Posts Tagged ‘Fausto Coppi’

Is cycling rock or pop? (Answer: it’s pop.)

March 14, 2014

I like pop. Big pop. Enormopop. The type of pop it’s usually not OK to like – the synthetic, bright, ebullient kind which sounds as if it could’ve been assembled on the sort of machine you are reading these words from, because it usually is. I like voices – typically, women’s voices – that sound as if they have rocketed across oceans to reach your heart, and in an age where a song could have been recorded anywhere, they probably did. I like Sia, Robyn, Scherzinger, Gaga, the Aloud, that sort of thing. And as a committed bicycleperson, that puts me in a very small minority. Possibly a minority of one.

One of the shortest conversations I had in the Rouleur office was about the 2009 Eurovision song contest, even though I was raving about the spiralling, doomed romanticism of Patricia Kaas’s Et S’il Fallait Le Faire, which I thought would be right up their rue. A few years later at a Dynamo Christmas do, a fellow member asked me, in a manner which suggested he wanted reassuring that this was the case, if my frequent tweets about the X Factor were meant ironically (they weren’t). I can understand his concern: cycling, at least the type of cycling I enjoy, has more in common with the appreciation of rock, which hardly makes it the ideal environment for a TV-talent-show-loving nincompoop like myself. There’s an old belief, the lead singer of the Kaiser Chiefs recently noted, that you’re not in a bona fide band until you’ve gone “up the M1 500 times”; similarly, there are those who believe that you’re not a proper cyclist until you’ve got a few thousand miles in your legs (which, of course, have to be hard miles, up hills and mountains). Road cycling is about paying your dues and observing tradition: drop handlebars, 700c wheels and a diamond-shaped frame are its guitar, bass and drums. Cycling wears a serious face in monochrome, often amid a remote, enveloping natural landscape, like Joshua Tree-era U2 (a sullen aesthetic which, Raphaistas should note, even the world’s most ludicrously earnest band eventually had to abandon). The message, as crushing as a powerchord, is clear: cycling has a deep, inscrutable meaning; cycling is tough; cycling is 4 Real.

Or is it? Throughout my musical life, I’ve often felt excluded from the seriousness of being a rock fan – its various modes of rebellion, the accumulation of arcane knowledge, the penetration of the obligatory veil of mystery. The world of club cycling, on the other hand, I’ve found to be welcoming and jolly, despite – or maybe to mitigate – the physical pain you have to endure to be any good at it. And whereas rock can often feel like an exclusive club in which its members are obliged to venerate the ‘right’ artists and the ‘right’ albums, cycling won’t show you the door if you can’t tell your Coppi from your Bartoli, although it might point you in the direction of a detailed, hardback tome.

Watching a key moment in a race, such as Froome attacking Quintana on Mont Ventoux, gives me the same rush I get from pop. How could it not? Because, at its very core, cycling has a throbbing pop heart.

Embed from Getty Images

For a start, cycling, like pop, is a bastard form. Pop is a magpie nicking ideas – sounds, melodies, riffs, looks – from whatever genre it can find and repurposing them in a new form. Cycling did this when it pinched the downhill tuck from skiing and came up with the aerobar. The manufacturing know-how that produces many of the groupsets in the peloton came from golf and fishing equipment. Some of the training principles that put the current champion of the Tour de France on the top of the podium in Paris originated in swimming. Pop is manufactured, and so to is the constantly-evolving object at the core of cycling, the bicycle. There is no room for a blues-like purity in such a modern, inquisitive sport.

On an immediate, visual level, cycling is also identifiably pop. The rush of colours that constitute the pro peloton has an unabashed, gaudy, Roy Lichtenstein look about it. From a less artistic standpoint, the Tour’s post-stage shows became the inspiration for the Radio 1 Roadshow after station controller Johnny Beerling stumbled across them while on holiday in France. And, fundamentally, cycling shares pop’s commercial instincts: even though a race can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, it nevertheless exists primarily as a sponsors’ billboard.

Pop’s message, if it has one, is that the most thrilling place to be is the present. And is that not the feeling you experience when you’re completely immersed in a race – any race? Whenever I come across enthusiasm for a relatively obscure non-European event, I’m struck by how the more committed type of cycling fan exists at an emotional frequency as high as their pop counterparts. Compare this to football, where pre-season friendlies – the equivalent of the tour of Oman or Dubai – are considered so uninteresting that the great Danny Baker recently suggested that they should be held behind closed doors.

So let’s abandon the mythologising, tradition-heavy, rock-like paradigm we use to frame our perception of cycling. Pop is unhip. Pop requires no chin-stroking expert’s permission to exist. And those, to me, are the qualities that are at the very root of why we love cycling.

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Let’s meat the Liquigas team

December 20, 2011

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.

Curious.