I was delighted by comments in the pro cycling press this week from Belgian rider Thomas De Gendt – the most medieval sounding of all the cyclists.
Prior to this year’s edition of La Fleche Wallonne, De Gendt was urging race organisers to move the finishing line, to prevent another inevitable win by Alejandro Valverde. I say ‘delighted’, because I thoroughly enjoy viewing Valverde (above) as the pantomime villain of pro-cycling.
The fairness (or otherwise) of De Gendt’s suggestion plays second fiddle to the idea that the bad news might be delivered last-minute to the swarthy Spaniard, as he rolls confidently up to the start line.
As it happened, the organisers ignored the suggestions and stuck with the usual sprint up the steep climb of the Mur de Huy.
And Valverde duly won, of course, for the fourth year in succession.
Fair play to him.
But this moving-of-the-goalposts did get me wondering where we might end up. What other tweaks might be in the pipeline to shake up cycling and make the occasionally predictable the entirely unpredictable?
It’s no secret that the non-English speaking cycling world is a bit fed up with the dominance of Team Sky, and Chris Froome, at the Tour de France.
It’s the money, the slick marketing, the waggly elbows, and the weird spider-monkey hunch of Froome on the bike – a style accentuated by those fast-spinning high-cadence legs of his.
All this moved some French fans to throw urine in his face at the Tour de France a couple of years back. Which was harsh.
Could we be on the verge of seeing riders having, along with post-race drug tests, their cadence data monitored for suspicious values of 100 rpm and above?
Would this then lead to a disqualification, a ban, or even further cups of urine thrown in the face (depending how draconian the authorities get)?
Worrying times for the Team Sky success machine.
Sagan has long been winning bike races.
All the best sports science, however, is now suggesting that the hairier he gets, the more numerous and more prestigious the wins.
Like Samson – of ‘The Bible’ fame – he appears to be deriving power from a set of wonderfully flowing locks. The cycling authorities are rumoured to be drafting legislation to level the playing field as we speak.
Known as the ‘Delilah Rule’, this new regulation will see Sagan subject to random out-of-competition hair appointments, with a view to controlling his magnificent mane and giving the others a chance.Embed from Getty Images
“Isn’t this conclusive proof that you’re making this stuff up for the sake of a whimsical blog post?”
Well, no. No it isn’t.
My ‘sources’ tell me that 2017 has already featured covert trimming of the Sagan beard by undercover male grooming specialists, in a bid to test the plausibility of this ‘Samson theory’.
Results so far demonstrate a clear link. Expect Lord Sagan to appear in public with a sensible ‘short back and sides’ any day now.
Must be this tall to ride
In January each year, the pro cycling season kicks off in Australia.
And each year, miniature Aussie sprinter Caleb Ewan sweeps all before him.
This is partly due to Ewan clearly targeting these early season races on home turf, and significantly due to the aerodynamic advantage he derives from his gnome-like 165 centimetre stature.
Much as the Aussie cycling public are happy to see one of their own dominating, the cycling authorities seem likely to intervene.
Rather like the restrictions placed against fairground rides the Tour Down Under will, in future, be decorated with roadside ‘you must be this tall to ride…’ signs.
Early prototypes suggest a cardboard cut-out of a smiling Marcel Kittel holding a hand at around chest height, as the recognised international guideline.
And finally, and perhaps most obviously, surely nothing would even things up as effectively as weight handicaps – as in horse racing – on the mountain stages of the Grand Tour stage races.
Whether this will involve the force-feeding of particularly skinny cyclists, or simply slipping bags of sugar (the internationally recognised measure of a hefty weight) into their jersey pockets, remains to be seen.
Russian rider Ilnur Zakarin, who has reportedly not been allowed near a square meal for over three years, is leading calls for access to mandatory all-you-can-eat buffets after every bike race.
“This is ultimately about producing a better spectacle for the fans,” he is quoted as saying, “and also I am REALLY BLOODY HUNGRY!”