Just imagine, for a moment, that you’re a football fan. That the Premier League is your idea of sporting drama. You get your kicks each week watching a couple of dozen fabulously wealthy men flinging themselves around for cash.
You’ve probably supported the same team all your life, and perhaps previous generations of your family did too. Each time the aforementioned millionaires kiss the badge and tittle-tattle to the media in search of a bigger contract you feel that connection.
It’s a community.
This means more.
And other such hashtags.Embed from Getty Images
But suppose you grow tired of the soap opera and cast your net around for an alternative sport to divert you from the tedium of existence.
You discount Golf because, well…Golf.
You plump for pro cycling.
You delve into the cycling media, keen to begin your education, to learn that Irishman Sam Bennet has recently won three stages in a row at the BinckBank Tour riding for his Bora-Hansgrohe team.
And you have questions.
You rub your fingers through the deep furrows on your brow as the truth dawns on you: this sport is odd. What the hell do these words mean?
What is a Bora? Or indeed a Hansgrohe?
What division are they in?
What is their league position?
Is the BinckBank Tour a tour of a BinckBank?
“Oh, yeah, it’s confusing, I know,” the resident cycling fan in your workplace might say, feigning to clarify the matter for you. “Used to be the Eneco Tour…innit”
“You know…it’s basically the Tour of the Netherlands, from way back, but that never really took off.”
This is without even getting into the whole Remco Evenepoel thing. A rider? Team? Race? No-one knows for sure.
You click deeper into your website of choice and stumble across the Tour of Poland. This makes sense. It’s a Tour, of an actual country. You learn that Bjorg Lambrecht tragically died after a crash at the 2019 edition. The Belgian prospect succumbing to terrible injuries.
You begin to see that this is a genuine extreme sport, where real risk is taken.
It’s different to football.Embed from Getty Images
Next comes a photo of the final podium in Poland.
The winner, Pavel Sivakov, is wearing a funny hat. You suspect that the term ‘image rights’ is not big in pro cycling. He looks a bit like the Pope.
As your understanding grows you begin to learn that other things happen on podiums.
Sometimes cyclists win their weight in whatever the local product happens to be. Beer? Cheese? Hard drugs? Occasionally they receive cattle, poultry, or other livestock.
Funny hats are not unusual.
Cuddly toys are common.
In even the sanest bike races the riders are competing to win little more than a jersey.
As a football fan you will have been preoccupied with the actions of the referee, diligently ruining your life with each wrong decision, a focal point for pent up rage. Representative of all the unresolved daddy issues in the psychodrama of your life.
As a pro cycling fan there is no referee. You need to reckon with the whim of the commissaires. Distant uncles at best. You will never see them. You’ll have no reference point against which to vent.
They are people, with names, in cars.
They will make decisions according to the rules but also in response to weather conditions, geographical location, or the side of bed they got out of that morning. It is said, on occasion, they will feel the bumps on Bernard Hinault’s Breton bonce for spiritual guidance.
Decisions will often incite bemusement.
Unless you, too, have access to a tame Bernard Hinault, to attempt understanding is folly.Embed from Getty Images
Soon enough there will come a point when you’ll know if this is the sport for you.
When you’re convinced, fundamentally, that funny hats, animals as prizes, confusing team names, baffling races, no real league table, several winners of every race, and a flexible, malleable rule-book, are basically good things.
Or that, instead, you prefer structure, hype, referees in strict uniforms, and boring things like trophies or hard cash as prizes.
If so, head back to the Premier League by all means.
If not, welcome to Pro Cycling.