In the early 1990s the cycling world rumbled with displeasure at the incredible success of mountain biker Juli Furtado and road racer Lance Armstrong. Furtado went a whole season undefeated until she DNF’d at the World Championships. Armstrong wasn’t winning everything in sight, but his shockingly successful season, culminating with a solo win at World’s had folks worried that he might corner the market on the V.
Every few years a rider comes along who initially stuns us with their brilliance. We revel in the miracle of their skill and bravado. We celebrate them as the newest confection at the candy shop, our latest favorite. Lance Armstrong’s 1999 Tour de France victory remade him for us. He was as fresh as a newly picked strawberry. The second harvest and even the third were just as delectable.
But invariably, we tire of the new flavor. My personal stomach upset came with Miguel Indurain’s fourth victory in the Tour de France. He was precise. He was consistent. He displayed nothing so much as data. I felt like I was watching a clock tick for all the emotion he betrayed.
On group rides talk of Armstrong has turned sour. While he still has some fans; my informal tally of what I hear is that most riders not only don’t want to see him win another Tour de France, they don’t even want to see him play his own card; support Contador or go home seems to be the dominant theme.
Judging from the comments here on RKP, Cavendish’s two successive stage wins threaten to cast him with the same distasteful brand of dominance that caused us to turn on Furtado, twice on Armstrong and Indurain; before them there were others we turned on, but it has been long enough that most are too young or too old to remember how we tired of Eddy Merckx’s unwillingness to leave behind table scraps.
The problem with a dominant rider isn’t success per se, it’s political. The rider who wins too much becomes a tyrant. We may not be socialists, but our sense of what is fair is that no one wins in straight sets day after day.
So what if Cavendish were to sense our reluctance to celebrate his brilliance and deliberately botch a sprint. As unlikely as that scenario is, we’d disdain him even more for not giving his best; the only thing worse than a gift used too much is a gift poorly used.
I like the bravado that comes with Cavendish. Clearly Columbia has developed the most effective leadout train since Cipollini’s; yes, I think they do a better job than Petacchi’s teams did. When he compared his competitors to juniors, it was a refreshing bit of smack-talk. Thems fightin’ words!
I do have one issue with Cavendish. He wins so much he seems to think he needs to keep changing his victory salutes to keep them fresh, or different, or something. As a result, they end up looking contrived. I get that Columbia-HTC has a new sponsor (the aforementioned HTC). What’s more: I get that HTC makes phones. What I don’t get is the need to remind us with a silly I’m-making-a-call victory salute. One might wonder if he was just phoning his victory in.
We love a true champion. And I’m willing to follow Cavendish as he takes stage win after stage win. I hope in the high mountains we get occasional glimpses of him suffering as he does what’s necessary to earn that green jersey he is wearing. But if I could ask for one thing from him, it wouldn’t be to win less, it would be to drop the predetermined victory salutes. Forethought is to passion what math is to art.
Cav, if you want to keep me, keep the rest of us as fans, show us how you really feel when you win. Drop the artifice and give us a guy who is just as thrilled to win this as he was his first race as a junior.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International.