Ah, The Stench of Spring!
Give It up for the Team
Sliding into Darkness
Jose, Can You See?
What's in a name?
Give It up for the Team
Sunday, April 15th 2012
I use to silently (if possible) mock my friends who wasted all their time playing fantasy baseball and football games, though I did secretly admire their prodigious knowledge of the games. I considered myself a baseball expert and had been one since I was eight years old when I began to memorize every player’s lifetime statistics, using the information I gleaned from the reverse side of each player’s baseball bubble gum trading card. I remember my dad’s praising me to his friends at the neighborhood bar on Saturday afternoon when all the workmen gathered after a week’s hard labor to throw back a few while watching the game. My precocious and prodigious knowledge of each player’s statistics in a statistics driven game gave me status and made my dad proud, and for me, the only child and a male, having my father proud of me is all that mattered. Still, as a grown man dealing with an addiction to riding mountain bikes, playing fantasy baseball/football/golf/tiddlywinks seemed like an incredible waste of time.
Then, ten years later, I tried to rip down a two hundred year old pine tree with my femur after I had been catapulted from my mountain bike. The struggle to get back on my bike, to peddle back six miles through the forest to get to camp, to strike camp, and to drive deliriously nearly a hundred miles home, all while in shock and in pain so intense that when I finally did get home, I could only fall out of my truck and crawl to my father’s doorway. As soon as I was able, I “climbed back into the saddle” of my mountain bike, but, to my horror, I was afraid, and I couldn’t really shake it off. Eventually, a few months later, I began to ride a road bike more and more, and I began to get interested, as a fan only, in bike racing, an interest which began to consume me, and from there, I discovered fantasy racing.
At first I played only the Grand Tours because Lance rode the grandest tour, I realize that I didn’t really understand even the fundamentals of bike racing. I could see the obvious, that sometimes the fastest guy won but not always, just like every other sport involving speed. That bike racing was very subtle, hours of strategy and positioning preceded a few moments of intense action didn’t bother me because I had been a Formula One, IndyCar, NASCAR, and Group C Sports Prototype racing fan for my entire life, and I understood the intricacies of racing, especially endurance racing. What I didn’t get was the team aspect of bicycle racing, and now, ten years down the road, I still don’t get it.
Oh yeah, now I know that each member of the team usually has a fairly specific role to play for a fairly specific distance, and then his job is over. Then, after that, at least in theory, he can pursue his own interests, as long as they don’t interfere with the team’s objectives, or he can drift off the back and chill, joke with his friends, and eat to finish in 173rd place, but nobody cares because he had done his job. I guess in the old days, before such intense television and news coverage, he could stop for a beer and a smoke and even a visit to Cherie and nobody would get to terribly upset. To hear some photographers tell the tale, the lucky newsmen could even hang out with the riders to stop for a bit of vin rouge.
I also know though, that the casual fan knows nothing at all about those anonymous-but-indispensable workers unless they are famous and have names like George Hincapie or Jens Voigt; but even those guys are still named as favorites to win in some races. Occasionally we know the names of a famous sprinter’s advance man, his guide, his leadout man: Yes, Mark Renshaw was Cav’s leadout man, back when life was good for Mark, and he could sleep soundly every night blissfully unconcerned (really) that Cav had lost by a millimeter. Now, now things are different for him. Now some guy in a little cubicle is keeping score, and someone else is trying to find a “real” sprinter so that Mark can get back to what he does best: leadout.
So, if we believe that the sport of bike racing must grow in order to thrive, and if we believe that exporting it to the four corners of the earth is crucial to the growth, then we must also somehow give the sport some characteristics of other, more familiar sports so that the legions of new fans with their lunch pails and brief cases full of coin might more easily embrace bike racing. The new fan, and the old ones too (I believe) need to know who’s winning! They—we—need to know not only that Tom Boonen just won Paris-Roubaix, the Tour of Flanders, Ghent-Wevelgem, E3 - Harelbeke, and a dung cart load of others as well, but we need to know what that means, if it means anything.
If cycling is a team sport, and of course it is, then we need to know what team is winning! Who is in first place? Only by recognizing cycling as a team sport can we really grow it to the status it deserves. Only by recognizing as a joint effort with a ranking that takes into account all the races all the team members participate in can we unify cycling. We can keep all the stars, all the heroes, all the races, and all the good stuff, and then we can add one more step, a team emphasis. Omega Pharma -Quickstep, and Tom Boonen and Levy Leipheimer; GreenEdge, and Simon Gerrans. Let’s chew on it.
I could not disagree more with the Hammerhed this time around,even though we all know Cycling is a team effort we should jealously guard this knowledge from the uninitiated and let them figure it out for themselves.
Not unlike the attitude the English have when it comes to (test) cricket which the rest of Europe regards as a legalized form of loafing away 5 whole days, only interrupted every few hours when someone hits a ball which allows our neighbors across the pond to wax lyrically about intricacy of the game for an eternity.
The same should apply to cycling,it adds to the great mystique of the sport.
This is also what makes predicting the outcome of a bike race so interesting, you can boast and gloat when you... with your 'superior' knowledge get it all right and the race evolves exactly as predicted.
Or on 'rare' occasions complain and despair when 'they' get it all wrong.
And by they I mean the race directors yelling the wrong instructions into the ears of their cyclists, the cyclist themselves naturally misjudging the strength of escape groups or displaying an incomprehensible unwillingness to cooperate to go and win one for your fantasy team.
Examples abound in cycling when things go horribly wrong and you feel hard done by by the cyclists you have chosen to rack up the points for you that day.
Instead this bunch of ne'er do wells often manage to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory depriving you of some thoroughly deserved bragging rights in a chat-room or in your local pub.
Alas,this time you're forced to stay conspicuously quiet, keeping a low profile listening to the loud, annoying and unwarranted celebrations of those that inexplicably got lucky whilst crying in your beer in a dark corner.
I must admit it sometimes grates on the soul,and the quiet mutterings under my breath are unfit for publication on this public forum.
Luckily there is often another race scheduled in the near future so you can show these loudmouths what real cycling knowledge means.
I've chewed on it Mr. Hammerhed and I think that no matter how much you understand team efforts, tactics, road and weather conditions,current form,long term team objectives and the race profile .... There are just too many factors to calculate in.
What is needed is a deep intuitive insight into the wonderful sport of bike racing which transcends mere calculation and knowledge.
What is needed to get it right is 'a gift', a rare talent which you either got or ain't.
This in any case is the argument I humbly and quietly employ when I get it right for a change.
Arrogant ?,Deceited?, Condescending? ... Of course!. But that's my explanation and I'm sticking to it.
, a.k.a. Draggin', is an English / English literature teacher from Florida, riding road and mountain bikes since 1993 and in love with the sport of cycling. He's having a handle on cycling too! Catch up regularly for newly released columns and feel free to leave a note.