Thanksgiving IV

When I think back on the moments from this season that excited me to be a cyclist, my mind turns on two events. They are Fabian Cancellara’s attacks that resulted in victory at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.

Cancellara’s wins were impressive, but what made me love them and return to them in my head, over and over had as much to do with the attacks as the wins themselves. When Cancellara attacked on the Muur de Grammont, he did so for reasons that were more than just strategic. He chose that spot as much for its historic importance in the race.

After the race was over he said, “I suppose it was a perfect race. Even my attacks were perfectly timed. Going on the Molenberg was the right moment and then I had to try on the Muur [de Grammont] because that’s where the legend and history of this race are made. When I realised I’d dropped Boonen it was like having wings on my feet and kept going all the way to the finish.”

Just a week later he accomplished the rare feat of taking the Flanders/Roubaix double, but of course, he didn’t attack just anywhere, but moments before entering the Mons-en-Pevele sector of cobbles—one of the truly decisive sectors with a history of changing the race.

Despite an idiotic effort to dull the luster of his wins with an allegation of using a motorized bike, Cancellara’s wins have given us the opportunity to revel in watching a stunningly strong cyclist ride the world off his wheel.

His wins were convincing. They were well timed. They were brave. They were also incredibly stylish.

I love style. I love PRO. But style is a luxury. It is the flourish that comes only when the rest of one’s craft is assured.

This is a lesson I learned in skateboarding more than 30 years ago. My friends and I could carve a brave line in a pool, grind the coping, even catch air. And while we were competent, most of us were short on the confidence that gave our posture on the board that extra spice that could make our friends cheer.

What I came to appreciate was how the arch of skater’s back sang of assured grace, how balance wasn’t a goal, but a plaything. That gently curving spine was all choice, no question.

Watching Cancellara spin a gear lower than Tom Boonen, stay seated and then drop him on the Muur de Grammont was an attack I could believe. After all the doping scandals, all the questions, it was a move I didn’t doubt. There was style in his strength and it was a moment I cheered.

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10 comments

  1. Souleur

    I couldn’t agree more Padraig, eloquently written and an excellently exposed sentiment I hold near and dear to my heart.

    Winning really isn’t ‘everything’. How one wins and how one loses really does speak to ones character. Cycling has taught me this lesson and my current PRO favorite stomped an exclamation point on that this year. There are some who win, and are forgetable, there are however some who win and we remember because they win in a way that is special. Spartacus did just that. He exudes more class and style than most by a long shot, don’t get me wrong, there are other riders who are great but in this case Spartacus is Alpha.

    And he won in such a special way, like you said Padraig, perfectly timed. I am not sure he thought of the history of it, but I think he simply tried a move at the right time and it stuck. In the Paris-Roubaix, he stuck it there too because of a perfectly timed attack that could not be defended.

    And to me, personally, it was the after race Spartacus that showed what a class act he was. The way he honored the race, the history of the race that he was aware of, the people who revere and own the race as patrons, the course and its significance. And he wanted only, at that time, to win IT. It was something I appreciated.

    Also, the way he responded to the low blows of ‘motorized dope’, the personal attacks on him as a rider, he kept his chin up and in swiss style didn’t return w/personal attacks, rather just let the evidence rest on its merit in the dung of the gutter and eventually rebuted w/a common sense observation of ‘its so stupid I am speechless’. Weren’t many of us as well when we heard of such an allegation??

    And because of all this I remember, the race, the man and his win and took home many more lessons than just a historical win that we hopefully will be talking to our kiddo’s about in 15-20 yrs.

  2. dan

    I love how when he and Boonen crest the hill, & it’s all Tom can do to hold the wheel. Spartacus gives him a flick of the elbow. When Boonen doesn’t (can’t) come around, Cancellara just says “F*%# it”, puts his forearms on the bar tops, and goes into ITT mode. It was over then. you can almost hear the voices in Boonen’s head as he digs deep to stay on the wheel.

  3. Marco Placero

    Souleur brings forth insight differing: a winning rider with class and a losing winner threatening to quit racing in the face of detraction.

  4. fausto

    Great companion photo of Jay. Loved TA, stylish aggressive and won, but it was Jayboy who took the greater risks to push everyone and show what was possible in the backyard didn’t care as much about the competition at the park. Now back to the bike race….

  5. cs124

    I agree that Fabu’s win at Flanders was transcendent, but am I the ONLY one here that thinks his winning attack at Roubaix was a little on the nose? The way he rolled off the front was impressive but the timing, while Tommeke was back getting a bottle/food/pep-talk-from-the-DS, was lame. Not the actions of a champion, or, dare I say it, a cowboy.

  6. AnnieBert

    Great article and I totally agree….

    But gotta love the Jay Adams picture. As a So Cal beach native, seeing that picture brings back tons of great times of being a kid. Dog Town rules…

  7. Dan O

    Cool post and Jay Adams picture.

    As I kid growing up in New Jersey during the ’70s, my friends and I skated a bit. Just play, I wouldn’t call myself an actual skater. During that time however, I read Skateboarder magazine often – so stories and pictures of the Dog Town era I familiar with. The pictures of those heros, in tube socks and Rector pads, ripping pools – are forever etched into my brain. They were totally pro (in an anti-pro way) and everything they rode, was in total style.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Dan O: The Dogtown skaters defined PRO for me long before I was a cyclist. Clean lines, tube socks, a helmet when on vert but never otherwise, Vans (which I still wear), an arched back and a counter-culture look. Skateboarder was the first magazine I ever loved. It is still the standard by which I measure others.

  8. Dan O

    Padraig: I was fascinated by Skateboarder magazine in the ’70s. The photography, the look – all of it. Where I lived, this small grocery store was the only place that carried it, a bit out of the way – but added to the allure of it all – for a 15 year old kid.

    Many, many years later – watched those skaters whose static images I studied on the pages of Skateboarder – brought to life, in the Dogtown and Z Boys documentary. A let down after all those years? Not a chance – was even more amazing.

    I still have a skateboard in the garage, a longboard purchased on a whim a few years ago. I occasionally cruise the neighborhood on it. I still don’t consider myself a skater, but pushing off on that thing – brings back cool memories.

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