The Eternal Seconds: Heroes or Villians?

The Eternal Seconds: Heroes or Villians?

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Joop Zoetemelk was a hard man, a tough nut to crack. He specialized in getting second place, a talent he developed under the doctrine of Eddy Merckx and mastered via the harsh tutelage of Bernard Hinault. It’s very seductive to lean back in our armchairs and draw the conclusion that our sport’s Eternal Seconds, as they’re called, are the weaker men than their rivals. The sport is filled with this familiar story; a rider comes up and is hailed as perhaps the next great rider, only to have synchronized their career with a more dominant rider.

Poulidor, who started with Anquetil and finished with Merckx. Zoetemelk, who started with Merckx and finished with Hinault. Then EPO entered the peloton and the balances were set off for a bit as riders who shouldn’t have been at the top were popping in for table scraps before Ullrich took the helm by getting on the podium in the Tour more often than any champion before him had won the Tour. Like Chimera and Bellerophon, every great hero needs a villain and it seems these riders are always there to stand up and fight year after year, against all odds.

In keeping with the Chimera and Bellerophon metaphor, I’m not so sure it is the victor who is the hero and the loser the villain. In my ski racing days, I was at the top of my game – I even had one season where I was undefeated throughout. That season was, without hesitation, my least rewarding season; winning became a question of margin – I even won one time trial where I started last and caught up to each of my teammates in serial and paced them to the next teammate such that we all finished in a big line of eight skiers.

The most rewarding season was the year where I struggled to fight back after losing motivation (due to the previous season’s excess) and still managed to win the key events. But the real fun wasn’t so much in the winning or losing, but in the bond it built between me and my principal rival; we both fought to the point of blacking out and neither of us ever – even for a minute – relented.

Extrapolating from that small-world experience to what it takes to become a Pro Cyclist capable of wining the Tour de France, it gives some insight into the mentality of the athletes who play out these battles that figure so prominently in our interpretation of our sport. To that end, I wonder if the champions don’t have the psychologically easier side of the coin. After all, they suffer almost the same amount, endure almost the same pressures and endure almost the same amount of discipline and sacrifice in pursuit of their goals. But one has the reward of victory and one the indignity of loss.

To come back year after year as victor seems almost like a picnic in comparison to the brutality of coming back year after year only to lose once again – then to resolve to return undeterred. In this sense, the loser who refused to quit endurs the suffering and sacrifice without the glory that comes with winning. Without them and their unrelenting optimism, the story would be less bright, less colorful. Which is the hero in our story?

// Folklore // Nostalgia

  1. I tend to think of them in the same way as ‘chokers’ in tennis or golf for example.

    People who clearly have the talent, have done the training, endured the suffering but somehow manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory or never produce their best on the big stage.

    Cycling is a sport which deceives us by offering more chance of redemption, certainly over a stage race, whereas many sports come down to one moment where the hapless loser fluffs a critical point. But in our hearts and heads we know they aren’t going to turn it around tomorrow, or the next day.

    I think it’s all in the head. There is something in them that doubts their right to win.

    Their curse is not to have been born at the same time as someone better, their curse is that they believed it.

    Once you ask the question “Do I deserve this” you’ve already started losing.

    Serial winners have something verging on arrogance (Armstrong, Hinault) or perhaps inevitability (Merckx, Anquetil, Indurain, Contador). Je ne sais quoi… I’m not sure what the exact word for it should be but it is a combination of those things.

    The loser is the one plagued by doubt and deference. They question themselves, they think too much. They fear winning for exactly the scenario Frank described – once you are at the top they see only one way to go.

    It’s a fascinating question which will never go away. And even more fascinating when applied to whole teams – the White Sox for example, or Collingwood Aussie rules club. Both had very long streaks of losing (now broken) against all odds of performance and rational probability.

  2. @moondance

    Nicely done. Perhaps this is why we tend to root for the underdogs? I am too familiar with this, being a lifelong Cubs fan (hey, this is our century). We have a guy at work who has no connection whatsoever to New York, yet is a Yankee fan. We constantly rag on him for it. It is too easy to like a perpetual winner. Sometimes there is a hatred towards the big powers. As there was with Merckx, Hinault, even Pharmstrong (among myriad reasons).

    I believe that continuing to strive when you know you will usually be bettered is indeed heroic. Because one time, just one day, it will be your day….

    Interesting point, so does this mean a certain A.Schleck is in the running to be an eternal second..or..because he technically won because Bertie was stuffing his face with dodgy steaks does he count as a one time winner and therefore not able to become an eternal second…he looks like a prime candidate in the modern race, possessing dubious descending and timetrialling skills could just be the weaknesses that earn him that position…I wonder how he would have done in this years Vuelta?

  3. Nice one! I can’t imagine how much fortitude it takes to keep coming back & to always bring it when you are riding against such a strong rival. That level of commitment and the unrelenting effort are amazing.

    On another note, if we want to talk about the ball sports and suffering – fuck all the Boston/New England whining that I had to put up with when growing up (prior to them winning in baseball, football, hockey), fuck the Cubs talk. You want to know who has lived with real fucking pain? Buffalo fans. To get down to the final game FOUR times in a row and lose and on a field goal. That’s fucking pain. And. To have Brett Hull and a bunch of fake hockey fans in fucking Texas steal a Stanley Cup on a non-goal after four overtimes. That is fucking pain. Just sucking year after year isn’t painful. Try living through those long cold Buffalo winters after that. Then we’ll talk about suffering.

  4. @ChrisO

    Their curse is not to have been born at the same time as someone better, their curse is that they believed it.

    I could re-read this all day long, it is so spot-on insightful.  You made my day.

  5. Great post, Frank – thanks! Joop has always been a hero of mine – partly because of his strangely moving ability often to “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory”, as @ChrisO so aptly put it – but certainly even more so because of his dogged determination. He would just keep coming back – admirable, to say the least.

    A lot has been written about Zoetemelk’s near-fatal crash in the Midi Libre in 1974, when he smacked into a car which was parked illegally on the race-course. Joop suffered a bad head injury and contracted meningitis – and his ’74 racing season disappeared down the U-bend… many have stated that if it hadn’t been for that bad crash, his palmares might have been even more impressive than it is today. But that’s just water under the bridge, surely…

    And yet… when a man like Bernhard Hinault expresses his views, we tend to sit up and take notice. In the link below, scrub to almost the very end, around 1.26.50, to hear what Le Blaireau lui-même has to say on the matter, to Dutch journalist Mart Smeets:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFCouGgBjxs

    1.26.52 – 1.27.26 – Here’s a transcript of what’s being said:

    Mart Smeets: “So, we had Joop as the winner, for the first time. “The eternal second…”, one could say…”

    Bernhard Hinault: “Don’t say that; you shouldn’t say that: People should realize that in the same year that Joop had his accident – it was in the Midi Libre – he had been winning just about every race he entered – ahead of Merckx; ahead of everybody. He was flying!

    After that crash, he had lost, in my opinion, 25% of his potential. For me, Joop is a great champion. How can he not be? Like no-one else, he has done battle with Merckx, with me, Bernhard Hinault, and with so many others…”

    Unquote. Couldn’t agree more with the words of the Badger: “Pour moi, Joop, c’est un grand champion…”.

  6. Nice post Frank – I think looking at the yin yang of it all, I would say that they are both hero and villain, winner and loser, champion and chump.

  7. @gaswepass Please please please don’t open old woulds, least of all on the night we have to face A** M*****’s (may he rest in torment) goon squad on their home turf.

    Nonetheless we remain hopeful, vigilant, returning every season to work, to suffer, perchance to win, just this once….

    Great post Frank – spot on not only in the cycling world, but transcendent. Every sport, every competition has these men/women/teams, and while they are easy for many of us to overlook, their work is no less profound or beautiful.

  8. ChrisO – Strong work there, pal. Very nice and that’s thoughtful analysis of it.

    ErikR – That’s incredible to read those words from Hinault. Respect for Zoop, respect for the Badger!

    Hey, does anyone have a good interview/article/video clip where a talented PRO is discussing the level of commitment, effort, energy and focus it takes, year after year, to do what they do? Yeah, this is touched upon in a lot of pieces, but I’d love to read/see something where a rider addresses just how much will power it takes to get to that level and stay there.

  9. @moondance

    I am too familiar with this, being a lifelong Cubs fan (hey, this is our century).

    As a lifelong Cardinals fan, you have my profoundest sympathies.

    @ChrisO

    Andy Schleck comes to mind as the current version.  Aside from LBL, a consistent run of seconds on the road; someone else in the race always believed in winning more than he did.

  10. I used to watch motorsports – probably still would if I didn’t spend my free time on cycling, and might return to it come winter-time for the long trainer sessions. I always had a soft spot for the less-successful. Guys full of talent who came at the wrong time – like the Armstrong period, motorsports has a list of all-time greats who dominated like never before. Michael Schumacher, Valentino Rossi and Sebastien Loeb won as they pleased, riding the best equipment with the best-managed teams. With the exception of Loeb, who I liked from his 2002 debut in the red Xsara WRC, I always found myself rooting for those less fortunate. Mika Hakkinen, later Fernando Alonso. Yes, he’s a whiny cunt at times, but that’s what I love about him. His two magic seasons at Renault, the ups and downs ever since – always an amazing driver, but not quite as precise and machine-perfect as the newest generation of Vettel and Hamilton.

    Same with Casey Stoner – when he got things right, he was unbeatable, but watching him wrestle that monster of a Ducati was unbelievable. When one thinks how many teammates he had, and all of them were seconds off his pace – that just makes you realize what a monster of a bike he managed to tame. A bike that even Rossi can’t handle, it seems.

  11. good guys coming second ? ……… no one really remembers their names i guess ……….. id rather have complete anonymity than world wide derision ………. just sayin ……….

  12. oh ………… and i canny make the scottish cogal coz im working !!!! ……… ive cycled most of the route and it is pretty amazing…..just watch the busy sections….they can be …well…. scary !!! …………. njoy the amber reward … u will have earned it …………..

  13. …och…aye…the…noo…!…

  14. yet another good work Frank

    As I read, and thought, initially the gut response is to say that we indeed only remember the winners, the triumphant, the victors; therefore to answer the question…they are the heros.  But I thought…

    And have to say, that there are some of the most memorable rides for second and even without podiums, that speak to me, like Johnny Hoogerlands ride last July, it was a phenomenal performance…and respectable.

    Then I bounce back, and have to remind myself, that there is a reason we keep time, keep score, because someone wins, some lose..and that is our sport.

    So, I thought some more, which is dangerouse my wife tells me.  And I suppose there are more than just categories we would recognize as simply ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, there are real winners that we respect, recognize and ride like it..ala Eddy, and winners that are total douches, perhaps they don’t even deserve a win, and are mocked and boooooed all the way to the line…ala cuntoder. 

    Losers I suppose would split much the same, there are some eternal seconds that I totally stinkin respect, in fact, love, some in fact would place my beloved Pantani here had he not won the Giro and Tour, as his career was often playing second or less, but he had style, he rode his own way and did so unapologetically…sorry for those who hate him..this is why.  But also I loved the underdog Julio Perez, who rode for Panaria and did well in the Giro in the late 90’s, and early 2000’s, but never won the prom.  He flew, and had many more bad days than good, like me, maybe that why I liked him so much.    And there are losers I hate, who give up, who make excuses, who simply can do better..ala Schlecks IMHO.

    so, whose heros and villians, I suppose…yes, they all are

    I love and hate them all, winners, losers, hero’s, villians

  15. @Marcus

    It is interesting that membership of the Eternal Second Club seems to be automatically revoked upon attaining one win (in the particular event). Imagine if Cuddles didn’t succeed in the 2011 Tour? That would have given him 3 second places at the Tour and probably (in the eyes of many) an unfulfilled career.

    Now, with his Tour win, it seems like the rest of his palmares suddenly looks better too. He is a Tour winner, world champ, classic winner, etc. If he wasnt to have won the Tour, he might have been a Tour contender who fluked the rainbows, etc.

    Not to mention his four second places and one third place at the Dauphine…

    …and his second places and podiums at La Fleche before he won it. I think it takes more than a win to change it – Ullrich won lots, so did Pou-pou, so did Zoetemelk as @Gianni said – including the Tour – but I think the difference is more in the style and attacking (or lack-there-of) style of riding.

    Cuddles fundamentally changed the way he races and I think that’s why he’s out of the club now. He’s an attacker now and does what it takes to win a race. He used to sit in and wait for others to tow him to the finish – look at the difference between 2007 and 2011; Sastre was up the road riding away with the race and he was too timid to tow the Schlecks and Valvecap up to the finish and close the gap. In 2011, he was in the same position and said, “right, this is what it takes to win; I’ll tow them up and do it myself.” That’s brilliant racing.

    The passive tactics and getting beat year after year without changing the style of racing is what really cements the reputation. Sweetmilk won the Tour, but only because everyone else didn’t show up at the finish and his second place tactics landed him in first.

  16. @gaswepass

    @moondance

    Nicely done. Perhaps this is why we tend to root for the underdogs? I am too familiar with this, being a lifelong Cubs fan (hey, this is our century).

    Frank, isn’t there a special Rule V merit badge for cubs fans? Thats a demographic that knows how to suffer. Perhaps only exceeded by the pre-baltimore ravens Cleveland Browns fans ( to sit there in the lakefront stadium in the snow half-dressed and half drunk in the middle of a snowstorm watching em lose again…).

    I don’t even know what you’re talking about, but that doesn’t sound like The V and it doesn’t sound like its worth my time to make a badge for!

    @Deakus

    @moondance

    Nicely done. Perhaps this is why we tend to root for the underdogs? I am too familiar with this, being a lifelong Cubs fan (hey, this is our century). We have a guy at work who has no connection whatsoever to New York, yet is a Yankee fan. We constantly rag on him for it. It is too easy to like a perpetual winner. Sometimes there is a hatred towards the big powers. As there was with Merckx, Hinault, even Pharmstrong (among myriad reasons).

    I believe that continuing to strive when you know you will usually be bettered is indeed heroic. Because one time, just one day, it will be your day….

    Interesting point, so does this mean a certain A.Schleck is in the running to be an eternal second..or..because he technically won because Bertie was stuffing his face with dodgy steaks does he count as a one time winner and therefore not able to become an eternal second…he looks like a prime candidate in the modern race, possessing dubious descending and timetrialling skills could just be the weaknesses that earn him that position…I wonder how he would have done in this years Vuelta?

    Schelckles is definitely a candidate. We’ll have to see if he gets better – though he showed promise with his 2011 attack over the Galibier; the only thing that separated that from a brilliant move was the ITT two days later. If he’s have pulled it off, it would have been a Merckxian accomplishment.

    In that light, I’m on the fence – but he needs to get his shit together. Though racing with a broken hip is up there.

  17. @Duane

    @ChrisO

    Their curse is not to have been born at the same time as someone better, their curse is that they believed it.

    I could re-read this all day long, it is so spot-on insightful.  You made my day.

    Indeed. Very well put!! Bugno falls into that as well.

  18. @frank

    I’m going to qualify my statement about Bugno – he had an Indurain complex, but it never extended beyond the Tour. If it wasn’t the Tour, he was a killer – even beating a stronger, faster, Apostle Museeuw.

  19. @ErikdR

    Mart Smeets: “So, we had Joop as the winner, for the first time. “The eternal second…”, one could say…”

    Bernhard Hinault: “Don’t say that; you shouldn’t say that: People should realize that in the same year that Joop had his accident – it was in the Midi Libre – he had been winning just about every race he entered – ahead of Merckx; ahead of everybody. He was flying!

    After that crash, he had lost, in my opinion, 25% of his potential. For me, Joop is a great champion. How can he not be? Like no-one else, he has done battle with Merckx, with me, Bernhard Hinault, and with so many others…”

    Unquote. Couldn’t agree more with the words of the Badger: “Pour moi, Joop, c’est un grand champion…”.

    Brilliant stuff, mate. Brilliant. Isn’t ’74 the year Hinault ditched off the road in the Midi-Libre? That emphasizes the point in my opinion. Even if I’m wrong, which I’ve gotten so used to that it doesn’t even impact my opinions anymore!

  20. @Ron

    ChrisO – Strong work there, pal. Very nice and that’s thoughtful analysis of it.

    ErikR – That’s incredible to read those words from Hinault. Respect for Zoop, respect for the Badger!

    Hey, does anyone have a good interview/article/video clip where a talented PRO is discussing the level of commitment, effort, energy and focus it takes, year after year, to do what they do? Yeah, this is touched upon in a lot of pieces, but I’d love to read/see something where a rider addresses just how much will power it takes to get to that level and stay there.

    Forget the video. Get a book, dude. Merckx, Half Man, Half Machine is a good place to start.

    Hamilton’s book on the Secret Race is another. Pharmy’s book Its Not About the Bike is another. Dopers, for sure, but the sacrifice and the work comes through nicely in both those books nevertheless.

  21. @bluesky

    good guys coming second ? ……… no one really remembers their names i guess ……….. id rather have complete anonymity than world wide derision ………. just sayin ……….

    @bluesky

    oh ………… and i canny make the scottish cogal coz im working !!!! ……… ive cycled most of the route and it is pretty amazing…..just watch the busy sections….they can be …well…. scary !!! …………. njoy the amber reward … u will have earned it …………..

    *ppppsssst!* Your period key is sticking!

  22. @frank

    @ErikdR

    Mart Smeets: “So, we had Joop as the winner, for the first time. “The eternal second…”, one could say…”

    Bernhard Hinault: “Don’t say that; you shouldn’t say that: People should realize that in the same year that Joop had his accident – it was in the Midi Libre – he had been winning just about every race he entered – ahead of Merckx; ahead of everybody. He was flying!

    After that crash, he had lost, in my opinion, 25% of his potential. For me, Joop is a great champion. How can he not be? Like no-one else, he has done battle with Merckx, with me, Bernhard Hinault, and with so many others…”

    Unquote. Couldn’t agree more with the words of the Badger: “Pour moi, Joop, c’est un grand champion…”.

    Brilliant stuff, mate. Brilliant. Isn’t ’74 the year Hinault ditched off the road in the Midi-Libre? That emphasizes the point in my opinion. Even if I’m wrong, which I’ve gotten so used to that it doesn’t even impact my opinions anymore!

    You are confused but don’t let that stop you.  Hinault is talking about Zoetmelk’s crash.  You are confusing Hinault’s crash in the 1977 Dauphiné maybe with Roger Rivière’s crash recounted in The Rider?

     

  23. @Souleur

    yet another good work Frank

    As I read, and thought, initially the gut response is to say that we indeed only remember the winners, the triumphant, the victors; therefore to answer the question…they are the heros.  But I thought…

    And have to say, that there are some of the most memorable rides for second and even without podiums, that speak to me, like Johnny Hoogerlands ride last July, it was a phenomenal performance…and respectable.

    Then I bounce back, and have to remind myself, that there is a reason we keep time, keep score, because someone wins, some lose..and that is our sport.

    So, I thought some more, which is dangerouse my wife tells me.  And I suppose there are more than just categories we would recognize as simply ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, there are real winners that we respect, recognize and ride like it..ala Eddy, and winners that are total douches, perhaps they don’t even deserve a win, and are mocked and boooooed all the way to the line…ala cuntoder.

    Losers I suppose would split much the same, there are some eternal seconds that I totally stinkin respect, in fact, love, some in fact would place my beloved Pantani here had he not won the Giro and Tour, as his career was often playing second or less, but he had style, he rode his own way and did so unapologetically…sorry for those who hate him..this is why.  But also I loved the underdog Julio Perez, who rode for Panaria and did well in the Giro in the late 90″²s, and early 2000″²s, but never won the prom.  He flew, and had many more bad days than good, like me, maybe that why I liked him so much.    And there are losers I hate, who give up, who make excuses, who simply can do better..ala Schlecks IMHO.

    so, whose heros and villians, I suppose…yes, they all are

    I love and hate them all, winners, losers, hero’s, villians

    Great stuff. I think the difference is that the right kind of rider who gets second somehow gets classified as a fighter not a loser – its the fighting spirit that defines the quality of the winner, right? And that can only happen when there is a worthy battle.

    Its like the Schleck-haters saying he was a soft cock for losing the Tour to Cadel. I’d say he was an awesome competitor that year with his big attack to the Galibier and his fighting spirit is what made Cadel’s win all the better. Same goes for his loss in 2010 against Conti – remember that had it not been for the dropped chain he’d have tied – and he attacked relentlessly up the Tourmalet on the last day and was beating Conti in the ITT until the wind picked up and his shit-ass TT position turned into a reverse sail.

    I’m convinced, though, that in 2010 he’d have lost even without the chain – Conti was a fighter more than Schleck and had they been tied he’d have found a way to win nevertheless.

  24. @Nate

    Indeed – I realized it was Joop’s crash but had forgotten it was ’77 when Hinault crashed. It would have been poetic if both were ’74, though – yeah?

    I say we re-write history. Or re-right it, as it were.

  25. @frank

    I say we re-write history. Or re-right it, as it were.

    You’re perpetuating a highly entertaining Dutch tradition, viz Anquetil’s bidon.  Carry on.

  26. I found myself at work today thinking about the “eternal seconds”.  I was trying to think of the modern version  I’ve seen Cadel mentioned, Andy (although maybe Frank Schleck should be too) mentioned, I kept coming back to this question: would you guys consider J-Rod the 2012 version, perhaps not eternal, but the recent version given the Giro and Vuelta? I loved how he rode in the Vuelta until Bertie cracked him.  Seeing him attack climbs and defending jerseys just to see him fail near the end, had me feeling for him and respecting him this year. 

  27. @frank

    Conti was a fighter more than Schleck and had they been tied he’d have found a way to win nevertheless.

    The Vuelta proved that point pretty well

  28. @frank

    Yes Cuddles’ change in racing style was the thing that changed him – and to me, the precise point in time when it did change was at the bottom of the hill in Mendrisio when he attacked – Kolobnev didnt want to help the two Spaniards (Valverde and J-Rod) and the Spaniards were too scared of Fabian to chase Cadel. And poof, like Kaiser Soze, Cuddles was gone.

    What I find interesting about Evans is that he reckons he never changed his riding style, he seems to maintain that he would attack whenever he could – its just that in many races he has not had the ability to attack because he was at his limit. Maybe his more attacking nature is due not only to increased confidence but also due to maybe cleaner racing? Or that he started juicing himself. Or neither…

    Just finished Tyler Hamilton’s book – which is a must read for anyone interested in cycling. Such a shame for a guy like that to get so caught up in his denials that he ended up blowing up his life – when if he had just taken his medicine (a clumsy pun I know), like Millar, maybe he could have avoided years of angst and saved a lot of dough.

  29. I wonder if our liking of the eternal second placer stems in part from the excitement of wathing someone finally breaking the drought? Witness Marianne Voss’ recent win in the World’s road race – after FIVE consecutive silver medals. FIVE.

    As a view from th eother side of the fence, I read an interview some time ago with Sir Stirling Moss, who for a long time was (and probably still is) acknowledged as the best driver to never win a world championship. Asked the question yet again, he replied “Would I trade it all for one World Championship? No, I don’t think I would. I am far better known for never having won than a dozen others are for having one once.”

  30.  

    @Nate

    @frank

    I say we re-write history. Or re-right it, as it were.

    You’re perpetuating a highly entertaining Dutch tradition, viz Anquetil’s bidon.  Carry on.

    Ha! Spot on, mate – that’s what I was reminded of, too. “Those photographs of Anquetil climbing with a bidon on his frame are clearly inaccurate…”

  31. @Nate

    @frank

    @ErikdR

    Mart Smeets: “So, we had Joop as the winner, for the first time. “The eternal second…”, one could say…”

    Bernhard Hinault: “Don’t say that; you shouldn’t say that: People should realize that in the same year that Joop had his accident – it was in the Midi Libre – he had been winning just about every race he entered – ahead of Merckx; ahead of everybody. He was flying!

    After that crash, he had lost, in my opinion, 25% of his potential. For me, Joop is a great champion. How can he not be? Like no-one else, he has done battle with Merckx, with me, Bernhard Hinault, and with so many others…”

    Unquote. Couldn’t agree more with the words of the Badger: “Pour moi, Joop, c’est un grand champion…”.

    Brilliant stuff, mate. Brilliant. Isn’t ’74 the year Hinault ditched off the road in the Midi-Libre? That emphasizes the point in my opinion. Even if I’m wrong, which I’ve gotten so used to that it doesn’t even impact my opinions anymore!

    You are confused but don’t let that stop you.  Hinault is talking about Zoetmelk’s crash.  You are confusing Hinault’s crash in the 1977 Dauphiné maybe with Roger Rivière’s crash recounted in The Rider?

     
    Doesn’t Krabbé also mention Hinault’s crash – i.e. the one where Hinault flies off the road, drops 4-5 meters down some very steep slope with trees and then clambers back up? (It’s been ages since I read ‘De Renner’, but I seem to remember something about Krabbé referring to Hinault as a rider who “fell down like a mere mortal, and crawled back up as a “vedette” – i.e. in some kind of a-star-is-born manner. I can’t find my copy of the book anywhere, though. Rhhaaarghh. Time for a visit to Amazon, mayhaps

  32. Great article, with a very interesting perspective – yet another example of why I love this site.  If Velominati had a print publication, I’d be a lifelong subscriber.

    I certainly wouldn’t call him an eternal second since he only finished 2nd in it once, but every year when Paris-Roubaix rolls around it seems like just about everybody (fans, journalists, pundits, other riders – both in the US and abroad) is rooting for Hincapie, even if realistically he hasn’t got a snowball’s chance in L’enfer du Nord of winning it.  I haven’t seen that kind of support for any other rider in recent past.  I also won’t go so far as to say from a fabled story perspective one could claim Hincapie as Bellerophon and the race itself the Chimera, especially since the race seems to chew him up and spit him out each year, but to me there is certainly something heroic about coming back season after season and trying to tame the beast, even when you and everyone else knows your sword is starting to dull.

  33. @VeloVita

    Great article, with a very interesting perspective – yet another example of why I love this site.  If Velominati had a print publication, I’d be a lifelong subscriber.

    Have you looked at Rouleur ? It’s probably the closest thing in print, but without the one-eyed Dutchman, nipple lube, Assos girl and sheep-shagging jokes.

    BTW they have a good article on Ambrosio in the currentish edition, apropos of the previous article here about wheels.

  34. @frank/marcus

    i agree, Schleck the lesser did nail one of the longest solo breakaways in my recent memory and it was a valiant ride, which made for a great Tour that year, good point

    I think apart from Cuddles racing style, the part I saw as significant to his win was actually a team that was focused on a common goal, whereas before he had always had a team who was moreless focused on spring classics or stage wins, and not REALLY acquainted with a GCr hope

    And good point on bringing up Hincapie,  I think he really fits in on the eternal second in a lot of ways, he is the consumate super domestique, destined to second or less, as his job is much different, but on the days he was able to really race, how many times did he win?   Not many, I have rooted for him endlessly in Paris-Roubaix only to swallow the bitter pill of deciet and admit that he wasn’t really ever going to pull it out, but he was a fierce competitor and added such flavor to the race

  35. @ErikdR

    @Nate

    @frank

    @ErikdR

    Mart Smeets: “So, we had Joop as the winner, for the first time. “The eternal second…”, one could say…”

    Bernhard Hinault: “Don’t say that; you shouldn’t say that: People should realize that in the same year that Joop had his accident – it was in the Midi Libre – he had been winning just about every race he entered – ahead of Merckx; ahead of everybody. He was flying!

    After that crash, he had lost, in my opinion, 25% of his potential. For me, Joop is a great champion. How can he not be? Like no-one else, he has done battle with Merckx, with me, Bernhard Hinault, and with so many others…”

    Unquote. Couldn’t agree more with the words of the Badger: “Pour moi, Joop, c’est un grand champion…”.

    Brilliant stuff, mate. Brilliant. Isn’t ’74 the year Hinault ditched off the road in the Midi-Libre? That emphasizes the point in my opinion. Even if I’m wrong, which I’ve gotten so used to that it doesn’t even impact my opinions anymore!

    You are confused but don’t let that stop you.  Hinault is talking about Zoetmelk’s crash.  You are confusing Hinault’s crash in the 1977 Dauphiné maybe with Roger Rivière’s crash recounted in The Rider?

    Doesn’t Krabbé also mention Hinault’s crash – i.e. the one where Hinault flies off the road, drops 4-5 meters down some very steep slope with trees and then clambers back up? (It’s been ages since I read ‘De Renner’, but I seem to remember something about Krabbé referring to Hinault as a rider who “fell down like a mere mortal, and crawled back up as a “vedette” – i.e. in some kind of a-star-is-born manner. I can’t find my copy of the book anywhere, though. Rhhaaarghh. Time for a visit to Amazon, mayhaps

    Yes, that’s right.  He mentions Riviere because Riviere fell on one of the descents in the Tour de Mont Aigoual, then starts talking about Hinault falling, Wim van Est, etc.

    @ChrisO

    @VeloVita

    Great article, with a very interesting perspective – yet another example of why I love this site.  If Velominati had a print publication, I’d be a lifelong subscriber.

    Have you looked at Rouleur ? It’s probably the closest thing in print, but without the one-eyed Dutchman, nipple lube, Assos girl and sheep-shagging jokes.

    BTW they have a good article on Ambrosio in the currentish edition, apropos of the previous article here about wheels.

    @ChrisO

    BTW they have a good article on Ambrosio in the currentish edition, apropos of the previous article here about wheels.

    Which number be that?

  36. @Marcus

    Yes Cuddles‘ change in racing style was the thing that changed him – and to me, the precise point in time when it did change was at the bottom of the hill in Mendrisio when he attacked – Kolobnev didnt want to help the two Spaniards (Valverde and J-Rod) and the Spaniards were too scared of Fabian to chase Cadel. And poof, like Kaiser Soze, Cuddles was gone.

    I remember the moment well; he looked back and was almost surprised to see the gap and he just kept going. The moment that changed his style for ever (hopefully).

  37. Its like the Schleck-haters saying he was a soft cock for losing the Tour to Cadel. I’d say he was an awesome competitor that year with his big attack to the Galibier and his fighting spirit is what made Cadel’s win all the better. Same goes for his loss in 2010 against Conti – remember that had it not been for the dropped chain he’d have tied – and he attacked relentlessly up the Tourmalet on the last day and was beating Conti in the ITT until the wind picked up and his shit-ass TT position turned into a reverse sail.

    I’m convinced, though, that in 2010 he’d have lost even without the chain – Conti was a fighter more than Schleck and had they been tied he’d have found a way to win nevertheless.

    Frank:  your Dirty Schleck Love is showing.  I will grant that that one day Andy actually rode like a tough cyclist but it is sooo overshadowed by all the whinging he and his brother did about the decents that year. 

    Switch subject:  You read Hamilton’s new book?  I have not yet.  Any review coming?   

    Lastly, another fitting classic mythology dueling duo that would have fit would have been Darmok and Jalad.

  38. @Nate

     

    Yes, that’s right.  He mentions Riviere because Riviere fell on one of the descents in the Tour de Mont Aigoual, then starts talking about Hinault falling, Wim van Est, etc.

     

    Great; thanks, Nate! (Note to self: buy new copy of ‘De Renner’)

    On a completely different note: the sun is way over the yard-arm here in autumny Denmark (almost 6.30 p.m.), and it’s getting dark – but life is good:


    Am planning to do some work tomorrow on the thirty year old steel Moser that my father gave me a few months ago (his own old bike), and if the weather on Sunday turns out as good as the forecast promises, take it for a spin. Will let you know how it went. Have a nice weekend, all.

  39. @frank

    @Ron

    ChrisO – Strong work there, pal. Very nice and that’s thoughtful analysis of it.

    ErikR – That’s incredible to read those words from Hinault. Respect for Zoop, respect for the Badger!

    Hey, does anyone have a good interview/article/video clip where a talented PRO is discussing the level of commitment, effort, energy and focus it takes, year after year, to do what they do? Yeah, this is touched upon in a lot of pieces, but I’d love to read/see something where a rider addresses just how much will power it takes to get to that level and stay there.

    Forget the video. Get a book, dude. Merckx, Half Man, Half Machine is a good place to start.

    Hamilton’s book on the Secret Race is another. Pharmy’s book Its Not About the Bike is another. Dopers, for sure, but the sacrifice and the work comes through nicely in both those books nevertheless.

    Half Man, Half Machine is a great place to start. Took me no time to finish, but it puts being so dominate into prespective. And you get why The Prophet’s cycling career was relatively short.

  40. @Marcus

    @frank

    Just finished Tyler Hamilton’s book – which is a must read for anyone interested in cycling. Such a shame for a guy like that to get so caught up in his denials that he ended up blowing up his life – when if he had just taken his medicine (a clumsy pun I know), like Millar, maybe he could have avoided years of angst and saved a lot of dough.

    Unfortunately, what made Tyler great – his ability to suffer under great pain, was his undoing. His massive depression would have been abaited by the physical suffering of great challenges, but his metal state could not deal with the small stuff and drove him back into the darkness. As is public, I can atest, the small stuff is what can be the toughest challenges. hehehe, although a few explosions around me ain’t gonna help either. Or my mother-in-law.

  41. @ChrisO

    Yes to Rouleur.  Its a wonderful publication, however, without a local stockist its a little cost prohibitive for me to subscribe in the US and some of the issues don’t appeal to me all that much so I’d love to be able to peruse it first. If you haven’t checked out the Rouleur podcast that they put out with the release of each new issue, they are worth downloading.

  42. @Nate

    It would be number 33… or if you’re Sean Kelly, tirty tree.

    Illustration by Jo Burt on the cover.

    @VeloVita I know what you mean. I love it but sometimes want to burn it when they think they are a fashion mag. For example there’s a nice article about the Polish Peace Race winner Stanislaw Krolak, let down by a total lack of captions on the photos. Some shots are of 70 year old Polish guys… it’s not him because he died three years ago so how am I supposed to work out who the f*ck they are and what relevance they have to the story ? And some fantastic historical shots but you have no idea if they show the riders the story is about, whether it is the same year, or even the same race. Bit too artsy for their own good sometimes. And some of the stuff is just too wordy – Herbie Sykes needs a good sub-editor.

  43. @ErikdR

    (Note to self: buy new copy of ‘De Renner’)

    The translation into English is a masterpiece; it truly is exceptionally well done – the best example of Dutch/English translation I’ve ever seen. That said, I’d love to read it in Dutch and get a look at his prose in its natural state – must be incredible!

  44. @Dan_R

    @frank

    @Ron

    ChrisO – Strong work there, pal. Very nice and that’s thoughtful analysis of it.

    ErikR – That’s incredible to read those words from Hinault. Respect for Zoop, respect for the Badger!

    Hey, does anyone have a good interview/article/video clip where a talented PRO is discussing the level of commitment, effort, energy and focus it takes, year after year, to do what they do? Yeah, this is touched upon in a lot of pieces, but I’d love to read/see something where a rider addresses just how much will power it takes to get to that level and stay there.

    Forget the video. Get a book, dude. Merckx, Half Man, Half Machine is a good place to start.

    Hamilton’s book on the Secret Race is another. Pharmy’s book Its Not About the Bike is another. Dopers, for sure, but the sacrifice and the work comes through nicely in both those books nevertheless.

    Half Man, Half Machine is a great place to start. Took me no time to finish, but it puts being so dominate into prespective. And you get why The Prophet‘s cycling career was relatively short.

    Yeah, you can only live life with the throttle wide-open for so long before you burn out the engine!

  45. @ChrisO

    @Nate

    It would be number 33… or if you’re Sean Kelly, tirty tree.

    Nice one.

    And some of the stuff is just too wordy – Herbie Sykes needs a good sub-editor.

    A famous Dutch writer once said that writing is striking; so true – you write and then you start chopping out all the extra shit you don’t need – which can be a painful thing to do when you’re cutting bits of phrasing that you fell in love with but which don’t offer any value to the piece…

  46. Fast Freddy Maertens- this doesn’t really belong here but it’s worth looking at. This site is great but his link to a Belgian beer is beauty. Not Malteni but good. Check out Freddy and the B+B video. Beautiful work here.

    http://www.flandriacafe.com/2012/09/waar-is-freddy.html

  47. @ChrisO

    It would be number 33… or if you’re Sean Kelly, tirty tree.

    Well played.  I think of King Kelly whenever I think of a number in the 30s.

  48. @Gianni

    Fast Freddy Maertens- this doesn’t really belong here but it’s worth looking at. This site is great but his link to a Belgian beer is beauty. Not Malteni but good. Check out Freddy and the B+B video. Beautiful work here. http://www.flandriacafe.com/2012/09/waar-is-freddy.html

    I’m not sure the youngsters really appreciated the fact that they were being attended to by one of the disciples. Kinda sad to see Freddy reduced to this, but I guess he wasn’t too smart with his “investments” after he retired . . .

  49. @wiscot Bless Freddy, he was a champagne drinking playboy. No thought for his 401k. Still, I love him sitting in the cement mixer/ B+B, 2 feet behind that couple, blowing the horn. It amuses us simple folk.

  50. @frank

    @ErikdR

    (Note to self: buy new copy of ‘De Renner’)

    The translation into English is a masterpiece; it truly is exceptionally well done – the best example of Dutch/English translation I’ve ever seen. That said, I’d love to read it in Dutch and get a look at his prose in its natural state – must be incredible!

    Very slow to react to this, I’m aware – sorry (way too busy at work) – but thanks! I have this friend who I do a lot of work for (a Brit, married to a Danish VMH, who lives in Portugal – go figure…) – who is seriously considering getting back into road cycling – and I’ve been badgering him (see what I did there?) to get a copy of the EN version of “de Renner”. The guy in question works in the translating business –  like myself – and he’s a bit of a ‘purist’, so he’s usually leary of translated litterature. I’ll now inform him that I have it from a very reliable source that the English translation is spot on. Cheers. (I cannot believe that I can’t find my Dutch copy, though – I actually should have TWO floating about the house somewhere. Tell you what: if both should re-appear at some point, I’ll send you one of them…)

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