pro cycling

Marcel Kittel and the illusion of speed

As anyone who saw the sprint finish on Stage 1 of the Dubai Tour recently will confirm, Marcel Kittel is back. More to the point, so is that magnificent hair.

kittel hair
Kittel and his hair (Image: via The Cycling Podcast on Twitter)

Kittel is quick – we all know that – but the hair is the follicular equivalent of go-faster stripes. Even when it’s under his helmet you know it’s there, and his rivals know it’s there. It’s a psychological marginal gain. Short of painting flames down the side of his bike, there is no better way of presenting the illusion of speed. And when you combine the illusion of speed with the reality of actual speed, what you end up with is one very fast bike rider.

Although it’s not my style to point fingers and single out individuals for derision, American Tyler Farrar could learn a thing or two. Am I the only person to have noticed that, for some time now, he has been sporting what can only be described as a ponytail atop his bonce?

Off the bike he seems to be adopting a look last seen gaining respect on the Seattle grunge scene of the early 90’s. I could sense Tyler’s disappointment upon the launch of his team’s (Dimension Data) new kit for 2016, when it became apparent that his suggestion of a plaid lumberjack design had been rejected in favour of something more, well, black and white.

He doesn’t even have the excuse that his hair is tucked up safely away from public view under a helmet for much of the time – we can see the pony’s tail poking out the back and flailing in the wind. And anyway, we’ve already established with the Kittel example that the performance aspect of a rider’s hairstyle of choice is not dulled by encasing it in bike helmet.

Of course, there is one very stylish Gallic elephant in the room when it comes to the great pro-cyclist/ponytail debate.

Two words for you: Laurent Fignon.

In the early eighties, as Bernard Hinault’s brutal reign of success began to fade, it was Laurent Fignon who stepped into the breach. He had the professorial wire rimmed glasses, the sporting arrogance that only a French man with an extravagant talent could possess, and that blond ponytail/headband combo.

Embed from Getty Images

Take some time to familiarise yourself with his stylish and completely dominant win at the 1984 Tour de France, his second Tour win by the tender age of 23, and you will understand how he managed to legitimise the ponytail.

The word ‘aplomb’ springs to mind.

As a pro-cyclist, if you sport a ponytail you are choosing to draw comparison with the mighty Fignon. This is what is commonly known as a losing battle.

Judging by his early season form, the same might be said about attempting to out-sprint Marcel Kittel this year.


15 comments on “Marcel Kittel and the illusion of speed

  1. For some unknown reason I never appreciated Fignon’s talents at the time, reading his (highly recommended) book, “We Were Young and Carefree” was a revelation. An immense talent, who rode with great panache, sorely missed and somewhat under-valued. I’ve learned to forgive him the ponytail – and even f the hideous Castorama kit he claimed to have designed himself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That book is one of the best cycling books written for my money. His character just jumps off the pages. He was such a bold rider, and the 1984 tour was his masterpiece. As you say – sorely missed.


      • gerry miller

        I remember his last commentaries before he died on French TV coverage of the Tour – his voice was cracking up so much that he sometimes couldn’t finish what he was saying – but what he was saying was still in his inimitable style. His book isn’t too difficult to read in French if you want to practise.

        Liked by 1 person

      • He certainly had his own style. When I finally get around to learning French properly perhaps i’ll give the book a try!


  2. Watching the documentary Clean Spirit, a team member of Kittel’s said there is actually a certain sound when he coming down the sprint line . . . almost like a locomotive. Like Sagan, I think he’s good for the sport. Good post!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Greg higgins

    I would very much like to see young Caleb Ewan and the rest of the top sprint gang duke it out in a sprint series, but I guess that will never happen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Me too. I have a feeling Orica Green Edge might protect Ewan a bit this year and pick and choose his races. I hear he’s doing the Giro d’Italia though…


  4. Oh my goodness, I guess I have never really looked at a picture of Marcel Kittel without his helmet on…because wow, does he ever look like my youngest brother right down to the hairstyle. My brother has said before that he was adopted, maybe he was right all along and he is actually Marcel’s younger brother. Thank you so much for this post, now I know the truth 😀 He is into basketball and soccer right now but I will try to get him into cycling, surely with those genes and the hair (most importantly the hair) he will have a knack for the sport.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post 🙂 I remember watching Marcel sign on at York Racecourse for the TdeF and even then his hair was as bouffant as it is above and we were a good 40 metres away; he needs a ‘helment’ – the helmet worn by Zac Braff in Scrubs so he didn’t crush his hair on the way to work!
    And nobody today could pull off the ‘Scientists’ pony-tail, but kudos to anybody who is trying to look like him, rest his soul…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Just another day on the bike for Bernie – ragtime cyclist

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