These riders aren't striking a pose to look good, they are trying to minimize the pain.
Graham Watson is full of crap. The pretty pictures we have in our minds of the riders going through fields of sunflowers is a lie. It is my belief that a more appropriate image would be that of a rat in a cage on a treadmill chasing a piece of cheese. Really good French cheese, but cheese none the less.
Last year we attended two stages of the Tour of California. There were bike riders to be sure. The riders were squeezed in between motorcycles and cars and vans in a procession that was nothing short of ridiculous.
In 1984 I happened to be working for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee when the Israeli athletes arrived for the Olympic Games. They closed down the freeway and the bus had a humongous escort that included US Army Huey helicopters flying overhead with doors open and trigger happy soldiers manning the Gatling guns who were whispering to themselves something to the effect of “make my day.” Since I am digressing I will say it made me proud to be an American and proud that we support Israel. The escort these riders get, while very different, is equally as impressive and/or ridiculous.
As we watch the TDF we forget that every picture comes from a camera on a motorcycle, or a helicopter, or some other unnatural object that is intruding on the riders. Yesterday I watched an official TDF car hit a rider at 40mph and two cyclists went down hard. One hit the pavement, the other landed on a barbed wire fence.
A bike racer shouldn't have to look between his legs and take inventory before continuing..
The commentators said it was unprecedented. I could only believe it was inevitable considering the narrow roads and aggressive nature of the whole spectacle. In the world that is professional cycling in 2011 there are so many players with so much money and so much power it seems as if the ones who have been squeezed out are the cyclists.
I must confess that I laugh when I see the tape of Chris Horner after completing the stage as he is the absolute definition of “dazed and confused.” “Did I finish?...I don’t understand, do I have a bruise?...did I finish? He asks in a sincere tone, his questions repeating in an endless loop.
While we fancy ourselves as discerning fans, we behave as if we are attending an event at a Roman Coliseum. We cheer as they carry off the fallen, only to then turn our attention to the survivors. While we would believe that cycling is bigger than any one rider, is it so big that the riders don’t matter.
I follow cycling enough to know the riders by sight. When I see the riders broken and bloodied it bothers me. I will admit I don’t like Vino and Alberto, but watching Vino break his femur as he flew into, and over, a guardrail makes even the most cynical Evo feel sympathy. Images of Jens, DZ, Levi, VDV, Chris Horner and others with broken bones reminds me this is a high stakes sport.
When a baseball player (like Ken Griffy) or a soccer player (like Steve Zakuani) breaks a bone in competition it is often front page news. In cycling, where theoretically there is no contact between contestants, it happens every day and nobody blinks.
The amazing thing is if you don’t crash, you just ride your bike until your body screams and you see who can suffer the most and then you find out who is a fraction of a percent better.
These guys are warriors. I just hope the battle is worth it.