The dog days of winter are upon us. For the bike-disturbed, it’s a season for reflection and contemplation. The early nightfall and lack of motivation compelled me this week to finally find the back corners of my liquor cabinet. A more productive result is the Competitive Cyclist 2011 Year In Review, Part 1 --
Article Of The Year:
‘Three hours into the race, Fernández and I tear down a broad boulevard alongside a wall of rotting industry, and the peloton looks like a Miró mural, should you pass by one in an F-18.’
This is one of my favorite quotes from ‘The Pain Principle’ by Richard Poplak, an article about Garmin-Cervelo’s would-be Grand Tour contender Ryder Hesjedal. Smartly written, it provides several intriguing scenes about professional cycling at the most elite level. I’m unsure if ‘The Walrus’ is always such a worthy read since it’s a magazine I’m entirely unfamiliar with, though 30 seconds of research suggest it may be Canada’s attempt at creating its own ‘New Yorker.’
The fact I’ve chosen it reflects two realities. It affirms the scarcity of literary output we saw about cycling in 2011. For a sport as beautiful as ours, it’s a shame that we must always fall back on ‘The Rider’ and Hemingway’s vignette about the Vuelta Ciclista al País Vasco in ‘The Sun Also Rises.’
Second is that Poplak’s writing is distinctly Coyle-esque. The extent to which Poplak was inspired by Daniel Coyle’s ‘Lance Armstrong’s War.’ First published in 2005, it remains the sharpest portrait of the modern pro peloton. Coyle mates a keen journalist’s eye to a novelist’s talent for original metaphor. Poplak pulls off a miniaturized version of the same trick in ‘The Pain Principle.’
An honorable mention goes to Jonathan Gold’s article ‘Eating Spain’ in the WSJ Magazine. It has nothing to do with cycling, but it’s nevertheless a nominee for Article Of The Year because of its eloquence in paying tribute to famous restaurants in Girona and San Sebastian. Both are paradises on earth for cyclists, and what, in daydreams, I envision to be the model for afterworldly paradise. No narcotic is as strong as riding in a small, friendly group through the lonely climbs of Catalonia. Likewise, eating with people you love at Can Roca is to use fork and knife to carve a peephole into Eden.
And while blogs aren’t articles, Michael Creed is always worth reading even if he’s just leaving limericks on beer coasters. In his cyclingnews.com blog posting titled ‘The ups and downs of having an opinion’he wrote 2011′s truest words about cycling and dopage.
Creed doesn’t dispute that doping is a plague upon sport. After all, without serial doping Creed would’ve probably won stages in Grand Tours, a few Brinks’ trucks worth of salary and would’ve been jetting from Classic to Classic rather than spending the last n years slogging against the rookie ball kids in the US domestic pro scene. But he’s also long enough in the tooth to know that cycling’s anti-doping crusaders can be terrifying with their puritanical fervor. To quote, ‘Morality in cycling has become a quasi-religious movement with sinners, saints and vast spaces between. Black and white. Virtuous and indignant.’ He deserves major props for speaking up about what so many feel. That is, while kids cheat in every sport, the epidemic won’t be cured though draconian punishment of those kids alone.
Random Thing I Found On An Old Computer Of The Year:
Reminder Of The Year That The Good Old Days Weren’t Always So Good:
A kindred spirit on the internet took this concept to a far more elevated level. I cannot thank him enough. The best I can do is make his contribution to the grammatical usage immortal by awarding him our Language Arts Of The Year Award:
Photo Of The Year:
The bigger statement here is photographer of the year. With zero inside influence but a willingness to bankroll his own dreams, Jered Gruber spent 2011 definitively establishing himself as the ‘It’ photographer of the pro bike race scene. He slept on couches all across Europe for the better part of the season. His Spring Classics photos went viral -- setting afire his burgeoning reputation, and securing him the sort of commercial gigs that serve as the lifeblood for PRO photographers. After bike companies revamp their websites and catalogs for 2012, they’ll become galleries of Jered’s work. Perhaps most notoriously, the 2012 Giro d’Italia presentation centered on one of his images, which the organizers used on a global stage without his consent.
We’ve seen other shooting stars pass through the crazy world of bike race photography. Our offices are covered up in bigger-than-life Caroline Yang images from Lance-era Tours. Sadly, she gave up on cycling in 2006. And from her website it’s uncertain if she’s shot much of anything since 2010. We were also huge fans of Jeff Tse. He was likely cyclingnews.com’s best-ever photographer. He’s since gone on to much larger commercial successes. Clicking on the ‘Body’ section of his website is to be led into temptation of a frightfully pure form (maybe NSFW if you work someplace you’d be better served quitting.)
The lesson of Yang and Tse is simple: Whatever magical thing it is that makes photographers great either also ends up burning them out, or pushes them on to more lucrative endeavors. (In fact, going back to our ‘Article Of The Year’ above, perhaps a similar truth holds true for writers, which explains the lack of decent cycling literature.) As bike race junkies, all we can hope is that Gruber can crack the code that keeps him well-paid, consistently-creative, and interested in cycling in an ongoing way.
It should be no surprise that we’ve chosen one of Gruber’s images as our photo of the year:
Book Of The Year:
Easy call: ‘The Jersey Project’ by Bill Humphreys and Jerry Dunn. (Don’t let their bargain basement website dissuade you.) The topic is snobby enough to delight the most pretentious tifosi. It’s a 200 page hardcover volume loaded with photos of infamous jerseys as well as those hardly-seen-anywhere-except-groveling-at-the-back. And it’s not just a picture book. It includes numerous first-hand histories of the drama behind the races in which they were worn. As you page through it, what becomes clear is that ‘The Jersey Project’ was a project so vast, yet so monastically focused on a single subject, it inadvertently became high art. Are you familiar with ‘The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly?’ There’s something awe-inspiring about viewing the results of personal obsessions. And is it OK to admit that the phrase ‘Wiebren Veenstra, Subaru-Montgomery 1993′ gets me nearly as aroused as Jeff Tse’s photos?
Cyclist Of The Year:
Of course Philippe Gilbert had an outrageous race season, and I especially enjoyed the final few km’s of the Amstel Gold Race. The fact that he julienned the world’s best throughout the whole year should earn him that much more respect. He’s been showered in praise, and he deserves every iota of it. Full season dominance like that went out of style with Sean Kelly. It’s great to see it back again.
That being said, the Cyclist Of The Year takes on a more personal note in 2011. How many people here engaged in teenage worship of Greg Lemond? How many strove to emulate his greatness and, in the process, learned in their youth the power of structure and discipline? Then, after failing to turn pro, ended up applying the same virtues to the rest of life? How many still wonder with a small tremble of panic, ‘Where would I be today if I hadn’t accidentally flipped on the ’85 Tour on Wide World of Sports?’
Greg Lemond is our Cyclist Of The Year thanks to his enduring power upon a generation of former junior American cyclists who then became fathers, professionals of a non-sporting type, and, in some instances, even Masters’ bike racers to boot. Lemond shaped so many who, in time, became successful in varied walks of life with the example he set.
Who can forget Lemond’s quote, ‘There are many times I wish I was playing 18 holes of golf instead of training in the miserable cold weather. But in the final analysis, I’d rather win the Tour de France than play 18 holes of golf’? Who doesn’t still chuckle at the heresy of those dinner burritos midway through the ’86 Tour? Who wouldn’t have jumped at the chance for the bike-free weekend of pheasant hunting, too?
Like many, I believe Lemond taught us that the ferocity of our passions isn’t what matters, it’s the ability to modulate them. And now at 40 -- creaky when I walk, slower when I ride -- I’m finally old enough to appreciate the Code of Lemond. Goal-setting, extraordinary commitment, then rest became the methodology for how so many of us approached pretty much every important thing in life. Only now do I realize the lasting power of Lemond’s legacy, 17 years since he last pinned on a number, yet it’s never too late to give credit where it’s due. Which is why he’s our Cyclist Of The Year.
This was Part 1 of our Year End Awards. Part 2 comes next week, which will include Bike Of The Year, Gear Of The Year, and a few other things worth mentioning.