– The NAHBS is upon us so within a week who won’t tire of the go-to phrase of the event -- ‘bike porn’? It won’t just be the frequency of its usage that’ll grate, but the inherent inaccuracy of the phrase itself. What’s intended, surely, is an evocation of glamour or beauty, and porn, rather, is a crude means of arousal whose effectiveness is matched only by its inelegance. There’s little lovely about it, and if there’s any such thing as ‘bike porn’ it’s 45 minutes spent on a weekend watching a grainy live feed of a second-tier PRO race accompanied by cooing voices & strained faces, as exemplified by the recent Tour of Haut Var where, in a most pornographic way, it made all of my bodily and social requirements subservient to the single, turbocharged carnal need spawn from the images on the screen: A 4km balls-out run-up and sprint up a climb into some ancient, walled French village that blinded me to any urge other than a 5-hour training ride or to race right now to exhaust the overwhelming bike eroticism coursing through me. Cyclingfans.com is the almighty porn king and I’m trembling with this, another glorious season of bike racing.
The final 1km is drama at its best:
– The saga of Edvald Boasson-Hagen’s pee stop at the Tour of Oman has been neatly documented elsewhere. There’s apparently some history behind the Cervélo Test Team’s antics, as you can see from this comment made (by whom?) 3 weeks earlier.
– Speaking of Team Sky, Michael Barry gave his blog a face lift. Great writing and awesome behind-the-scenes photos. Another one for my RSS feed.
– Certain little signifiers command instant respect: Elastic snipped off jersey sleeves. Wintertime in fenders. A frame pump lodged under a top tube. And re-purposed Wald rack hardware as a permanent fixture -- an antidote to the idiocy of race day breadties.
– I spent some time this winter catching up on books to round out my knowledge of bike racing history. While Fausto Coppi, on paper, wasn’t as studly as Eddy Merckx, in a sense he’s more important to the sport for the TMZ-worthy time he had off the bike. William Fotheringham’s ‘Fallen Angel: The Passion of Fausto Coppi’ tells the legend with writing significantly more artful than typical journalistic recitation of the facts. He nicely traces the growth of his legend, and given what appears to be a re-energized fascination with Coppi in the modern age, this is everything you need to know to be literate in Il Campionissimo. We don’t sell it, but maybe we should because we’re adding it to the ‘required reading’ list.
Jean Bobet was the brother of multi-time winner of the Tour de France, Louison Bobet and for many years was his teammate as well. Unlike, say, Prudencio Indurain who seemed to be on Banesto purely for being the brother of Miguel, even though Jean’s palmares were nothing like Louison’s, he was a fine bike racer nonetheless including an overall victory at the 1955 Paris-Nice. His book ‘Tomorrow We Ride’ is what you might call a fraternal biography, as it traces the intertwined story of the Bobet brothers.
In the English language, outside of some Coppi material, there’s a dearth of literature pertaining to pre-Merckx racing and this is a vital work not only for the era it covers, but for the beauty of the writing itself. Jean’s career was in a never-ending tension between his academic ambitions (he’s possibly the most-degreed PRO of the 2nd half of the 20th-century) and his racing ambitions. He’s apparently spent as much time in the library as he did on the bike, since a cultivated quality of thought shines throughout the book. His chapter on ‘volupté’ -- a cyclist’s rare sensation of flying up a climb -- is beautifully lyrical. A later chapter on Lousion’s retirement from racing -- how this literal surrendering-of-self presages death itself -- is equally moving.
If you’ve ever read ‘Swann’s Way’ by Marcel Proust you might’ve recognized a notable irony: What’s possibly the richest, most poetic prose in the English language is, in fact, translated from Proust’s original French. A similar thing holds true with Bobet: It’s not necessarily the best book we’ve ever read about bike racing (or brotherhood), but even in translation the storytelling is often breathtakingly radiant.
The final book of the wintertime trifecta was Freddy Maertens’ autobiography ‘Fall From Grace.’ It’s a fine primer of the massive breadth & depth of Maertens’ palmares. Likewise, it’s a flat out textbook for obfuscation, justification, and leisurely omission of unflattering facts. For all of Maertens’ victories, he’s best known for a caliber of tax evasion, alcohol abuse, and promiscuous drug consumption that makes VDB look like Tickle Me Elmo.
Unfortunately, Maertens dishes no dirt whatsoever. The tax man, the Belgian racing federation, those who look funny at him as he boozes it up the night before a Classic -- they along with countless others represent a conspiracy to deprive him of glory, and never once does he acknowledge self-fault. How many times does the italicized phrase ‘…[x] stabbed me in the back’ appear in the book? Apparently I stopped counting way too early.
‘Fall From Grace’ is a book you should read to get a taste of Belgium’s fanatical bike culture and to view the Merckx era through a lens other than Jurgen Leth’s. I’d like to be clear: It’s absolutely a worthwhile volume. But if you’re looking for the skinny on Maertens’ professional hari-kari, its chronic selective memory makes it rather unhelpful.
– 2003 Paris-Roubaix: A rare year where the Spaniards had a pulse. Vincente Garcia Acosta of Banesto was the 1st rider out of the Arenberg Forest. Juan Antonio Flecha, also of Banesto, finished 25th, his first-ever 1-day result of consequence. In the fecund tableau that was the ’03 Paris-Roubaix, those fruit chewy Banesto kits stand out in a sad sort of way. Who could imagine Banesto in anything but the color-flecked white made legendary by Miguel Indurain in the 90’s? The orange-and-blue clown vomit of ’03 was like Granny with too much lipstick: The use of something bright and ostensibly youthful to obscure the imminence of the end. 2003 was Banesto’s final year in the peloton (in fact, by then they were known as iBanesto.com.) Ever since Indurain pulled the plug they tried to energize the team through increasingly explosive kits (see, e.g. José Maria Jimenez in ’01’s Blue Period) but did anyone ever get used to the sight? Like Jordan in anything but Bulls Red. Like OJ as anything but a Bill. Banesto will forever be Indurain white and the Skittleization of the kits -- so prominent in the ’03 Roubaix -- startle because who amongst us hadn’t forgotten the look?