We’ve reached the point on the calendar where it’s traditional to make some sort of lofty judgment about the past 11-and-a-bit months – and so, in keeping with the annual mood of inexpert opinion stridently expressed, I am declaring 2011 to be The Year We Learned Too Much.
The basis of my flimsy theory is as follows: the fug of mystery and inscrutability which surrounded the noble profession of bicycle racing for generations has now been dispersed by the mighty wind of tweeting, which has enabled a once-enigmatic breed of sportsmen to communicate many mundane details of their lives. Perhaps the high point of this phenomenon took place in June when Mark Cavendish momentarily forgot he had problems with his water supply and thoughtlessly left a deposit in his lavatory. I chortled, and so, I imagine, did many of his 196,000 followers. But could you imagine, say, Eddy Merckx explaining why he had trouble flushing, or an embarrassed Fausto Coppi telling the White Lady to “leave it for 10 minutes, love”? Like the now-departed Kim Jong-il, these legendary men were probably above that sort of thing.
The cycling heritage industry would have us believe that the black-and-white era was the golden age of mystery. In those monochrome photographs, dapper men pedal remorselessly through their pain, their visages giving barely any clue to the mental processes and diabolical thoughts that forced them to reach the finish line. But for me, the archetype of enigmatic cyclists reached its apotheosis much more recently. It occurred in 2009, and its sole manifestation was the uniquely enlightening website of the Liquigas team.
By some miracle of history, the website still exists, and under the heading “Curiosities” you will find details about each team member which are truly curious. Take, for example this revelation concerning Murilo Fischer:
Favorite dish: Meat
That’s right: meat. Just meat. Meat. And, from that one fascinating detail, we are able to conjure up carnivorous Fischer’s wretched existence. Caged and naked at the team’s hotel, the ravenous, snarling Brazilian growls the only word of English he knows. “Meat.” He lies in wait every night for the moment when the rusty door of his cage creaks open and his handler throws a slab of raw steak, or a bucket of pork chops, or whatever else the Liquigas chef can find to appease his insatiable appetite. For he is Murilo Fischer, and he must have meat.
Yes, you may consider that scenario to be somewhat far-fetched. Maybe you would argue that the vague term “meat” is actually code for “mystery meat”, a tacit admission that he enjoys dubious foodstuffs frowned upon by his fellow pros, such as late-night kebabs and Asda own-brand sausages. And that may well be the case. But the truth is lost in the mists of time. We, and future historians, can only speculate.
Elsewhere in the Great Liquigas List Of Curiosities, Roman Kreuziger is giving very little away about where he chooses to spend his vacation:
Favorite holiday resort: The sea
One can picture the Czech transfixed by a blanket of shimmering blue as he sits on an otherwise unremarkable beach. That image remains with him always; it is a reminder of a pleasure denied to him in his landlocked home country. Then, many years later, he is asked by a Liquigas employee charged with creating the team’s website where he likes to go on holiday. Roman smiles at the seemingly humdrum question. His gaze is distant. Finally, he breaks the silence: “The sea,” he whispers. “The sea…”
Kreuziger’s teammates Kjell Carlström and Maciej Bodnar list their hobbies as “computer” and “internet” respectively, although we can probably guess why two chaps spending many nights away from home would want to be vague about what they get up to on their laptops. But perhaps Ivan Basso had a more urgent need to be circumspect in 2009: this, you may remember, was his first full year of competition following his two-year doping ban – an event precipitated by the revelation that bags of stored blood were code-marked with the word “Birillo”. If someone hadn’t alleged that this was the name of the Italian’s dog, who knows how the case would’ve panned out? So this time, Basso gives nothing away: his list of curiosities is entirely blank:
We all think we know Ivan Basso. But no one knows the real Ivan Basso. His only curiosity is this: he has no known curiosities.