Refocus

Last night I switched on the ol’ YouTube and watched A Sunday in Hell.

It’s good to remind myself sometimes about why I fell in love with bike racing.

If you’ve never watched this movie, please do. It contains everything you need to know about bike racing, the real kind.

I watch this movie every four or five years and each time I note how radically bike racing has changed since 1976. It would be a 10,000-word essay to chronicle all the changes. And as I age the movie’s hard reality is even more awesome, brutal, unforgiving, unrepentant, immobile as the giant paving stones along the cobbled sectors to Roubaix.

But the biggest changes? Muttonchop sideburns. In 1976 everyone had ’em. They were the coolest of the cool.

The other big change? Huge, floppy collars. Ordinary people who wanted to be fashionable had big, floppy collars.

Maybe the last, and the biggest change of all, is this:

Back then bike racers were tough.

END


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Paris-Roubaix 1976. Roger de Vlaeminck, Francesco Moser and Mark Demeyer move into the lead. Photo: Offside / L’Equipe.

12 thoughts on “Refocus”

  1. I fulfilled a dream his year of riding both Flanders and Roubaix sporrtifs. The cobbles were absolutely brutal, and beautiful. Once was enough… like you said, only tough riders need apply. Can’t agree with the implication that the current age of riders aren’t as tough though.

    1. I guess it’s hard to judge, but … they ride less, they race less, they quit more often, and they have worlds more support. When Paul Kimmage got his first pro contract he receive five kits. For the year. The riders had to finish races or risk being cut from the squad. The clothing was wool and the food prepared by hand. There weren’t “bike changes” during a race; you got a spare wheel if you could or you changed it yourself. Then chased back on. Medical treatment was more primitive. Riders competed with injuries that now disqualify them from racing. Post-race cool downs are now in team buses. Watch Merckx after getting 4th at the world’s in Spain. He sits in front of a chain-link fence while spectators gawk, as a friend talks to him about the race trying to cheer him up. Riders were continually exposed to the draining pressure of their fans. Merckx drove himself to the start of P-R in 1976. The peloton was more hierarchical, and a team leader drove his subordinates mercilessly. Merckx’s teammates typically famously lasted only a few years under his leadership because they were always forced to ride on the front. The race distances were much longer. Riders raced regardless of conditions; Hinault suffered permanent nerve damage to his hands in LBL the year it snowed and less than 40 riders finished. Hampsten’s win in the Giro would never have happened now; the key stage up the Mortirola would have been canceled. Indeed, this year’s Tour had greatly abbreviated stages to protect the safety of the riders. All but the top stars had to fend for themselves in the all-important race prep of training, getting to races, nutrition, equipment care, and except for the most high-profile races, they had to gut it out and take care of themselves. This is ONLY talking about the top echelon. The lower ranking pros or struggling amateurs lived a bestial life of horrible weather, primitive riding conditions, the sharpest competition imaginable, and huge mileage. They were called the “convicts of the road” for a reason. Just my two cents …

      1. Solid reasoning here, and the blue collar nature of the sport was once very evident. But the sands of time stop for no one and no sport. Things change. But there are throwbacks like Sven Tuft and Adam Hansen among others. Glad to see WVA practicing on the cobbles with his teammates yesterday. They were trying out different wheels and tires for next April, and they no doubt enjoyed a catered lunch! Merck and his contemporaries certainly didn’t have this kind of support.

        Thx for the props on the sportifs. At Flanders there were 16,000 riders. Unbelievable. The quality of the field and their ability to ride in a group was in such stark contrast to road riding in the USA. Road bikes are part of society over there. Kids get taught how to ride in a bunch, and it becomes second nature. Drivers respect the bike lane, but be sure not to ride in the car lane! Flanders… the Disneyland for road bikes!

        1. The only people I know who have tried the Flanders and PR sportifs, gave up and quit. They said it was the hardest thing they had ever done.

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