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