Posts Tagged ‘Geraint Thomas’

The tifosi at the World Championships

October 4, 2013

toscana 2013 finishing gate at road race

Me and Jen are in the seating area by the finish of the World Championship road race, surrounded by hundreds of bellowing Italians. It’s the final lap of the 16.6km circuit, and they are chanting one name: “VIN-CEN-ZO! VIN-CEN-ZO!” Determined Nibali, with the hopes of the host nation resting upon him, has refused to allow Joaquim Rodriguez to escape on the descent of the Fiesole. Earlier, there were long, deep groans followed by much emphatic gesturing towards the video screens when the Giro d’Italia champion slipped on the tarmac, as if the rain’s treachery had caused a deep, personal offence to each and every one of the tifosi here in Florence. “If Nibali wins,” Jen says, stifling a laugh at the very un-British outpouring of emotion, “we’re going to have to run for cover.” I get the feeling we may have to do the same even if he doesn’t…

Such passion is a contrast to four days earlier when polite applause greeted the competitors as they turned into the corner of the time trial circuit that took them north away from the bank of the Arno. Marco Pinotti got a big cheer, as did podium boys Cancellara, Wiggins and Martin, but that was about it. A bewildered Japanese lady got Jen to explain to her how a time trial works after enquiring in broken English if the event was “a European match”; a British woman who had probably wandered down the road from the Uffizi asked two men if they could move out of the way so she could take a picture (the tabards should have been a giveaway: they were press photographers, dear). It’s fair to say these were not big cycling fans.

But seated here at the incongruously named Nelson Mandela forum, it’s clear we are among those who know their Fabians from their Nairos. When Mark Cavendish slows down at the 150m sign moments before becoming one of the 146 riders to abandon, the Italian crowd instantly give the former world champ a rapturous round of applause; some even stand up for him. (A side note on Cav: I would love to know what an annoyed-looking Geraint Thomas said to the Manxman around half an hour into the race as Great Britain needlessly wasted their energy leading the peloton on the 100km-run to the finishing circuit.) One fan who gets to his feet is a testy blond fella in the front row who is not at all pleased that some of those in the crowd from the seats behind him are now politely jostling for space by the barrier. At one point he has a loud argument with one of the attendants. I’d like to tell him he should cool it: he’s in the one sheltered area of the circuit, unlike the poor wet sods on the other side of the road who have to endure diluvial conditions for hours. But I don’t speak Italian, and he’s got a Vinokourov-like pugnacity about him, so I don’t.

The haves and the have-nots: we have a roof, these poor drenched souls do not.

The haves and the have-nots: we have a roof, these poor drenched souls do not.

Each time the race rushes towards us, I experience a measure of what it must have been like when the first cinema audiences saw the Lumiere brothers’ locomotive seemingly burst out of the screen. One second they are televisual images, the next they are right in front of us, like Morten Harket stepping out of his rectangular, one-dimensional prison into the real world. By the time poor Purito becomes flesh and blood for the last time, it’s clear he is about to lose. The Italians yell and cheer, but they’ve stopped banging on the barriers. There’s a sullen silence moments after Rui Costa raises his arms in victory and then everyone begins to shuffle off, except for the Italian Vinokourov. He’s staring into the distance, making a quintessentially Italian hand gesture: thumb, index finger and middle finger pinched together, tapping the side of his head. The azzuri: what were they thinking? Minutes later, as Jen and I trudge with the crowd under the finishing gate, I want to know what the tifosi are thinking too.

A new list of professional cyclists’ nicknames

February 22, 2013
A Manxman astride a missile

A Manxman astride a missile

A reporter at the newspaper I work for once asked me if Mark Cavendish had a nickname. Cav had just won the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year award, and my journalist chum wanted a catchy handle to pep up his report of the event. So I told him, yes, Mark Cavendish does indeed have a nickname. It is the Manx Missile.

“Really?” said the reporter.

“Yes, really,” I said.

“That is BRILLIANT! Thank you!”

His cycling knowledge is negligible and he was up against a deadline, so he was grateful I had helped to fill a small hole in his copy. And he realised that most of his readers, even though they may have very little interest in cycling, would like Cav’s nickname too. It’s got pizazz. It’s leavened with humour. It sticks in the mind.

Sadly, The Manx Missile is one of cycling’s few memorable current nicknames. Off the top of my head, I can only think of three others that are similarly energised: Tornado Tom, El Pistolero and Spartacus. And this is a sport that, once upon a time, effortlessly produced stacks of classic calling cards such as The Cannibal, The Heron, The Angel of the Mountains, and The Eagle of Toledo. Where oh where have all the good names gone?

To remedy this paucity, I am now starting this alphabetical list of professional cyclists’ nicknames, each of which I have made up (except for Edvald Boassen Hagen’s, which Mrs Dynamite will have to answer for). I’ll add more as I think of them. No rider is too obscure, nor any moniker too daft, so please feel free to email me any further suggestions to dancehippocleides at mac dot com or leave a comment below.

Let the sobriquet-fest begin!

NAME: Edvald Boasson Hagen
NICKNAME: Boobs-And-Hard-On
WHY: Some say “BWA-son Hagen”, others say “Bo-AH-son Hagen”, whereas Mrs Dynamite prefers to say “Boobs-And-Hard-On”. Or “Boobs” for short. Yes, it’s a bit rude, but then so are the sort of films you would stereotypically associate with the Scandinavian’s home region, so at least it’s appropriate in that sense. Besides, we can go back to calling him The Boss when he actually gets round to winning big.

NAME: Enrico Gasparotto
NICKNAME: The Poacher
WHY: The finishing line will not grace the crest of the Cauberg for the Amstel Gold in April, so this particular nickname is a means of drawing attention to 2012’s thrilling hilltop climax at a race that is often overshadowed by its Belgian one-day counterparts. Oscar Freire, alone at the front with less than one kilometre to go, looked like he might just take the win. Then Philippe Gilbert leapt out of the bunch to get within touching distance of the fading Spaniard – victory, surely, was soon to be his. But suddenly Peter Sagan, one of the three men who Gilbert had taken with him, now appeared to have the edge… only for a lesser-celebrated rider from Astana to pass the Slovak as Jelle Vanendert banged his handlebars in frustration. Hardy Classics veterans and young up-and-commers were both denied. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you poach a win.

NAME: José Rujano
NICKNAME: The Merlin of Merida
WHY: Giro high-flyer Rujano and Robert Gesink have both been referred to as The Condor, thereby contravening the fundamental nickname rule that all appellations should be as individual as the riders to whom they are assigned. Thankfully, Merlins can be found flying at high altitude in the compact climber’s home state of Merida, so the little Venezuelan need never be confused with a lanky Dutchman ever again.

NAME: Ian Stannard
NICKNAME: The Iron Man
WHY: This one is based on a Dutch commentator’s mispronunciation of the GB hardman’s name, which he rendered as “Iron Stannard” over the tannoy at the 2012 World Road Race Championships in the Netherlands. And what better name than Iron Man to express the doughty domestique’s indefatigability? Like the titular character in Ted Hughes’ children’s story, he’s quite a tall fella and, as the shredded legs of his rivals can surely attest, he too leaves a trail of destruction in his wake.

NAME: Geraint Thomas
NICKNAME: G-Force
WHY: Speaking to Cycling magazine last month, Team Sky’s coaching guru Shane Sutton said of the young Welshman: “‘G’ has got it all. He can climb, time trial and last the distance.” In short, he’s a future Tour contender. He’s a force to be reckoned with. He is… G-Force.

NAME: Thomas Voeckler
NICKNAME: Le Mighty Bouche
WHY: The man with the quintessentially Gallic gob-shape is awarded a nickname which alludes to Britain’s most theatrical comedy act. He licks his supposedly dehydrated lips en route to taking the yellow jersey, he frowns as he toils up a mountain, and he beams on the podium like a delighted kid. Yes, in cycling, the legs do the talking – but in Voeckler’s case, so does his mouth.

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