the egalitarianism of cycling

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.

mullet over…

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.

Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling’s Giorgia Bronzini, first non-Aussie winner of the women's Bay Crit series
Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling’s Giorgia Bronzini, first non-Aussie winner of the women’s Bay Crit series

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.

Author: Lee Rodgers

Cycling coach, race organiser, former professional cyclist and the original CrankPunk.

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