The Red Kite Prayer

The final kilometer of Classics and Grand Tour stages is marked with an archway from which hangs the flamme rouge—the red kite. Its passage marks the greatest drama of the race, a ratcheting up of tension and anticipation that culminates in the winner’s celebration.

Of course, the red kite holds different meanings for each rider. For the time trialists, it’s the last chance to attack and beat the sprinters at their own game. For the leadout men, there’s a final dig before pulling off to the let sprinter shine. For the sprinters, that red kite is a signal that their moment is less than two minutes to come. For much of the field, it’s simply the signal that the pain is nearly at an end.

What unites each of them is a moment that inevitably comes after passing under the red kite. Each rider will bow his head as he summons the last of his strength for the finish. It’s the same bowing of the head that recreational riders will make before rolling to the finish of a century.

Summoning the strength to make a final surge to the finish is as universal as the urge to finish; no one wants to roll across the line in defeat and that final effort is the chance to accelerate to a personal victory that comes from the satisfaction of knowing you left everything on the course.

The psychology of riders can rarely be guessed, but the red kite prayer is a moment we all share, a search for our remaining strength as we summon the will to leave it on the road.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International.

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  1. bikesgonewild

    …cool…you gentlemen w/ all the great ‘stuff’ you’ve presented to we, the great unwashed + writers like owen mulholland (who i’ve known for about a hundred years) & joe parkin (who i had the pleasure of both reading the work of & meeting recently)…

    …this bodes well for on-line cycle reading material…

  2. gian

    RBK… I was puzzled as to its meaning. Then I read the first 3 words in this post and I got it. good luck, I will be reading.

  3. Marco Placero

    All religions begin as cults. Were the earliest cyclists and race promoters the patriarchs of what, a thousand years hence, will be looked back on as the foundation of the religion Ciclismo? Are they looking down on us from on high– like the sculpted visages staring at us from the ceiling of the Duomo Siena– while we glide around the temple of our mother planet?

    Probably not.

    But present day cyclists can at times feel subjected to near biblical torments and joys. A difference? . . our deserts are suffered and savored in the here and now. Cycling isn’t a religion, although with a lot of pedaling, for better or worse it might rise to cult status. Be counted among the zealots.

  4. Rich Land

    Like a butterfly breaking out so is it with you exposing yourself & becoming the ‘Red Kite Prayer” site. Another great site name, BKW was equally clever. Best wishes for this new venture, for inspiring lots of people to write & most importantly to get out to ride & be free.

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  7. Aaron Anderson

    I can’t believe I just now found this blog after a post by Richard Sachs on his Facebook location re: your kickstarter campaign.

    My measure of a quality blog is a) the content of the first post (e.g. not a “check, one two…Is this thing on…”) kind of post, and b) the most recent post. If the quality is there in both cases, largely, I’ve found a good place to find good content; after all content rules.

    And if applicability is the true measure of worth, I’m really looking forward to digging into the content to find out as there in lies the ultimate irony (“if you don’t go in, you can’t find out”).

    Although I’ve never raced a bike, I bike commute daily to work. When possible, I make the ride longer. I think my prayer would be that the road didn’t end, and that I would always have more in the tank to keep going (keeping in mind the post about rules, wanting to save some for the family – “where the heart lies,”).

    Ride on. I’m hooked.

  8. Frederick

    I am a complete newbie to cycling at age 60. Thus far I’ve only finished one organized century and one time trial…and didn’t realize that I was “praying” at the end, though I most certainly was! I will pray a little harder in the future!

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  10. Jon M.

    Must admit I’ve heard the flamme rouge, didn’t know it meant red kite. As a saddlemaker I probably should! After going through your site, I can see why Outsider Mag rated it #1. Great site, keep up the good work. I’ll certainly be back.

  11. Cécile

    Ah… As a French cyclist bumping into this great website, I feel I must tell you that “flamme rouge” literally means red flame, note “kite”… I Red Kite the term you use in the US to signal the last kilometer?

    1. Author

      Yes, the French word “flamme” translates as flame, not kite; there’s a little something lost in translation. For reasons I can’t explain, the banner at 1km to go is called a “kite” rather than flame, because, I’m guessing here, the slang of flamme just wouldn’t make sense in the English language. It’s funny how these things get twisted. “Flamme rouge” is a truly elegant phrase; I wish we’d translated it literally.

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