Friday Group Ride #424

Friday Group Ride #424

Periodically, we talk about missing pro racing. It’s not that I don’t pay attention anymore. I just don’t pay nearly as much attention as I once did. And before any of you read that as some moral judgement on pro racers and/or the UCI, let me just say that that’s not it.

Pro cycling and its travails actually helped me understand on a deep level what watching sports is about. I once thought that I cared most deeply for the racing, the tactics, and the battles out on the road. Later I realized that was only partially true.

I also thought that being a cyclist was part of appreciating pro cycling, and that turned out not to be true either. The reason, I think, overlaps both with why I’m not mad at pro cycling and why the intricacies of the sport are only partly what interested me in the first place.

Simply put, sports are entertainment. They’re not wholly different from movies or books or theater. We think they are because they look a bit different, but the formatting isn’t important. What I find compelling in sports is what I find compelling in other media, that is character and plot.

Basically, what put me off of pro cycling was the disintegration of a coherent plot. The narrators all got so unreliable that I couldn’t see what was really happening and I didn’t know which characters I liked and which I didn’t. Of course, there was a moral component of that, but the morality was an overlay to the story, a way of understanding the plot. Once I stopped understanding the morality, the plot fell apart.

Incidentally, this view of sport as entertainment is, for me, at the core of disagreement with those who say women’s racing, or sport in general, isn’t compelling. Once I know the characters and understand the plot dynamic, I enjoy women’s racing every bit as much as men’s.

Anyway, what’s left to me is the scenery and topography, the places the races call home, and the terrain that created the drama by forcing the characters into action.

This week’s Group Ride asks a few questions. First, am I totally off base? I could believe that’s true. Second, what race, if you were racing, do you think you would enjoy the most? Which would you do best in? Third, if you’ve given up watching, do you see yourself coming back to it in the future?

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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10 comments

  1. Neil Winkelmann

    As much as I enjoy watching it, cycling doesn’t need pro racing. Cycling at its core is a sport of participation, not one that requires an audience. The added bonus of participating in cycling is that, unlike any other sport I can think of, it can be utilitarian, helping us get places, and to get things done. That’s the thing that I find increasingly important.

    Having said that. I find the narrative of pro racing compelling and I watch as much as I can. I pay enough attention to both the women’s and men’s racing to have heroes and villains. I care (at some minor level) about the outcome, so it is indeed entertaining for me.

    The places they ride are truly spectacular. It is the most beautiful sport there is. I have a romantic/mythical attachment to the famous arenas. I’ll admit to getting a little emotional on famous European cols as I cycle over the names of my heroes and villains, painted on the road. Coming out of the forest at Chalet Reynard and seeing the unmistakable summit of Ventoux appear, rounding the corner to see the legendary switchbacks of the Stelvio, grinding past the Pantani memorial on the Mortirolo, stopping to pay respect at the Casartelli memorial on the Aspet. These things (and many more) are special moments for me. Because pro racing and the history and narrative that I find so compelling.

  2. scott g

    I watch, meaning with the sound off, the TdF and the Tour de Suisse,
    lovely scenery, some of which I have ridden thru.
    I do enjoy Paris Roubaix, sound on, it is bike race, not a 3 week chess match.
    Golf, with the sound down to a soothing murmur is an excellent way to take
    a nap after a Sunday ride.

  3. Fausto

    It’s hard but I try to cut out the BS like you mentioned and watch the man vs. man, man vs. nature. The playing field is far more beautiful than any man built stadium. The fans can be up close and personal for FREE. You and I can ride the most iconic landmarks of the sport on the same bike the PRO rides and test ourselves in a way that old men playing football, or boxing, or team sports can not. Hate the politics of it, but still find it beautiful to watch and it still motivates me to get out and ride. Helplessly romantic.

  4. Aar

    I largely agree with you. After much introspection, it’s not about the syringes, pills, powders and marginal gains. It’s really about my distaste for overly competitive people. My sports viewership is down to a fraction of what it was five years ago. As some of the personalities that I like retire, I may stop engaging with every sport save one. Back to disliking competitive people, when group rides start “heating up for the sprint”, I sit up and start my recovery.

    If I raced, my favorites would be Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders. I’d do best at Paris-Roubaix because I’m a big engine rider, am comparatively faster the rougher the road and like racing in which the course not the sprint decides the winner despite having a good sprint when I want to work on it.

    I don’t see myself watching bicycle racing again. Too much effort to find broadcasts or streams of one day races. Modern stage races are unengaging – if I want to watch people do intervals day in and out, I’ll get a Zwift membership – I doubt that most of the people on there are hyper-competitive cheaters who are just in it for the money or false glory.

  5. Michael

    Ball sports have never appealed to me, to watch or do, probably because they require too many people to even practice. Beautiful athletic feats, like what Michael Jordan or Steve Nash did in basketball, are worth watching, even if I don’t care who wins. Cycling, though, is the only sport I have ever followed at all. I have always DONE sports – cycling, running, nordic and back-country skiing, whitewater kayaking, mountaineering – but cycling is the only one of these that is interesting to watch for me, where the tactics are important. Yes, tactics can matter in the others but teams are a big deal in cycling. Beautiful athletic feats are worth watching, but the person doing them may not be admirable outside of athletics. Mostly, I read the race results and then decide whether to watch the race, or the end of it, on Steephill. So, I don’t entirely agree with you, Robot. I like the racing, although I don’t identify strongly with any particular racer or team. Some racers are more interesting to watch, of course.

    If I were racing, I’d be aiming for (and of course probably not achieving!) stage wins in the high mountains. However, the classics, especially the cobbles, are my favorite races to watch. What the riders do there amazes me. I’d never race those, weighing 60-62 kg.

  6. MAttC

    At the deepest level ALL pro sports are entertainment. That’s why I didn’t go off the deep end over the doping…they are PAYING these people to be the best they can be, to WIN…(cuz winning is EVERYTHING in sports…THAT is where the money is at, and MONEY drives it all….no money, no pro sports) and then everybody freaks out when they BECOME the best they can be and win. I mean, really, nobody pays big bucks to watch a bunch of regular joes do sports…they PAY to see superhuman…Barry Bonds setting the new all time HR records…Mark McGuire/Sammy Sosa battling it out for the single season HR record. Lance and the rest of the “sharp end” of the peleton racing up Alp d’Huez in record time! ! And when they give these superhuman performances, suddenly there’s a cry FOUL! (didn’t used to be that way 50 yrs ago….doped to the gills in the 6 day and other races w/ whatever they could take for an edge). I don’t get it. Make the pro’s “open” class in all sports…they can do whatever…I don’t care. Put the anti-doping money into the lower levels (high school/college). Once you make it to the pros and are willing to cut your life short taking drugs, well…you’re a big boy or girl now and that’s your call and I hope it’s worth it to you. I have to admit that deep down I TRULY enjoyed watching the pro cycling thru the entire EPO era…hey, it WAS fantastic…what can I say. They WERE truly superhuman! Insane efforts and results (think Floyds ride to take back and WIN the TDF after it looked like he lost it the day before). Just my 2 cents…in all honesty I don’t need ANY pro sports…but I do enjoy (still) watching le Tour every year….volume on…Phil n Paul n Bobke n Christian n Jensie…they do a fantastic job! And the best coverage it’s possible to have…France has a LOT to offer, and I WOULD love to go there and ride some of these epic cols and alps one day. Probably never happen..but it’s on the list.

  7. imakecircles

    I continue to follow the pros, and for me, the fundamental reason is the inspiration provided by seeing how the world’s best compete with each other as well as the inevitable setbacks of life. Athletes at the pro level are so driven and assured, even when things go wrong (crashes, poor health, recovery, etc), that it’s both inspirational and applicable to my life when I have some of those inevitable setbacks.

  8. Lyford

    I don’t watch much racing — usually just read the reports and watch the highlights — but I do enjoy that. There are moments of tactical brilliance, like a perfect leadout, or seeing Qiuckstep give a master class in echelons in stage 3 of the 2017 Giro. A lot of the pleasure is the spectacular scenery. It’s also being able to empathize with the riders when you see them start to pedal squares on a climb — I certainly know how that feels.

  9. Howard

    still love to follow the pro races, but by far the best drama and entertainment disciplines to watch are World Cup CX and track. Straight forward, easy to follow and a satisfying time spent.

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