Friday Group Ride #159

Johnny Hoogerland King of the Mountains after horrific crash with barbed wire fence requiring 32 stitches (FR3 Press Car)

Both Hinault and Hoogerland start with the letter H, and that’s pretty close to where the similarities end. We have, only recently, discussed the need not to make heroes of athletes, and if there is any lesson from the events of the last year (or decade) that must be it. Having said that, I cling to the idea that I can admire certain titans of the sport despite their human failings. In fact, there is little I appreciate more than the tragic tale of a flawed genius.

As a football (soccer) fan, two of my favorite ever players are Diego Maradona and Zinedine Zidane, a couple of characters who struggled with demons that almost always threatened to overcome their natural brilliance.

As we evaluate and reevaluate our sporting icons, there are two qualities that always seem to spark my passion, bravery and audacity. Bernard Hinault, a deeply flawed genius in his own right, is, to me, cycling’s very best example of audacity. Always looking to turn a race on its head, always willing to attack, Hinault could rightly be called an asshole, but it was his naked audacity that lit up the racing of the  late ’70s and early ’80s, a time I was just becoming aware of the sport.

Johnny Hoogerland on the other hand is not much as a cyclist. Oh, he’s good, a cagey climber and opportunist, but he is not the dominating persona that we normally turn into a hero. What everyone remembers about Johnny Hoogerland is his crash from the 2011 Tour de France, a television car pinching sideways into a group of riders, Hoogerland spinning skyward and then bouncing into a barbed wire fence. He got up and rode out the end of the stage despite serious lacerations. Later, he cried on worldwide television as blood streamed down his legs and the polka-dot jersey pulled tight across his chest. Instant legend.

Forget the fact that, just a few months after being struck by another car during a training session, bruising his liver and cracking his ribs, Hoogerland is clawing his way back into the pro peloton. The guy is unstoppable, and I don’t know if he’s a hero of mine, but I certainly admire him his courage and wish him well.

We are in a different place now with our cycling. We see the riders differently, but maybe we can still have some heroes, some people whose audacity and bravery we can appreciate, even as we pass the opportunity to place them on pedestals. This week’s Group Ride asks who your new cycling heroes might be? What do you like about them? And how do you see them differently now, in light of all that’s come out about the sport over the last year?

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. Patrick O'Brien

    Hoogerland handled the aftermath of that crash with class. However, he expected a taste of the proceeds from the TV company or ASO and got none. So, now the lawyers are involved, he is looking for a payday. So, I don’t know what to think about him now. As far as the rest of the pro peloton goes, I simply don’t trust any of them. It’s sad, and maybe over time I will believe again. The performances over the last few years make me respect the riders, but I don’t know where that last 5% of performance comes from anymore. Races are now spectacles; I wish they would return to sporting events.

  2. Cairncross

    Sagan may be my next cycling hero.
    He doesn’t run his mouth.
    He can sprint without a train.
    He’s capable of some climbing, even on the finish.
    He can outsprint Cav and Griepel on a good day…like today.
    Many people don’t like him (this is a plus for me)
    He’s new enough, I am comfortable with his non-doping history.

    1. Author

      @Cairncross – Agree on all counts. He is clearly the most exciting rider on the road today.

    1. Author

      @Margaret Smiddy – So many women to admire in the pro ranks. Good call. Lizzie Armistead. Emma Pooley. Many others who race because they love it, since the paychecks aren’t what they ought to be. Nichole Cooke highlighted this well when she retired.

  3. Nick

    If I can see a rider pay the price for spending energy, I begin to believe. Today Talansky excited me with his audacity and made me believe in him. Sagan is a blast to watch and I want with all my heart to believe he’s riding pan y agua. Slagter seems to be an explosive race disrupter, and I just generally like Phinney. And plenty of exciting, credible stuff happening on the domestic level…

  4. Souleur

    word: Spartacus

    for the reason I have always admired him, it hasn’t really changed. He is the epitomy of class and style. He wears them well and never drivvels when he is the marked man, on a crappy team. He simply rides, and demands respect by his ability.

  5. Maremma Mark

    Hinault was in a class of his own, probably the last true giant of road racing. Perhaps Sagan could be the next one, though the jury will be out on that for several years to come. How many riders with immense talent have we seen flame out after a few good seasons? Hero is a big word however, for me it’s a term better fit to people like Marie Curie or Ghandi, Martin Luther King or Malcom X. Not a cyclist or an athlete, that’s not really their venue.

    As for Hoogerland “looking for a payday”, he did risk his career after all. It’s safe to say that racing is dangerous enough without having to worry about being literally run off the road by an official car. It would only be fair if he were to receive some form of compensation, he was a victim of gross incompetence, compounded by the Tour’s refusal to even identify the driver.

    Yesterday, watching the sign in at the depart of the Tirreno-Adriatico, I was struck by how precarious the life/career of a pro racer is. They were about to set out across central Italy, five hours or more in the rain, a dicey sprint at the end of the day and yet they were gracious with the fans standing, like me, at the crowd barriers. But many of them are a few races or a season away from unemployment, being cast out of the “circus” though in the meantime they had time for a smile, a handshake, an autograph for people they’ll never see again. Then minutes later they were off, preparing to push their bodies to limits that we can almost but not quite know.

    I can’t help but respect that, whether they’re stars or simple water carriers. There is a beauty and grace to racing bicycles that is timeless and never changes. Which is what keeps me hooked, even through the high octane years I couldn’t quite ignore it. Now there is a new generation, many of them from the US, that seems to be cut from a different cloth than their predecessors.
    Let’s hope it’s all real. I’m optimistic that it is with the young guys.

  6. Patrick O'Brien

    “Looking for a payday” wasn’t a good choice of words. I should know better. And, ASO, along with the driver or car owner, should have made sure that all his medical bills were covered, along with a decent payment for missed prize money in that year’s TdF. They didn’t. I guess will see how the civil suit works out and if he attempts to dig into deep pockets; but I stand by my opinion that I don’t know what to think about him right now.

  7. Rich

    I can’t relate to the pro riders and I don’t trust them. It’s the guys I ride with on Saturday. But unlike me they have taken up racing. They work 9 to 5 have 2.5 kids and ride whenever they can. They make a bargain with their wife to race only twice a month. Some times their hard work pays off.
    And its the old guy in the club who showed me the routes, taught me to draft, and told stories of epic rides. Are they heroes? Maybe not but I sure admire their courage.

  8. Margaret Smiddy

    @Robot. Yes there are many inspiring female cyclists out there. I read Nicole Cook’s comments and feel that there is a lot of work to be done to improve pay and increase visibility in the women’s peloton. As with other women’s sports, it could be a long road, but things will improve over time. I was glad to see that the Giro Donne will take place again this year. Hopefully it will continue through the years and women’s cycling will gain momentum and popularity.
    I really enjoy this website keep up the good work.

  9. SusanJane

    I’ve had a hero worship problem since I first set my heart on Basso winning the Tour the year Puerto broke. I felt so sick and angry at him, at the whole thing, but also at me for giving my heart way like that. I am honestly afraid to give my allegiance to anyone at this point. But. I was looking at the covers of the cycling magazines that I get and I was thinking about who is worth the risk. I decided that the really young riders are my choice — the neo-pros with so much to gain by riding clean. So, I’m going with the youngest riders who come from teams that didn’t have the money or resources to organize doping, and who are going into teams that are doing everything they can to help riders ride clean.

    Contrary to what so many have said no one dopes alone… it’s only a matter of how organized the cheating really is. Whether it’s family, friends, team mates, doctors, etc. — there is always someone who enables the practice and lies.

  10. Michael

    Marianne Vos seems to have that deep love for all things bicycle, something I look for in a rider. She is willing to take a chance by trying mountain bike racing, even though she could just stick with what she is the world champion at. I like that spirit. I wish she had more top rivals, but on most days, someone is riding at her level to challenge her. Peter Sagan also seems to love the bicycle, whether it is a mountain bike or a road bike. And I somehow respect Tom Boonen more since his latest injury was acquired on a mountain bike, and he runs his own cross race every year.

  11. Conrad

    I’ve always been a fan of the pro roadies that show up for cyclocross races in the fall. They love riding so much that they can’t even take a break at the end of the season. And the guys that race cyclocross always seem to be down-to-earth and cool. Chris Horner and Tyler Farrar for example.

  12. christopheru

    Leigh Hobson. Olympic road racer and high school teacher. Now racing cyclocross. I saw her speak at a local “Woman of the year” event and was thoroughly bounced by her on a local rail trail (wow is she fast). To me, racers like her, who have raced clean, raced hard, and continue to provide inspiration to those around her at all levels both in and out of the sport are where it is at.

  13. Quentin

    In keeping with the theme of heroes being flawed, I’m a great admirer of what Jonathan Vaughters is trying to do for the sport. I find everything he says to be credible, from his frank admissions about his own past, to his realistic assessments of where the sport is now and what can be done to improve it. So far, I feel like I can trust the performances of the riders on his team (please, please keep it that way!). He seems to have been conflicted about his own doping when he was doing it, and after leaving the sport for a while, came back and tried to do something about the problem. How many people in professional cycling can we say that about?

    I second the votes for Sagan and Cancellara. As much as his wins, I admire the fact that Cancellara doesn’t complain when he’s beaten by someone who sat on his wheel for the last few km.

    I also have to mention Jens Voigt. Not so much for the crazy attacks and amusing quotes, but the fact that the guy seems to take so much joy in riding his bike. It reminds me of what got me into it.

  14. Howard

    Voekler, he is a guy who seems to race for the passion and possibilities. The “small ball” heros like him, not the home run heros we have learned not to be heros after all. Many others in the middle of the tarnish of modern pro cycling. But who LOVES thecsport and the bike not the money and fandom. I am not dispirited, our sport is in a sour spot but still beautiful.

  15. Ron

    Marianne Vos, Peter Sagan, Fabian Cancellara, Simon Gerrans, Danny MaCaskill, Martyn Ashton, Tom Boonen, to name a few.

    I’m quite new to following the Pro peloton. I still really, really don’t know what to think about all the blood and drug doping. Having read a recent cyclingnews article on the history of blood doping, I have yet more questions than answers. I wish I knew that most were clean, but I still don’t know.

    Still, I like watching these folks ride & they all are classy, dedicated, exciting, and seem genuinely thrilled to be doing what they do, which I wish more people could say. I know pro sports aren’t all they’re cracked up to be but c’mon now, surely playing a sport for a living is better (or less worse) than a tough manual labor job.

  16. Emil

    Had a chance to meet Scott Mercier this last week, by all accounts the man with the greatest integrity in the peleton (in his time). A true hero to me.

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