Domination, at least from the spectator’s point of view, can quickly wring the suspense and excitement out of watching an event. In most cases, the sporting events we look back on most fondly are those most closely fought; even in recalling my own competitions, those where my winning margin was smallest feature most prominently in my memories. The smart money says Greg LeMond feels the same way.
Cycling is a difficult sport to spectate, or has been in the past. Point-to-point races covering hundreds of kilometers are hardly friendly to an audience who waits for hours at the roadside only to watch a colorful blur speed by. The modern days of start-to-finish coverage that you can watch on your mobile while driving to work, sitting on a conference call, drinking a cup of coffee, texting a friend, eating a sandwich and raging at inattentive drivers are a relatively new innovation; in the past, the races were documented only by journalists who may or may not have been in attendance of the event. The sole purpose of holding a bicycle race was often to sell newspapers, and in accordance with that goal, the journalists did what they needed to in order make the racing sound interesting. In other words, they lied like their pants were on fire.
Nevertheless, the feats documented were herculean. They built the leader and championship jerseys of our sport – the jerseys reserved for the elite of the elite – into sacred fleeces handed down from the very heights of Mount Velomis. These were jerseys that the hardest and most respected names of our sport drew unimaginable overdraft fees from the V-Bank in order to earn.
Certainly, this is why Rule #16 exists; we mortals have no business sullying such holy garments, however good our intentions may be. But the modern Pros claim their adherence to Rule #16 through their actions when offered the privilege to briefly bear its burden; invariably, they will dig deeper than ever before to stay within contention to honor their jersey. On some days, these jerseys give them wings while on other days, the jersey’s weight may prove too much.
Watching Froome lead the Tour from Stage 8 onwards challenged my interest in the event; his show of dominance on Ventoux did so even more. But with his final attack on the climb to Annecy-Semnoz, with nothing left in the tank, I recognized as a show of honor – of respect for the jersey. Of panache. He had no need to win that stage, and he had no realistic means to do so under those circumstances, given that his legs had already left him on the slopes of l’Alpe d’Huez.
But honor drove him to try – honor fueled by a respect for the Maillot Jaune. It would have been glorious for him to win the final climb of the Tour in the leader’s jersey, but attacking and failing is what earned him at least one more fan.
There’s no such thing as a failure who keeps trying
Coasting to the bottom is the only disgrace
– John C. Popper, Blues Traveler