at going at that speed, pull to one side, then brake to slow, and let others pass you safely.
brake on the way into the corner, before you reach it, then release the brake and coast through the apex, pedaling once the road allows. braking on the apex is sometimes necessary but only if you have misjudged the approach to the corner. how to stop doing that? practise, practise, and then practise some more. or get to the back.
this will also stop you wobbling and changing line on the corner itself.
finally – and this is one of the best bits of advice i was ever given by that salty old bike dog Roger, who took me under his slightly stinky wing when i was 15 – put your weight on the outside pedal with a straight leg, and do the same with the hand on the inside drop, keeping the upper body straight as you can. this means that with the hand you can make micro adjustments and have greater control, as it is the bike that changes angle to the road and not the rider’s upper body – where most of your weight is.
if you need to practise this, i recommend over-exaggerating the movement til you gain confidence.
where to see a brilliant example of this?
whenever Spartacus goes downhill, as here in his TT bike, you’ll see just that. see how he shifts his weight and the angle of the bike with his outer leg and inner hand, only puts his weight into the corner once the apex has passed and he knows he won’t come off, and chooses a line and commits to it.
then go watch Wiggins, the Schlecks or Pinot to see how not to go downhill.
here’s a decent ‘how to’ on descending.
by crankpunk. this article was originally slated to appear in one of the leading MTB magazines but due to issues with images, it never saw the light of day. bit gutted about that. anyway, here it is.
all images by Erik Peterson.
He was the last to arrive, bedraggled and leathered, haggard and weathered, skin red where it had been exposed and almost ghost-white everywhere else, lips cracked and eyes shot with fine, wayward lines of blood. Had it not been for the lycra you’d have guessed he’d spent the past 5 days at sea, battered at night from raging waves and scorched in the daytime by the fiercest sun.
Last he may have been but he rode into camp that penultimate day not as a pauper but as a king, like a man who had crossed a desert, forded rivers and ascended to the heavens. Which, of course, he had. The camp, most already showered and fed long before, watched the blurred silhouette on the horizon grow until it became a man on a bike, then whooped and hollered as he crossed the line with an exhausted one-armed salute to his tribe.
Eleven hours it took him to complete the sixth stage of the 2013 Genco Mongolia Bike Challenge. Eleven long, tumultuous hours over rocky track, grassy climbs and hairy descents, through some of the wildest and most stunning bare landscape on the planet, past yaks, camels and wild horses, watched over by giant buzzards and eagles soaring like watchful keepers of the steppes up above.
George Patterson was one of over a hundred competitors taking part in the Genco MBC, and at 60 was one of the oldest.
“What brought you here, George?” I asked him one night as we chewed over our recently-slaughtered mutton, accompanied by mounds of boiled potatoes, shoving it in on spoons piled high, ravenous dogs that we’d become.
“My 60th was coming up and I didn’t fancy two weeks in Bali, so I thought ‘Screw it – let’s go ride Mongolia.’”
The idea for the original Mongolia Bike Challenge emerged from the intelligent, slightly disturbing (in that good disturbing way) mind of Italian Willy Mulonia, who runs the adventure travel company Progetto Avventura.
Whilst in Mongolia running a biking expedition, Willy, who was on the hunt for a venue for a multi-stage MTB race, fell in love with the wild, open expanses of the legendary Ghengis Kahn’s homeland.
“It was love at first sight,” he said. “I knew this was the perfect place to hold a mountain bike stage race. It also met my most important criteria – it was going to be a huge personal challenge to organize a race like the Mongolia Bike Challenge.”
That challenge amounted to a 5-year odyssey of several trips to Mongolia and what Willy estimates was over 10,000 kilometers of riding to select the ideal route for the first MBC, which was held in 2010. It eventually grew to become the collective vision of his excellent support team too, all of whom recognized the gift that Willy had bestowed upon them by including them in his dream.
Willy, an effervescent and charismatic character with a gleam of mischief ever-present in his twinkling green eyes, told me that the real challenge in deciding each year’s route lay not in the scarcity of potential MTB trails in the country but in the abundance of them.
“There are no fences, no barriers, no boundaries,” he explained. “You can literally ride in any direction, wherever you want. It is incredible. So the hardest thing is choosing the best route, and deciding what to leave out.”
And what a route it was, leaving none of us who took part in this epic encounter – I still can’t think of it as a ‘race’, as that title just doesn’t seem to do it justice – in any doubt as to why it’s titled a ‘challenge’. Nine hundred and fifteen kilometers with a muscle-searing, tendon-wrenching and lung-busting 12,990 meters of climbing.
At the top of mountains too impossibly steep to ride all the way up, waist-high in icy fast-flowing rivers, or when met by the eerie, bleached out bones of dead beasts that littered our trailside, Willy’s name was muttered, hollered and sometimes screamed out loud accompanied by swear words that would make even the toughest sailor blush.
Every day we each scaled our own personal Everests, crossed the scorched Sahara, rounded The Horn in a leaky sailboat and hacked our way up the Amazon with blunt machetes – venturing to places within our own selves exactly as Willy intended.
“I want people to go outside of themselves and to see what they find when they get back,” he said at the beginning of the event. And that is what we did, despite the varying levels of ability and fitness that was scattered amongst the 108 competitors that hailed from 32 nations. We all suffered, and through that suffering we returned aglow, if frayed at the edges and creased like an oft-thumbed book.
This was deep. It was beautiful, harrowing at times, incredible, awesome in the true sense of that much-maligned word, and just plain old humbling….
My own personal adventure began a week earlier, the day I arrived in Mongolia and headed to a hostel with luggage and bike bag in tow the Monday before the start of the event.
Though I live now in Taiwan, I’d departed for the land of the steppes some 12 hours earlier from Singapore, where I’d been racing in their National Championships. Having won the Individual Time Trial the day before and riding hard to help my teammate Tjarco Cuppens win the road race the next day, I knew my form was probably at its best of the whole season, but I had reason to be cautiously fearful of the MBC, as it had been 22 years since I’d last raced MTB.
At the ripe old age of 41 I’ve been racing professionally on the UCI Asia Tour on the road for four years, though I’d only returned to cycling at 37, having left the sport completely at 19. As a junior in the UK I raced road mainly and a few MTB events, but nothing of any real note, the off-road side of things then having been in its infancy and with only a smattering of events in England being held at that time.
I love road racing but I’d somewhat fallen out of love with the UCI circuit. I needed a new challenge, and then I heard of the MBC. Immediately I knew I had to go, as a trip to Mongolia had been on my to-do list since I’d seen a documentary on Genghis Kahn when I was 14. The wide-open spaces, the canopy of stars unaffected by city lights and the wild horses just stole my imagination completely.
I contacted my sponsor Lapierre and asked them if they could supply me with an MTB, and three weeks later – just two months before the MBC began – it arrived. A beautiful, huge 29er that felt like I was atop a Hummer. Hitting some of the local trails (and the local dirt, novice as I was), I was hooked. This was fun.
But my first day in Mongolia brought influenza, with my body unable to adapt from the 40 degree heat of the tropics to the 12 degree cold and wet I flew into. Two days in bed followed, which was bad enough, but to make matters worse, in the early morning before the race a serious bout of food poisoning hit me.
Eight trips to the chilly toilet followed before the race had even begun, and a lot more out on the trail for the next two days, to the point where my fellow competitors barely recognized me without my bib shorts around my ankles. Trust me, in Mongolia, bushes and trees are damn scarce. I had no choice but to drop and go right by the trail!
I lost time by the bucketload those first days but I have to say, Mongolia provided the most magnificent toilet views I’ve ever encountered…
From Stage 4 though I began to get into a groove, with some of my form finally showing. A tenth place on Stage 6 was followed by a 5th on Stage 7. I was hugely impressed by the engines on these MTBers though. Eschewing the idea of riding in a peloton, they simply got their heads down and ploughed. I couldn’t believe the way they held the same threshold pace hour after hour.
The men’s race was dominated on an almost daily basis by a group of six riders from whom the eventual winner emerged, Canada’s Cory Wallace, defending his 2012 title. On the women’s side of things, Catherine Williamson of England put in a performance of masterful domination that left the others in her wake.
Each day’s pre-race preparation included the usual stuff. Bike check, filling water bottles, stuffing pockets with enough gels and energy bars to fuel four astronauts on a space station for 3 months, and packing the mirror.
That’s right, a mirror. The rule book stated quite clearly that unless you lined up with a pack that included a mirror, a foil blanket and a whistle, you would not be racing. I soon learned that the mirror wasn’t actually for checking the make-up before the podium as my vain self had originally imagined, but that in fact it was to signal any rescue vehicles that might be searching for you in case you went off trail.
But then, the whole thing was kind of off trail! As Willy said, there are just so many trails that had it not been for the excellent sign posting that the MBC team got out there every morning before we rolled through, there would have been riders scattered all over the steppe, littering the landscape wrapped up in their foil like human candy bars.
For the most part we rode on double-track, along hard packed earth trodden down by the 4x4s that provide most of the transportation out there. Some of the hard-core MTBers like Sonya Looney often lamented the lack of single-track and said it was more like riding a road race than anything – which suited the roadie in me just fine.
But what a place to ride. Through Mongolian grass land shepherded at times by packs of up to a hundred or so wild horses galloping by our side, sometimes on both, starting off in a pack that would eventually be shredded apart by the pace of the front men, with the wind often blowing the knee-high grass horizontally to cover the tracks.
The hills were vicious, Willy sending us up trails that even the vans struggled to get up, often over single-track goat and cattle paths, traversing the mountains in countless switchbacks that tested skill and nerve in equal measure.
I spent the first few days with my fingers cramping from braking so hard on the winding, super-fast descents, until on Day 4 I just let go of the brakes on a mad impulse and barreled down the trails like a near-suicidal yak on wheels. Flash floods of old meant that in some places the trail in front of you would become a gaping chasm of a meter or two or even more, forcing you to jump for your life. With the wind blowing and the grass obscuring the gaps until the last second, several riders came a cropper on these descents.
One had his shoulder pop out after a nasty spill. He got up, popped it back in himself and carried on, clearly in pain but refusing to let his challenge end prematurely.
One day we hit a ridge line whose trail was so swamped with a black, viscous mud that progress slowed to under 10 km per hour on the relatively flat edge of the plateau. I charged on regardless, hitting deep pockets and seeing my front wheel disappear more than once, sending me head over arse twice and covered in the primordial sludge by the day’s end.
And then there were the rivers. Startlingly clear, fast moving flows of water with rocks underfoot, if you took a tumble in one of those you were frozen all day.
‘Epic’ is one of those overused words but this truly was that. It was a route in a land so big that there was a gnawing fear at the back of your mind the whole time, because you know people die out there. It wouldn’t take much to go off trail, and there are so few stand-out geographical features that it all blends into one, massive, beautiful rolling expanse of space. It would be nigh-on impossible, without GPS, to know where you were and how to get back.
Riding through Mongolia was, I can honestly say, one of the most profound experiences of my life. I’m still decompressing from the experience. The land, the camaraderie, the warmth of the locals, the racing, the animals, it just swept me away and took me on a journey that will stay with me forever.
I bid you, if you have the time, the inclination and the determination, go take up the Mongolia Bike Challenge. It hurt like hell and it scared me sometimes, but I made many new friends and loved it, somehow! In the end, it was worth every second.
by Kate Smart
Team kits, men’s cycling fashions, call it what you will, but the time has come to give the new 2014 kits of the pro teams, the Smart treatment.
I love a bit of retro and red goes faster
The 2014 Lotto-Belisol kit is Retro-licious. I love it. Looking at the promo photos for the kit, it’s almost like being a kid again.
My only criticism would be the colour as I have a personal preference for a more fire engine red.
Team Katusha has always been the red for me, although this year, they seem to have toned it down a little. Don’t they know, ‘red goes faster?’
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend
I love diamonds. Of course I do, I’m a woman.
And there is no better diamond pattern on a cycling kit, than Garmin Sharp. The American team are taking the notion, ‘cycling is the new golf’, seriously with the golf style diamond lines, too.
The blue is also darling. It’s more nuanced than a pastel or a sky blue, but not too deep to be dark and depressing. This is surely going to be the easiest kit to accessorise with.
Astana’s use of a richer blue also deserves a special mention.
Their pale, pastel blue of previous years has had a refreshing facelift although it does border slightly onto Avatar alien blue and let’s be honest, that’s three hours of our lives we’ll never get back.
Speaking of blue, FDJ are on to a winner!
Black is the new black
Omega-Pharma Quickstep has increased their percentage of black with this year’s kit.
A team representative has described the kit as ‘elegant and stylish at the same time’.
Melbourne is a city where there is only one occasion when a woman does not wear black and it is her wedding day. Wedding guests are also permitted a rare foray into colour.
In fact the city’s motto is, ‘got any blacker’, so clearly I am an expert, by birth on if a black outfit is elegant and stylish.
OPQS can be thankful that I completely concur with their statement.
The OPQS 2014 kit is cycling’s equivalent of the LBD (little black dress).
I’m absolutely loving it.
Sky has decided to continue on with, well practically the same black on black, with one exception.
Keeping this in mind, there are some rules to wearing black and the first of these is to steer clear of the sheer, everything including my nipples are on show.
I’m not sure what’s more offensive, the barely there time trail kit or the porn star pose of Chris Froome modeling the offensive kit.
Avert your eyes, the pain is too great.
I firmly believe that we should all cover up, at all times.
I know so many of you will be reading this, thinking, ‘oh, she’s so lucky, she lives in Australia where it’s always hot and the hot Hugh Jackman type men get around with their shirts off, all of the time, and blah, blah, blah.’
Let me dispel a few of these myths.
- It’s freezing in Melbourne right now. Seriously, winter was warming than this.
- There is only one Hugh Jackman and most Aussie women desperately want more Australian men to put some Goddam clothes on.
Sky’s time trial kit borders on obscene and here’s hoping common sense and decency will prevail.
Either that or a nasty case of gravel rash from a half decent fall will convince the Sky powers that be to get their riders to cover up.
Once again, BMC are doing black with red well.
I’m a lifelong supporter of the Essendon Football Club (AFL) and hence am unable to say anything other than black and red make a wonderful colour combination.
Navy blue is so stately
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, I do like the deep blue of Movistar and I’m pleased there has been little change to this handsome and manly kit, with the fun fluoro green M.
Adding to my approval of the use of this stately deep blue is Australia’s Orica GreenEdge.
These are two riding kits you could go to the polo in. They say mature, worldly and upper class.
It works because they’re French
I have a little confession.
I have always liked the AG2R kit.
I like it because the teal offsets the brown perfectly and with the inclusion of brown shoulders to match the brown shorts, the look has been perfected.
Quoted on the velonews website, AG2R La Mondiale general manager Vincent Lavenu said, “I think this is both an aesthetic and technical success” and I think he’s right.
It stands to reason that the Frenchies would concern themselves with ensuring aesthetics are combined with technical consideration.
Kermit does a wheelie
Well, I’m sure Sagan will do at least one wheelie this year and possibly a chicken dance and I’m quite sure he will keep his hands to himself as he cycles through the pro-tour in his richer green Cannondale kit.
I like this green and I bet Belkin wishes they had of got in there first. I can’t help but think Belkin arrived too late at the clothing suppliers and had to settle for second best green.
Their kit really does lack imagination.2014 should be another exciting year on the road for the pro-tour riders.
It’s also turned out to be an exciting year for stylish cycling kits.
Kate Smart is a Melbourne based freelance writer. She writes mainly on cycling, although tennis and Australian Rules Football (AFL) are her other topics of interest. She has a strong anti-doping stance and is most interested in the institutional cultures that encourage and foster such transgressions. After a lifetime on the sidelines, she discovered the joys of getting off the couch and getting involved. She’s completed a couple of half marathons, very slowly, and rides her bike in the same manner. You can find her on twitter
by Kate Smart… who is Australian, if you didn’t know…
Road cycling’s increasing popularity in Australia can be linked to our recent successes in Europe, especially since Cadel Evans won the TdF in 2011.
After enjoying the Bay Crits series from the sidelines last week, it struck me as somewhat odd the sport hasn’t traditionally had a bigger following here.
We Aussies like to believe in a myth that runs along the general lines of ‘the fair go’. We like to think we are an egalitarian bunch that lives in a traditionally classless society.
This logic states that our society has not been born out of an ideological drive for equality but rather that its formation has more to do with rejecting the society of our colonial founders. I should point out that I don’t agree with this myth, but its presence has always hovered in the background of Australian life.
It could be argued one of our biggest sports, Australian Rules Football, was built on this egalitarianism.
The teams were all based in the Melbourne suburbs they took their names from and they provided a sense of community and belonging to residents.
Interestingly, most of the teams in the early days of the competition were based in the working class and even slum areas of Melbourne: Collingwood, Carlton, South Melbourne, Footscray and North Melbourne, to name a few.
Australian Rules Football had little elitism.
The players all lived and worked locally and fans strongly identified with their team through their links to the clubs.
The team you followed said everything about your background, where you lived and these days, it speaks about where you were from.
My point in giving you this brief history is that those who played football and those who followed football were living in the same circles.
Even now as the AFL is becoming ever more professionalized, there are still those strong connections between the game, players and fans.
It is these strong community bonds and the presence of the game’s stars at local football clinics and development days, that the AFL is able to maintain its popularity and more importantly, this is their strategy for growing the game in the rugby strongholds of the North.
Given that our code of football can attribute much of its passionate following to its accessibility between fans, players and the clubs, it is then surprising that cycling in this country doesn’t enjoy the same following.
Cycling’s history in Europe is firmly entrenched in its working class origins. It is a sport that has been built on its accessibility, through the simple transportation device that a bike is.
Not only did the four day Mitchelton Bay Classic (the Bay Crits) provide fans with a fabulous opportunity to witness some impressive and aggressive racing, but the close proximity between the teams, riders and fans suggests that cycling could draw on the aforementioned parallels of the early days of football as a tool for greater spectatorship.
Road cycling has few barriers between spectators and participants and this makes a refreshing change from other sports that are becoming increasingly corporatized.
Watching the manic crit racing, spectators could hear the shifting of the gears, the whirl of the spinning wheels and the organization of the peloton.
The riders could be heard yelling at each other or their they could be seen making hand gestures past their team (Jayco, of course) caravan, a-la Matt Goss, who was annoyed when the peloton regrouped late in the final elite men’s race.
Watching road cycling allows spectators to get up very close to the action and the excitement of racing becomes infectious.
Even ‘Mountain Bike Boy’ enjoyed the racing, although the MAMILs [middle aged men in lycra, for those not in the loop- cp.] sipping lattes in Williamstown’s cafes did give him some cause for concern.
MAMILS aside, cycling provides spectators with a rare privilege. There are no seats in the nose bleeds, only standing room or bring your own chair room.
Whether it be watching cyclists race past, jostling for position in a crit or watching an individual time trail or stage race, the thrill of the motion of a peddling athlete, the sound of gears clicking or the horror of a crash, cycling is the most egalitarian sport in the 21st century and it is this sense of equality that draws fans back for more.