Friday Group Ride #195

File picture dated 1952 shows cyclist Fausto Coppi
I love sports. If you give me a choice between watching a sitcom on TV and watching a sporting event, I will choose the sport every time. If you ask me to choose between going to a play or going to a race, I will choose the race. I have a degree in philosophy, and I was reared on public radio, opera and frequent trips to the museum, but really, I’m a fan.

So the last two pro cycling seasons have been strange. As riders both past and present got more transparent (or were made more transparent), it became harder and harder to tell who to root for.

Let me back up a moment. Let me outline some of my basic ideas about sport. First, while I love the game or the race, my enjoyment, my true passion, depends on having an interest in the outcome. Pro wrestling has understood this from the beginning. As much as we love the physical exploit, the subtext of good guys vs. bad guys is an equally compelling part of the entertainment. Even if we are only watching one rider hurling him or herself against a steep European col, we want to know that rider is pure of effort and will.

As I sit on a Saturday afternoon to watch football (soccer) with my sons, they will invariably ask who we are rooting for. They want to know who the good guys are. This comes before understanding the nuance of tactic and skill for them, and I believe it is elemental to the enjoyment of sport, even when your rooting interest is only nominal, even if you are not fully invested, a card carrying member of some metaphorical tribe.

So part of the problem for me, in continuing to follow pro cycling, is that I don’t know who the good guys are anymore. I think I know, but whatever willful ignorance I had cultivated has long since fermented, leaving only a surfeit of skepticism and a dull hangover.

But as I said, I love sport.

And it’s true, at least for me, that watching the pros inspires me. Motivation can be hard to maintain on the 24/7/365 plan. I need to draw on as many sources as I possibly can.

So I plan to renew my effort to follow the races in 2014, to read deeply about the good sensations of the Italians and the stoic perseverance of the Belgians, the tragic second-bestness of the French and the imperious, even hubristic temerity of the Spanish. We’ll leave aside the British for now. I’m half-British myself, and it gets complicated, so much easier to hate family than friend.

This week’s Group Ride asks the question, who to root for? Who to support? Who are the good guys/gals with legitimate chances to win races? Are you ready to turn this corner with me? Or will you sit out another season, content to watch Breaking Bad reruns or sit silently in the museum courtyard? Is your own riding enough now? Was it ever not?

Image: AFP/AFP/Getty Images

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18 comments

  1. Michael

    I’ll watch them as often as I can. I don’t tend to care about who wins – my interest is in the tactics and I don’t care deeply about the individuals. There are definitely people I watch more closely because they tend to have good form and/or good tactics, but I don’t ever seem to be disappointed by someone NOT winning (I do feel good for someone if they won by doing something really well). The problem I have with doping (as a spectator – I have plenty more objections to doping) is that it takes away some importance from the other variables in the race, and it is a variable we can’t see or measure easily (at least until well after the race is over). So, you bet, I’ll watch the races whenever I can. The racing seems cleaner and the tactics and sheer strength are impressive.

  2. Scott

    I like Cancellara a lot. I think he’s the only current guy who rides like the guys from bygone days. Him dropping Sagan (who is no slouch…and someone else I like) last year at the Tour of Flanders was amazing (and something I can watch over and over). Not sure if he can win that race and Paris-Roubaix again, but I wouldn’t bet against the guy. I also like Boonen a lot too for the same reason – and if he’s healthy, you have to say he’s one of the favorites. I like Cavs for his pure sprinting power and Quintana for what he did in last year’s Tour – the only one who pressured Froome. I hope the kid improved his time trialing over the off season (and going over the pave…perhaps Cancellara can show him a thing or two) ’cause I would like to see the kid REALLY take it to him (and Team Sky…not a fan) next year. I don’t know much about Nibali (except he won the Giro and finished second behind Horner at Vuelta), but people are saying he could win the Tour. I think he probably wins the Giro again, but if he does that, you have to think how will he have left for the Tour de France?

  3. Aar

    I’m afraid that doping has spoiled sports for me. I know I can’t believe that anybody who won any professional or Olympic sporting contest from the mid 80s through present was clean (ie not cheating). I have no reason to believe any of them have stopped. So, I’m resolved that there are no “good guys” in sports today. Regardless, I prefer watching sports to most other programming because there’s at least an illusion that there was not a script or choreographer. In sports I’ve been following a long time, I root for the teams I have rooted for since I was young. In cases like cycling, in which teams rarely last a decade, I find myself with some nationalistic or language-based rooting interest but mostly rooting for the riders or teams that I suspect are cheating the least. Nonetheless, I find Sky and Chipotle/Garmin/JoesTech increasingly hard to root for. If Taylor and Tejay rode for team organizers without a badly jaded past, I’d likely jump on that bandwagon. So, these days, I mostly watch cycling for the sights and sounds, just out of inertia and interest in the sporting side of this fitness activity that I love. Heck, there’s little action in bicycle racing when you’re not interested in the outcome. Yes, my own riding is enough.

  4. Quentin

    I’ve been a supporter of the Garmin team since they started. I find I generally agree with Jonathan Vaughters’ philosophy about dealing with doping and cycling’s past, and I give him and the early members of his team, whatever their past sins, a lot of credit for trying to do something different when nobody else was.

    Aside from that, I root for a good race. If Boonen, Cancellara, and Sagan all get through the big classics on peak form, I can’t wait to watch and don’t care who wins. If we have another Sky-dominated Tour where the only uncertainty is the margin of victory, I’ll probably stop paying attention halfway through.

  5. Rick

    I’ll keep on watching just as I have for 30 plus years. I would not bet a nickel that any particular rider is a good guy. Teejay, Taylor, Cancellara, Sagan or any of them that may be clean, will have to pay the price of my suspicion for generations to come.

  6. SusanJane

    I’m still a sucker for the underdog. The good rider that is undervalued or under-recognized. I’ve also enjoyed the young riders getting written up, not the superstars, but the ones who have to develop talents and skills. I’m going to be growing older with these young bucks and I like seeing them reaching for their potential. I’m sour on the old generation in the peleton but there are plenty of riders who are riding now without the near surety that they doped for their whole careers. We do have a period of aging out and getting pushed out to suffer through. On the other side we can get back to the sport, racing, tactics, and personalities. Right now the news is pretty depressing.

  7. TominAlbany

    I’ll take my example from baseball. I’m a die hard Red Sox fan. They won a World Series I would never have predicted they’d make. They won it on the back of a 38/39 year old player who’d been outed for PED use in ’03. At his age, David Ortiz shouldn’t be this good. I think it is likely that Manny and David were using in ’04 when ‘the curse’ was broken. I’m invested in the Red Sox and love to see them win. Period. It’s disappointing that they probably cheated but, that’s out of my control.

    For bicycling, I was a die-hard Lance fan. I ignored the murmurs and cheered him through seven straight. I was most disappointed him the terrible person he turned out to be than for the ‘cheating.’

    In sports, taking advantage, bending the rules, getting away with it are tried and true methodologies. You can like or hate them but, you must acknowledge them. It’s all shades of grey to me. STealing signs. Holding on every play in football. Jabs in the ribs on the soccer field. PED use in every sport. It is the same ethos, if not the same route.

    So, I’ve been rooting for anyone that appears to be clean. There’s no way for me to know. I’ll not abandon my sport. I root for TEam Garmin and all American riders. I love to watch a good sprint. I love to watch them attack the mountains. I love to watch them survive the Cobbles. I also love to watch the next generation come and supplant the old.

    So, I don’t know who I’ll root for until the season develops and I find another bandwagon to jump. I love cycling for the sport and the drams. I guess I make those ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ in my own mind on the fly. I may well root for Andy Schleck to become relevant again and maybe root for Alberto Contador to fade from view. Exit stage left – as it were…

  8. gmknobl

    I know the effort it takes to ride hard on any given day as I’ve done this myself. I’m no professional though on a good day I’d say I was a good rider who can put it to most duffers but have no illusions about how I’d be quickly dropped by pros. Still, I believe I know some of the internal feelings these guys have. So, I do feel for them when they do the things I see on tv. So, to a great extent, when someone gives a great performance, I enjoy that because it’s not about if they are drug cheats or not. I hope they don’t have shady deals going of any type but on the day, it still inspires. And it’s because I know what it’s like or like to think I do.

    I said to a great extent because some of my feelings are a little more guarded now. I don’t like those that dope and hide it unless they acknowledge it in the way Vaughter’s team has. I think his approach is the most logical I’ve seen so far and root for Garmin because of it. Forums often say I’m foolish for believing his team is clean but, as in my own field of IT, trust has to begin somewhere for me. So I choose the ones that seem to be very open about things past and present.

    But in the end, I like the sport because I identify with the effort. I suppose it doesn’t hurt that teams seem a little more consistent with core riders IF the team doesn’t run out of money, than other sports here in America. And of course, the drug problem is rampant in Baseball and Football, two sports I used to follow, but is still largely, untouched.

  9. Souleur

    Spartacus is a given on any day, I just love his style and class

    this last year, and next year I will be rooting for Thomas de Gendt, after his stellar stage win in the Giro, up Stelvio, he showed his potential, which to me is impressive

    I like Porte, and hope he has a breakout year

    the other cast of characters are fairly predictable, Sagan is great and will have a good year, Tejay will have a good year, and Sky will continue to kill it

  10. Grego

    JENSIE!

    Because he is a good and caring person; because he’s a funny man; because he is inspirational; and because he can still bring it, and knows just when and how to do so.

    Yea, he’s the man. Ask me this question again in 2015, it’ll be a lot harder!

  11. Steve

    I don’t care who wins anymore. For me, sport has become more subtle. A well-played move, a smart strategy, how one overcomes the struggle is more telling of the racer’s character. And that is what I look for. Character.

    This weekend I found myself at a cross race watching the interplay of cyclists, trading positions each lap and ‘only’ riding for second place, or for fourth place or nineteenth. And enjoying the “race within the race” more than the rider 30 seconds ahead of everyone else.

  12. dmyoungsal

    I have read a lot of comments posted at other cycling sites, but gmknobl’s comments are what I have been trying to tap out on my keyboard for months, but could never get out as succinctly as this! Thank you gmknobl!

    Thank you too Robot. Sports have always been a part of my life and I find emotions well up inside when I watch a great effort (even if it fails). Nothing better!

  13. Hautacam

    I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that I’ve disengaged from pro cycling. And, to a lesser degree, my own recreational cycling. I pursued it pretty intensely (at least by “normal” person standards, perhaps not by RKP standards) for more than two-and-a-half decades; I followed pro cycling closely for that time as well.

    I think it is just the passage of time. 25+ years is a long time to focus on one endeavor. While I still enjoy riding, the passion has cooled, and I’m not willing to invest the time that I used to — I’d rather go hiking or snowshoeing with my wife, or geocaching or paddleboarding with my kids, etc. I still commute to work by bike, and I enjoy a nice weekend ride or CX workout, but now I partake (very casually) of other forms of outdoor recreation as well, and all of it more than watching other people ride on TV.

  14. Kurti_sc

    I’m with Hautecam on this one. I take less interest on the racing scene and more on other adventures – which still include a healthy dose of cycling with friends and family. As the problems of cycling have emerged, the nuances within a race are more appreciated, but that’s about it. Otherwise I don’t give it much time anymore. Really, it’s one of the reasons I sought out a site like this – more on the why of cycling and less on the who or what.

  15. Peter Leach

    My own cycling is enough for me.
    That said, some inspiration never goes astray.
    So, I take inspiration from those who break barriers. Jens for breaking the age barrier. Phil, Stuey and Cadel for breaking the ‘European’ barrier. Anna Meares for not breaking her neck. Sue Powell for breaking the ‘oldest rookie’ barrier. Danny MacAskill for breaking the ‘what the …’ barrier. Michael Milton for breaking the ability barrier. Cav for breaking the speed barrier.
    And many more.
    This year, I’ll be watching the iron men of cycling – Svein Tuft, Brent Brookwater, Ian Stannard et al. – unflinching riders who are prepared to do the tough things for their team. And are satisfied with their efforts, while others take the glory.
    Roll on 2014.

  16. Hoshie99

    I decided to participate in the sport. not watch it as much, like so many other hack master’s racers whose best days are long gone.

    You know what, cross season put a smile on my face this year. I am less interested, but occasionally entertained by pro racers. No heroes in my estimation, mainly a bunch of half wit jocks trying to make some coin and get some glory. Fair enough, just less interesting. I did tune in for a few brief moments to watch Horner mostly because I recall him spanking the crap out of me many years ago at some random crit in San Diego before he made the big jump to stardom.

    Today, I root for my friends and guys / gals and juniors I met this last season, some of whom I compete against, while hoping like heck many random Sundays that I can hang on the last few laps and maintain my position. That’s who I root for. Grass roots baby, grass roots.

    j

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