Anatomy of a Photo: Col de la Croix de Fer

Anatomy of a Photo: Col de la Croix de Fer

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Today’s stage of the Giro finished on a steep dirt road. But when we talk about dirt roads – even the ones in of the Strade Bianchi – we are still generally talking about well-maintained roads. Leafing through CycleSport this morning after the stage, I noticed this shot of the Croix de Fer.

Before jumping instinctively to your inevitable conclusion, have a look at the full-size shot. We’ve got it all: 16 kilo bikes, riders with tires tied round their shoulders, big rings, loose chains, primitive derailleurs, and thick, sloppy mud. It looks like the road was cleared the day prior by a bulldozer with a bent blade and one track.

I rode the Croix for the first time in the late eighties; they’d just rerouted the road to roll along a reservoir about halfway up (coming from the Bourg d’Oisan side) and even with beautiful fresh pavement, I arrived at the top a few centimeters shorter.

This photo makes me die a little bit.

// Anatomy of a Photo

  1. I wonder if ever we can claim a current rider to be a “hard man” when you see what the races used to be. We are all so coddled and well-lubed. Perhaps modern riders simply suffer faster? Of course, you can only race as hard as the current conditions will allow. If the climbs are paved? Well you ride on pavement. The topic requires further meditation.

  2. That’s what inspires me! Nobody ever told these guys to HTFU!

  3. @brett
    Sharp eye, Brett! Is that a fender on Bobet’s front fork? I bet he had his bidons on his bars in those empty cages, but moved them into his jersey so he could climb. He probably taught Anquetil that trick.

    I also note with satisfaction that there are no shirtless dudes, no one wearing a the slingshot, and no one in sumo wrestler suits along the roadside. Aside from the mud, that photo is refreshing on several levels.

  4. @Collin

    I wonder if ever we can claim a current rider to be a “hard man” when you see what the races used to be. We are all so coddled and well-lubed. Perhaps modern riders simply suffer faster? Of course, you can only race as hard as the current conditions will allow. If the climbs are paved? Well you ride on pavement. The topic requires further meditation.

    It does require further meditation. I think on some levels there were many more hardships for the riders than there are today. But they also didn’t have the pressure they have now.

    They are better trained, better “prepared”, better supported. But suffering is suffering. Riding at your limit is riding at your limit. But they used to suffer for longer, and that’s a difficult thing. Hm. More mediation required, indeed.

  5. brett:
    Looks like Bartali’s bike doesn’t even have a “primitive derailleur”!

    Bartali’s running a Vittoria Margherita derailleur system.

  6. frank:
    But they used to suffer for longer, and that’s a difficult thing. Hm. More mediation required, indeed.

    I don’t know, yesterday’s stage looked like a lot of suffering for a long long time. That was a lot of climbing.

    I think my balls shrunk a little bit watching Anton while he channeled testosterone from anywhere he could get it on those last 3k.

  7. @frank
    Pressure?? The only pressure I feel is getting all of my “yard work” chores done in time so I can go riding when the weather is nice. Too often that means getting the weed eating and grass mowed while the sun is shining, and then going off to ride with the thunderstorm looming on the horizon. Of course I have a day job so when I do race its for a pair of socks or something.

  8. I know we spend a lot of time lauding the riders of yesteryear for their toughness and how easy today’s riders have it (which, in many respects is true), but the last rider to finish yesterday, Matthew Wilson, finished at almost 45 minutes behind the winner. That makes for a ride of 8hrs and 12 minutes! That’s tough no matter what era. Add to that, only 6 riders didn’t finish after three gruelling mountain stages. Kudos to all of them. To put it into perspective, that’s the equivalent of half of a regular season worth of football – in one day – and these guys go no time outs, half times or fannying about.

  9. Very cool photo, for sure. That does look like a miniature fender on Bobet’s front wheel.

    Hmm, definitely a challenge to compare, but I think it’s the truth: suffering is suffering, no matter what the pressure is like, how your gear is, or what the roads are like. They suffered in different ways, but yes, riding at your limit requires a serious dose of Rule V no matter what the year is.

  10. Oli:

    brett:
    Looks like Bartali’s bike doesn’t even have a “primitive derailleur”!

    Bartali’s running a Vittoria Margherita derailleur system.

    I knew that…

  11. frank:
    @brett
    I also note with satisfaction that there are no shirtless dudes, no one wearing a the slingshot, and no one in sumo wrestler suits along the roadside. Aside from the mud, that photo is refreshing on several levels.

    Ahah! I’m with you on that!

  12. @razmaspaz

    I don’t know, yesterday’s stage looked like a lot of suffering for a long long time. That was a lot of climbing.

    7.5 hours. That’s a proper stage. But theirs were longer. And, the roads were muddier, evidently. Still harder. And their bikes sucked more. And some of them used the Vittoria Margaritaville mech which got it’s name from the fact that you needed a one-beer buz inorder to operate it successfully.

    Oh, right. And their energy drink? Champagne. Fucking headache material, right there. Can’t imagine downing a bodon of that shit in the hot sun during a ride.

  13. Suffering is certainly just suffering. The heavier, less advanced bikes meant they climbed slower and longer, but your rivet is the same as my rivet. They both meaning the joy of a hypoxic mind and that full body tingling as muscles gasp is frustration.

    In two generations, our DNA hasn’t changed such that they felt suffering any differently. We like to romanticize the mud, but is the mud really hard on your or your bike? Rain then is like rain now, wet and cold — maybe our rain is more full of acid now? External conditions might not have been as nice then, but on the bike, we suffer alike.

  14. @razmaspaz
    Indeed. Read about the first stage through the Pyrenees. The winner took 13 hours! It was over 300km.

  15. @Oli
    You’re either taking it to an entirely new level, or confidently banking on the fact that the ignorant masses (myself included) will try to plaster over their ignorance by pretending to know what you are talking about. Or both. Well done.

  16. @Collin
    To sum up, it doesn’t get easier, you just go faster.

  17. @Nate – would I shit you? The stories of Bartali persisting with this antiquated design long after the parallelogram derailleur was being used are legion, despite it costing his some races and causing no end of frustration. Must be a Catholic flagellation thing.

  18. @Oli
    All in good fun and not surprised you have corroborated your analysis. Thanks as always for the history lesson. Also, that thing looks like the primary design criteria was mortification of the flesh both on the bike and off. Catholic? I’d guess Signore Bartali was a full fledged member of Opus Dei or something.

  19. Oli :

    Bartali’s running a Vittoria Margherita .

    Isn’t that a pizza?

  20. @il ciclista medio
    Vittoria evidently learned that metal bits were not their forte.

  21. il ciclista medio:

    Oli :
    Bartali’s running a Vittoria Margherita .

    Isn’t that a pizza?

    Haha!

    I think Italians named a lot of things Margherita, after their Queen in the early part of the 20th century. Slightly related, one of the stories of how the famed Celeste colour of Bianchi was arrived at was that it was supposed to be the colour of Queen Margherita’s eyes…either that or it was a job lot of paint left over from painting Italy’s fleet of battleships.

  22. They stopped a Grand Prix yesterday because of rain……tut.tut.tut

  23. Though more than a few Velominati might find this interesting: http://www.jpost.com/Sports/Long-overdue-honor-for-righteous-Christian-Italian-cycling-great-Bartali-328174

    Seems like Bartali was more than just a great bike racer but a great human being too. I tend to eschew having “heroes” in favor of people I strongly admire, but in this case I might make an exception.

  24. @Ron

    Very cool photo, for sure. That does look like a miniature fender on Bobet’s front wheel.

    Hmm, definitely a challenge to compare, but I think it’s the truth: suffering is suffering, no matter what the pressure is like, how your gear is, or what the roads are like. They suffered in different ways, but yes, riding at your limit requires a serious dose of Rule V no matter what the year is.

    Fenders………….

  25. Amaƶing internet web site Mignonette

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