Anatomy of a Photo: The Man with the Crystal Globes

Anatomy of a Photo: The Man with the Crystal Globes

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As a cycling fan, I find that it is easy to neglect some of the physiological particularities of our sport.  In my mind, Faboo and Jens are giants””not merely Giants of the Road, but enormous men with enormous legs and broad shoulders, quite literally ready to carry the weight of the team.  Typically, we see cycling’s rouleurs only in comparison to each other, and so deep are my impressions of the imposing directors of the peloton that when I see them standing in all of their glory on the podium looking the picture of a 12-year old boy next to the high-heeled and (thankfully) be-skirted podium models, I am convinced that the organizers of Grand Tours have found and begun to exploit a tribe of beautiful Amazonian ogres somewhere deep in the forests of the Ardennes.

And then, you see photographs like this, and you remember that while these men are men, they are by and large small, freakish men by the standards of most modern athletes.

It’s 2003, and the directors of the Tour de France invite a legend of the Streif to kick off La Grande Boucle.  Coming off a nearly year and a half of rehab after a motorcycle accident nearly cost him his leg, a trim Hermann Maier makes a mockery of the of the “harmonious integration of man and machine” that defines our sport.  The man sprinkles The V and nails on his Wheaties and motor oil in the morning, but he is a meatstick of a man built for downhill speed.  He seems to swallow the rear wheel between his ham-hock thighs, and his saddle has been lost somewhere in the vagaries of muscle and grundle.  With every pedal stroke, you can hear the bike scream for mercy, but with three Crystal Globes for the World Cup Overall in his pocket and one looming on the horizon in 2004, Hermann Maier doesn’t make a living as a merciful man.  His stroke is smooth enough””it has to be, lest he cleave the bottom bracket in two””but he looks at any moment like he might simply break the bike in half like the wishbone of a strange flightless bird.

I was saying something about the men of the peloton?  Hardmen, indeed, but I’m pretty sure Maier’s left forearm just ate Frank Schleck.

And so, in honor of the World Cup Opener in Soelden this weekend, I submit to you the Herminator, en bici.  At 1’18 out in a 6.5k time trial, he didn’t exactly light the cycling world on fire, but to be 15% off of the world’s best time trialers when there’s 20% more of you than there is of them, well…chapeau.  For his next trick, the Man with the Crystal Globes plans a record-setting ski trip to the South Pole.  Which he will probably eat.

// Anatomy of a Photo // Racing

  1. I’m going on record right now – remember this next July – Jani Brajkovic is going to surprise everyone and win the 2011 edition of Le Tour.

  2. @Cyclops
    …and test positive a few days later.

  3. frank :

    @Cyclops
    …and test positive a few days later.

    All the kids are doin’ it.

  4. I think das Hermantor would be ideally suited for the Kilo.

  5. The Hermanator wouldn’t even fit in the back of the micro bus with der Kaiser and Klodenizzle. Just for the fun of it though, I’d love to see him kick Bodie Miller’s ass in a celebrity death match.

  6. @Cyclops
    bullshit

  7. Nice piece! Maier’s a beast and freak of nature. This is also post-motorcycle accident, which almost left him paralyzed. Of course, his recovery and subsequent training involved more than fifty hours a week on the stationary bike (yes, fifty hours a week), so he kind of knew what he was doing, even if he weighed in at ~90kg.

    There’s an underlying theme of body image here, too, which is pretty prevalent in the cycling world. While we make light of being too fat to climb here and weight is unquestionably a performance issue in professional cycling, I sometimes feel that male cyclists are worse than teenage girls when it comes to body image stuff (and I mean this in a health perspective, rather than as a derogatory remark). I’m not taking anything away from any of these riders (pro or otherwise), but I can’t help taking these guys seriously when they weigh less than one of my legs””the Herminator’s forearm eating Frank Schleck, indeed! Whole, for that matter. Their negative benefits to cycling notwithstanding, dude’s got guns for arms. And I can’t help thinking that a big man like Thor in the rainbows is only a good thing for the sport. Without going all macho-masculine about it, put a little meat on those bones.

  8. That is an awesome photo. He’s got some decent scars on his left arm too – some sort of wrist graze for sure, but wrapping around from back to front looks like a pretty deep surgical scar. Man is a legend.

    He is also the focus of some of the best television watching of my life. Nagano ’98, Mens Downhill. The Australian commentators had spoken about how everyone had to take this particular sector really slowly, and that wasn’t the Hermannator’s style, and what would he do, and so on. There was this great frenzy of expectation, and true to form, he was clearly going way faster than any other skier leading into the dangerous sector. Then he lost it, flew upside down, crashed horrifically, but got up to win a few golds a few days later. Absolutely awesome sport!

    @Cyclops: You are dreaming. He was good in the Dauphine, although had a very questionable TT result (got fined for improper feed DURING A TT!! How long had he been holding on prior to the Commissaires seeing him I wonder?) and if he is a hitter, won’t be able to pull those stunts off – 26″ out of Millar, 1’45” out of Contador… Completely sucked at TdF and Worlds after that. Hmmmmm.

  9. Spectacular piece. Two separate times, I laughed out loud:

    I was saying something about the men of the peloton? Hardmen, indeed, but I’m pretty sure Maier’s left forearm just ate Frank Schleck.

    and

    For his next trick, the Man with the Crystal Globes plans a record-setting ski trip to the South Pole. Which he will probably eat.

    Comic gold. And I haven’t even started drinking yet. So it will be twice as funny in 27 minutes when I finish my first Frankenstein.

  10. This also reminds me of a great quote by a commentator last year regarding Didier Cuche, a man of similarly monstrous physique:

    Sure, Cuche is only 5’8″, but when you meet him, you realize he’s 5’8″ in every direction.

    A few samples of Cuche:

    And…

    But I think he’s doing it wrong in this one:

  11. @frank
    That last one is not Cuche, Le Frank, it is Dani Albrecht, in the last training run off the last jump on the Streif in Kitzbuhel, about to knock himself the fuck out and spend a year and a half trying to get back to ski racing. He’s almost back, but he hurt his knee training in Switzerland last week, so he won’t be starting in Soelden.

    But that is all ski racing stuff. Mia culpa.

  12. Great, great, great!

    Growing up skiing and racing slalom and GS, I was an absolute fanatic for World Cup… Ingemar Stenmark, anyone? The Herminator is a true beast, too bad ski racing gets only slightly better coverage than bike racing in the US. Here’s to the hardmen of the piste!

  13. @Joshua
    This is a great point you make about rider sizes; We were at the 2003 Tour and were struck by how much smaller all the riders were than the looked on TV. Then we were at the 2004 World Cup Final in Sestrierres, and we were struck by how much bigger all the skiers were than they looked on TV. TV neutralizes everything, and these Alpine racers are monsters.

    And, as they say about pro cyclists: they live like monks, eat like birds, and work like horses.

  14. frank :
    We were at the 2003 Tour and were struck by how much smaller all the riders were than the looked on TV.

    Not to revisit this ad infinitum, but you were struck in 2003, too?? Jeez!

  15. @frank By “eat like birds” do you mean “twice their weight daily” or “barely anything”?

    Cycling sends my metabolism into overdrive. I have to eat constantly to keep from losing 1kg every two weeks and withering down to weigh less than my bike.

  16. @Geoffrey Grosenbach

    I have to eat constantly to keep from losing 1kg every two weeks and withering down to weigh less than my bike.

    In which case I envy you. I think in the pre-EPO days that’s about right; pros watched what they ate, but with the thousands of Kms they put on, it didn’t matter so much. You need a little bit of fat to burn on a long ride, you know? But then with EPO it seems they could burn on drugs alone and they can have zero body fat, so you get people like Pharmstrong weighing out their food and then riding for 6 hours.

    It doesn’t add up using the math that I know how to use. But maybe that’s what imaginary numbers are for.

  17. My weight loss saga is exactly that, I’ve lost about 5 kilos, and it’s taken me since late June. I rode 11 hrs the other week, cut my calories almost 3500kcal that week and gained 1 kilo back, WTF! I pretty much weight out my food now and eat pretty much air and dust. I’m looking for some Clenbuterol to drop my last 5 kilos, I’m 2 months from racing weight right now.

    I believe it was Riis who started the whole weight loss thing and Lance has taken it to its logical extreme.

    Note the arm size to sleeve size ratio.

  18. @michael
    Ah, the “arm size to sleeve” ratio. I covet the loose sleeve I see worn on many a pro. My gunshow stretches my sleeves to near bursting.

    That last picture really puts in sharp relief the irony of his last name, “Armstrong”, doesn’t it?

  19. @michael

    Where do live that you will peaking in December? Here we are packing the weight on for ski season.

  20. @Geoffrey Grosenbach
    Damn! I rode past a bakery the other day and put on 5kg just from inhaling the good smells.

  21. @frank
    You covet the loose sleeve? They are the bane of my existence. If the sleeves on my jersey aren’t sufficiently tight, I spend a goodly portion of the ride adjusting them to maximize my Rule #7 adherence.

    @michael
    The loose sleeve is merely a function of the jersey. If Le Petit Frere Grimpeur were wearing Lance’s jersey as pictured, it would look like a shark swallowing a herring. Schleck’s arms are probably half the size of Lance’s. I never thought Lance succumbed to the triggy arms of the pure climbers.

  22. @pakrat
    I’m always 2 months from racing weight, I’m surprised you had to ask.
    But seriously, I started riding in late June after a 13 year hiatus, I’m trying to get close to my racing weight as quickly as possible before serious training starts and I have to be more careful to eat enough to recover and not bonk the next day. I have 5kg to go and I just gained 25mm in thigh girth (equal to 1kg) so it’s a long give and take process.

    @Collin
    Lance looked way leaner this year than any other time I’ve seen him, its probably age related, he’ll be one of those skinny old men, unlike most of us.

    Looking at US pro racers photos it is always obvious at a glance by the arm girth that they aren’t the Europros. I too aspire to have the build of a Europro, but not the extreme arm to sleeve ratio displayed above, nor flapping sleeves.

  23. Ah, back to the weight discussion. It never seems far off when cyclists start chatting, does it?

    I’m glad I don’t look EuroPro since off the bike dudes that skinny look weird. Wait, they look weird on the bike too. As it is, I already get asked why I’m so skinny by people I haven’t seen in awhile. Most of my college friends have packed on 15, 20, 30 pounds by now while I’ve lost about 15. (played college sports and had to lift weights a lot)

    Very interesting point raised about the link between use of EPO and weight – running on drugs alone.

  24. @michael
    Thigh girth??

  25. @Steampunk

    Thigh: the part of the leg between the hip and the knee
    second joint: the upper joint of the leg of a fowl

    Girth: a measure around a part of the body or extremity

  26. @michael
    That part I got; I just wasn’t sure what, how, where, and why you were measuring. I can’t imagine there is any performance-related rationale, so just a means of gauging weight loss while increasing muscle mass? But wouldn’t some kind of body-fat analysis be more accurate? This is my larger beef about cycling, which seems to have a heightened sense of unhealthy body perspectives. Summer’s passing and I’m revisiting my cognoscentus roots, but just ride!

  27. @Steampunk

    I was measuring as part of my weight loss program. A few years ago I was over 18 kilos heavier and just measured and weighed as an obsessive compulsive way to track progress as I lost. This June, I decided to get down to my “racing weight” which was 13 years ago and 5 kilos from here. I also took some measurements for the same obsessive compulsive reasons. I’ve been very carefully cutting only a couple/few hundred calories a day in an attempt the be very reasonable about the weight loss, also knowing full well that I’d probably put on 3-5kg of muscle. A couple weeks ago, I gained weight despite 11+ hours of riding and cutting calories and measured as a means to determine where it came on. My thighs were larger, my waist was smaller so it must have been muscle. Sure some sort of body-fat analysis would be more accurate, but my overall goal is to get to my racing weight however I can get there.

    Re: unhealthy body perspectives, maybe you can understand my case because I was once a total of 27 kilos overweight, I swore I would never be fat, and I don’t want to get back there. Even at “racing weight”, or 5 kilos less that that, you would never look at me and say I was near Europro body composition.

    Today I put away the doppler loop and just rode in observance of Rule #5 and Rule #9, which is what I intend to do despite my other goals.

  28. Two things strike me about this video. First of all, you have to be very comfortable in your masculinity to do a tribute to “Beat It” in your race suit, and secondly, the fact the Aksel Lund Svindal is dancing around in his heavy ski boots like they are ballet slippers.

  29. I love reading some of the old articles, it is great distraction from the endless discussion over Voldemort.  But this paragraph is very special…..I would call it poetry rather than prose….so Joshua…wherever you are…thanks!

    ” The man sprinkles The V and nails on his Wheaties and motor oil in the morning, but he is a meatstick of a man built for downhill speed.  He seems to swallow the rear wheel between his ham-hock thighs, and his saddle has been lost somewhere in the vagaries of muscle and grundle.  With every pedal stroke, you can hear the bike scream for mercy, but with three Crystal Globes for the World Cup Overall in his pocket and one looming on the horizon in 2004, Hermann Maier doesn’t make a living as a merciful man.  His stroke is smooth enough””it has to be, lest he cleave the bottom bracket in two””but he looks at any moment like he might simply break the bike in half like the wishbone of a strange flightless bird.”

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