Anatomy of a Photo: Agony

Paul Sherwen after the 1983 Paris-Roubaix; Photo Graham Watson

Sitting at the top of Haleakala, I thought of this photo with the staunch realization that there are no words to describe the agony of exhaustion, except Graham Watson’s caption in Visions of Cycling:

Paul Sherwen’s mother cried when she saw this picture of her son, taken after the finish of the 1983 Paris-Roubaix

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89 Replies to “Anatomy of a Photo: Agony”

  1. @Jeff in PetroMetro
    Thanks for that. It brings a question to mind for all you long-time racers about down tube shifters. How disruptive was it in attacking or trying to respond, out of the saddle, and having to reach down for a different gear (at one point Lemond sits down, shifts, and gets back up again)? And was there a competitive advantage in being able to so clearly see an opponent change gears?

    Perhaps a bit thick to ask this question.

  2. @Rob, he was yelling at me for sitting down in the sprint ;) I got 6th he got 8th and I was leading the sprint for the first 100m then I couldn’t see anymore so I decided I should probably sit down.

  3. @Collin
    There’s a good segment on Radiolab (I think) about what happens to people during the RAAM after a few days. So if you find monsters or zombies coming after you, use that as motivation to go harder.

  4. xyxax:
    @Jeff in PetroMetro
    Thanks for that. It brings a question to mind for all you long-time racers about down tube shifters. How disruptive was it in attacking or trying to respond, out of the saddle, and having to reach down for a different gear (at one point Lemond sits down, shifts, and gets back up again)? And was there a competitive advantage in being able to so clearly see an opponent change gears?
    Perhaps a bit thick to ask this question.

    Shifting was all about looking ahead at what was coming up and/or what was about to happen – we take shifting on demand so much for granted, but back in the day it could be a real game-breaker if you got it wrong.

    And you’re right when you say there was an advantage to seeing the shift so clearly, and reaching for the lever as if you were going to change gears could make other riders react unnecessarily…subterfuge was rife.

  5. Because everyone was on the same playing field Before Click shifters (BC), it just was what it was. Everyone knew where their gears were supposed to be. Most of the time, everything was fine. You sat down because the levers were on the downtube, but no big deal. It was only really awkward if you were climbing standing up.

    You were careful to pick your gears early for a sprint or a big effort to establish a break. You could be quiet with your shifts if you needed to be.

    I ran 42×52 up front. The last year I raced, I ran 42×53. I ran 7-speed freewheels, 12x? (whatever was called for). I couldn’t turn over an 11.

    I changed out my Campy for Simplex friction shifters because they were just so much better and faster. They’re still on the old Mercian. Simplex friction shifters really are terrific. However, the throw on the Simplex shifters was a bit longer than on the Campy, especially on the front derailleur. It took a little practice.

    With the Arrival of Dura-Ace (AD), things changed a bit. The guys with Shimano (Dura-Ace, 600, 105) could hit the gear they wanted on the freewheel without searching. (I think the front shifter remained friction for a while.) That made things quicker for them. But it also made things noisy, especially if the rear derailleur wasn’t set up right. With friction, at least you could adjust on the fly and the chain wouldn’t chatter or try to jump cogs.

    I remember Suntour having some stuff that worked pretty well, but I didn’t see it on high-end bikes or in the peloton much.

    Once the brake levers and shift levers were integrated, that’s where the big difference happened. Shimano had the teeth on the rings and cassettes designed so the rider could shift at almost full stroke and hit the gear.

    Campy’s first attempts to play catch up were just not very good by comparison to Shimano.

  6. Buck Rogers:
    @Rob
    Wow! Bringing back memories there, mate! I raced all of those as well as the Bolton Valley Ski Resort access road Hill Climb and the Newport race. Was the Buckfield, Maine race also known as the Maine International? I know that the Buckfield race was a good one when I raced it! You were racing about 7 years prior to me. Great races in great hilly country. Man, I miss VT cycling (but not the taxes and politics!)!

    I used to train and race in VT back in the 80’s. Great memories.
    Towards the end of one long, hot training ride, I blacked out and woke up in a meadow most of the way up Brandon Gap. I rode home, then, upon my parents insistence, I had a full physical, including cardio stress test. Needless to say, the people in the cardio clinic at Rutland Hospital had never seen a fit person on their machines. I broke all the records in terms of output, max heart rate, whatever, and the doctor told me to stop wasting his time and drink more water next time.

  7. @Oli Brooke-White, @Jeff in PetroMetro
    Ah, the good old days. The DT shifters generally also had a friction mode and I remember being so perplexed that most Pros left them in friction. Then it dawned on me that the super loud CLICK every time you shifted was a bit of a bummer in terms of sneaking in a shift. Got nostalgic about this a few years back.

    STI (Shimano Total Integration) was a turning point as well in cycling componentry since they designed their groupo to only work with other Shimano parts. Before that, you could chuck some Simplex shifters on your Campy drivetrain and use a Suntour freewheel. These days, you can hardly even use a different crank or brakeset.

    There were companies like Bridgestone who fought it for a long time; still mix-and-matching parts to their fancy. Very cool.

    I loved SunTour; never understood why they weren’t popular. It was light and worked incredibly well. Maybe not sexy enough, but super reliable. I ran XC Pro on my MTB and Superb Pro on my roadbike. I even used their weirdo shifters that were mounted next to the brake levers. Can’t remember what those were called, but they did – in fact – suck a good deal.

  8. @Fredrik

    Needless to say, the people in the cardio clinic at Rutland Hospital had never seen a fit person on their machines. I broke all the records in terms of output, max heart rate, whatever, and the doctor told me to stop wasting his time and drink more water next time.

    Classic. Great story!!

  9. @Rob
    Wow! I have never even heard of that race. Buckfield used to be a great one. I remember racing againast Frank and Mark McCormack there a few times. That Maine International sounds like a super race.

  10. @Fredrik
    I definitely saw stars in the middle of the day a few times going up and over Killington on Rt 4 into Rutland or via Rt 107/100 from the Satfford area. My sister and brother-in-law lived in downtown Rutland and I lived along the Connecticut River in Newbury and I would do a long ride every now and then from my house to theirs. Those climbs were doozies!

  11. @Jeff in PetroMetro
    I own the WCP one hour video coverage of this race. It is an AWESOME race to watch. The last lap alone had sooooo much intrigue: Fignon attacking across to the leaders (which included his fellow Frenchman Thierry Claveyrolet), Kelly bridging to the leaders on the descent, Steven Bauer flatting on the last descent (that man had NO luck), and then the sprint finish. Man, that whole race was epic.

  12. @Marko
    Love the idea of The Hour. I guess we have to tweet these guys. Phinney tweets constantly. Don’t know about Jacky Bobby. They should do it early in their careers while they’re still track guys. Also, I think the attempt can be mentally and physically punishing. The younger riders mend better.

  13. @Buck Rogers
    Yeah. That’s one of my favorite races. Everyone on that last lap wanted it sooooo badly and were willing to kill themselves for it. My wife has a standing offer from this past Christmas to buy that finish photo in the big format–framed–for me. One of my closest friends has it–autographed.

    Another one I would like is the picture of Hampsten nearly frozen to death at the Giro. Breukink won the stage, but Hampsten won the Giro. Epic.

  14. Jeff in PetroMetro :
    @Marko Love the idea of The Hour. I guess we have to tweet these guys. Phinney tweets constantly. Don’t know about Jacky Bobby. They should do it early in their careers while they’re still track guys. Also, I think the attempt can be mentally and physically punishing. The younger riders mend better.

    What did Merckx (or was it Moser) say, “An attempt takes three years off your life?” or something like that.

  15. Jeff in PetroMetro :
    @Buck Rogers Yeah. That’s one of my favorite races. Everyone on that last lap wanted it sooooo badly and were willing to kill themselves for it. My wife has a standing offer from this past Christmas to buy that finish photo in the big format-framed-for me. One of my closest friends has it-autographed.
    Another one I would like is the picture of Hampsten nearly frozen to death at the Giro. Breukink won the stage, but Hampsten won the Giro. Epic.

    Yes. I have that finish photo in a large framed poster in my bedroom. My wife was kind of skeptical about having it there at first but then I explained about how that photo captures the passion of that moment; the moment that defines a life; the moment that so many of us are looking for in our lives and very few actually get to experience. Not so much winning an event but a life defining moment that changes everything, and esp the person, forever. And, b/c she is so cool, she gets it and now loves the picture herself!

  16. @Collin

    Yeah 24 hour racing brings the unused third of our brains to the fore. Weird shit does indeed happen…i was talking french to an ant on my arm apparently. Ou est le Peleton?

  17. Buck Rogers:
    @Rob
    Wow! I have never even heard of that race. Buckfield used to be a great one. I remember racing againast Frank and Mark McCormack there a few times. That Maine International sounds like a super race.

    Frank and Mark were coming up as I was going down.Good racers and nice guys.

    You and Petro talking about those great race images – Even if we did not see it live or on TV(for me Hampsten in those snow banks) they are burned into our collective brains… and now into your wife’s too!

  18. @Nate
    Phil’s got a classic line there: “Argentine’s heart must have hit his boots.” Yeah. If I looked around and Sean Kelly magically appeared out of nowhere, I think my heart, my brain, and my lunch would hit my boots.

    I guess Argentine made a couple of mistakes in the corners. It’s hard to tell when he’s alone and there’s no point of reference. And Kelly must have been perfect.

  19. @Pedale.Forchetta
    I agree. In the States, we still hear about how Jonathan Boyer’s rainbow jersey was ripped away by LeMond leading the chase. I was such a LeMan fanboy that I bought the other version of the story: Boyer was fading and he was gonna get caught.

    Now that I’m older, it’s hard to tell.

  20. @michael
    You’re right. That’s a flying start kilo–against the best sprint trains in the world on the biggest stage in the world. Spartacus–what a beast.

  21. @Jeff in PetroMetro
    If you were Argentin in that scenario, you might as well just hand Sean your lunch, because you know he is going to lick your plate clean before starting in on his.

  22. Not sure if it has appeared anywhere else (?) but I thought this article might have relevance to the theme of this page, agony. Just appeared as I was viewing the news headlines in OZ. This is a bit graphic so finish your food before viewing if you have a weak tummy.

    http://www.smh.com.au/sport/cycling/malaysia-cyclist-has-giant-splinter-removed-from-leg-20110221-1b1te.html

    This bloke is a hardman, bearing in mind that he finished the race & claimed a bronze medal at the track World Cup Keirin, with that “splinter”, which is probably the biggest splinter I have ever seen. Those Keirin riders are freakin’ tough.

  23. @il ciclista medio
    I recommend you watch the Youtube footage of the race – Hoy wins the race and then the minor places are decided by blokes in various stages of injury running across the line carrying their bikes.

    Almost as good as the Stage 1 finish of American Flyers!

  24. I’ve watched the video a couple of times and can’t see what caused the crash, the commentators called it as Awang’s fault trying to squeeze through a gap that wasn’t there, forcing another rider up the track and sliding out. He’s lucky he wasn’t DQed if it was his fault, but he’s good at interfering with other riders and challenging the lines they hold.

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