Conflicted. Watching the climb of the Mur de Huy up to the finish line at La Fleche Wallonne, the second of the three Ardennes Classics for 2023, and I’m conflicted.
Tadej Pogacar has won races with wild abandon already this season. At Paris Nice, the Ruta del Sol, the Tour of Flanders and Amstel Gold among others. Loveable kid off the bike, crushing the competition like some kind of tufty-haired super-hero on it.
Into the final few hundred metres of the Mur de Huy Roman Bardet – you remember him, sylph like professional Frenchman and part time bike racer – darts clear.
A guttural squall escapes from within me.
Go ooooonnnnn Bardet!
I didn’t realise, until now, how much I wanted someone else to win.
And then, a moment later, with every rider gasping on their limit, Bardet grimacing, wrangling his bike, wringing his limbs for every drop, it becomes clear that Pogacar is only at about 85% effort. He stands on the pedals, and within three strokes has glided clear with such absurd authority, such a gap between him and the rest of the world, his win is immediate.
A flabbergasted whooaahh from me, sliding back into my seat, no longer on it’s edge but sunk deep in awe.
“We need to appreciate this” the experts tell us. “We are truly witnessing a golden age in cycling.” Which is code, I think, for “yes it would be rather nice for someone else to get a chance to win, wouldn’t it, but instead we have these three god-like athletes (Van de Poel and Van Aert not racing here at La Fleche) performing near miracles, attacking each other joyously, every weekend, for our viewing pleasure.”
Twitter, of course, tells us they are doping, so that’s that, debate over.
Are they? We don’t know. You either accept that the risk is inherent in the sport and suspend disbelief for your own viewing pleasure, or what?
Scream into the void?
Tweet power graphs?Embed from Getty Images
Back in 1975 a fan punched Eddy Merckx in the kidney during a crucial stage in his attempt to win Tour de France number six (he never did). It was a punch that said, via the medium of violence, “for fucks sake Eddy you’re amazing, we all know that, now chill out and give someone else a chance.”
Given that we live in polarised, aggravated times, it is reassuring that there is not this level of animosity toward the great Slovenian. Also, for context, Pogacar has not yet reached Merckx-ian levels of dominance. I dread to think what the 2023 version of a good old fashioned kidney punch is. And long may I never find out.
If you feel like me, conflicted, there’s a modern ‘wellness’ type phrase which might be useful here: sit with the discomfort. They say it a lot in California I hear. If you are challenged by something difficult, or awash with complicated emotion, buffeted by the waves of your own humanity, the smart response is to sit with it.
Don’t fight it, or argue with it, or try and fix it, just let it be. Experience it. Accept your powerlessness and live alongside it.
It would be great to see some other people win the big bike races. A plucky underdog. A resurgent Bardet. And, also, it’s incredible to watch the way that Pogacar, Van der Poel and Van Aert are able to dismantle the opposition and hoover up all the top prizes without mercy. The two scenarios are incompatible. Therein lies the discomfort.
Sit with it.
Briefly on the edge of your seat, and then sunk back into it admiringly.
And maybe stay clear of Twitter for a bit.
(Top Image: Tadej Pogacar via: Petar Milošević, CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
0 comments on “Watching Pogacar and sitting with discomfort”