When you’re in your forties and you have a life, and a mortgage, and perspective, and a feeling that no-one really has a clue what they’re doing and we’re all making it up as we go along, your definition of a “hero” changes.
The bar is raised.
We’re talking substance and moral fibre.
For some twenty-seven year-old bike racer to be an actual hero to me is going to take some doing. They’d have to ride like Sagan, look like Elvis, and talk like Martin Luther King.
The mythical Sagan/Presley/King hybrid doesn’t currently exist.
Not only that, a couple of years back the sport was looking worrying bereft of riders who would even slot into the variety of brackets below hero. Character. Icon. Entertainer. Enigma. Personality.
They were all retired, or retiring. Evans, Boonen, Cancellara, Contador, Millar, Wiggins, Hushovd, Schleck(s), Voeckler, Purito, Hesjedal.
I’d tune in to the bike race to be confronted by a swathe of box-fresh European kids with names I didn’t recognise and personalities I couldn’t locate.
I think it was a timing issue.
All our departing favourites had baggage and the newcomers hadn’t had chance to build up a back story.
Think about Cancellara and any number of mental images involving cobbles spring to mind. Consider Millar, spread-eagled on the Tarmac amongst a phalanx of cameras, punctuating his interviews with phrases like “invariably” and “hence why…”
Contador, of course, danced on the pedals and ate steak. Hesjedal wore great shades. Voeckler pulled faces.
These are not “heroic” characteristics – well…except maybe Hesjedal’s shades – but I don’t need my bike racers to be heroes. I just need them to have style, and when they’re doing “their thing” I need to know that “their thing” is “their thing.”
And now, after a gap, it seems to me we’ve got a whole new breed.
Take Warren Barguil’s polka dotted heroics at the 2017 Tour de France. Barguil has been around for a few years but he became the star, and the most watchable rider of the race. He is the reason I remember that Tour. He’ll never win a Tour de France but that’s not the point of Warren Barguil; rumour has it he’d rather roller-blade with his girlfriend than train in the winter.
That’s fine by me.
That’s the behaviour of a normal human. OK, maybe not the roller-blading per se, but the wanting a life beyond the bike.
And there’s Julian Alaphilippe, Dan Martin, Tim Wellens, Thomas de Ghent, Daniel Oss, George Bennett, Taylor Phinney, Tiesj Benoot. The list goes on. They all have a “thing.”
It isn’t the brutally efficient winning of bike races – it’s far more interesting than that.
It is, of course, entirely possible that I’m just watching so much bike racing on the telly these days that I know the character of these riders better than I know most of my work colleagues. Whatever. I still think the ratio of panache to identikit Euro cyclist is on the up.
Now. If I were to discover that Tiesj Benoot has the ability to reduce a teenage girl to tears with a shake of the hips and a penchant for firebrand progressive political speech making on the after-dinner circuit, I might even find myself a bona-fide bike racing hero.
I live in hope.
(Top image: By Gocal83 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons|Ryder Hesjedal Image: By filip bossuyt – 274 hesjedal, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41234369)
My wife likes Alaphilippe – says he’s got a WW1 fighter pilot’s swagger (and moustache). Certainly he’s realised that the Sagan ‘Laughing Cavalier’ image is good communications – and he can ride a bike well as well …
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The boy is an entertainer, no doubt, and I love the WW1 fighter pilot swagger analogy – perfect! I may borrow that in a future post. Full credit given, of course.