Cyclists can be a twitchy lot. Able to both endure and dish out pain for weeks on end in a grand tour takes considerable fortitude, or what we call The V. The cyclist must know their body and measure out its effort carefully. The pros we look to as the Giants of the Road, the Flahute, or even the Unsung Hardmen are able to win while maintaining a Casually Deliberate air about them. In some circles this is known as a poker face.
Yet there are other successful riders we admire that, shall we say, can be BIG FUCKING BABIES. I mean this with all due respect but we’ve all seen riders crack off the bike mentally just as hard as we’ve seen them crack on the bike. The months, no years, of training, pressures of competition, team and race politics, restricted diets, distance from the VMH, and complicated doping programs would all but sour the hardest of psyches. Can you really blame them? As a fellow human being who likes to think of himself as compassionate on most days, I can’t. However, as a fan of cycling, all compassionate bets are off.
Many things got me started ruminating on good, and even great, riders who, on occasion, take up the role of Peloton Diva. Primarily what got me thinking about this idea are all the off season reports of training camp dramas, contract negotiations, and intra-team squabbles. Thank you Bjarne for much of this fodder. As fans, we post about this sort of thing all the time. Mark Cavenwhatsgoingtocomeoutofmymouthnextdish being the prime example currently.
Enter The Eagle of Toledo, Federico Bahamontes. Certainly a rider before my, and probably everyone here’s, time, Bahamontes was no Unsung Hardman. Quite the contrary, his praises have been sung in the annals of cycling since he baffled everybody en route to his first KOM victory at le Tour in 1954. Only Reeshard Verenique has captured the Dotty Jumper more times in le Tour than The Eagle. When you look at the rest of Bahamontes’ palmares, however, it’s easy to imagine how he is arguably the best pure climber in the history of cycling. Simply put, the dude laid down The V when the road pointed up. And we’re not talking about a protected rider being pulled up to the last few K’s of a climb only to finish with a few strong kicks to the finish. We’re talking about a dude that regularly, in fact usually, went from the bottom only to be seen at the start of the following day’s stage.
But alas, his fiery temper and seemingly fickle nature may have impeded further success (again, not that he was unsuccessful to begin with). He let pelo-politics get the best of him in both the ’63 and ’64 editions of le Tour stating that the other riders were conspiring against him. Not having been there (or born yet), it’s impossible for me to know the scene, but isn’t that called bicycle racing?
Whats more is when riders let their emotions get the best of them in their dealings with fans. After being angered by comments directed at him by a fan, The Eagle removed his bicycle pump and chased the fan around for an hour or so probably screaming Spanish euphemisms and disparaging the fan’s madre . Imagine playing a game of catch-is-catch-can with your favorite Peloton Diva. Who would that Peloton Diva be? Would you handicap the Peloton Diva by arming him with bidons to throw at you or would you level the playing field by wearing cycling shoes as well? But I digress. The true Velominatus would not be so brash as to egg a rider on, because on some level, all pros deserve respect for their efforts.
The truly perplexing part about Bahamontes’ proclivity to mood swings, or many other Peloton Divas, is that it actually led him to quit both le Tour and la Vuelta. Why did he quit? It wasn’t a result of injury or illness. He quit the Tour in his swan song year because he was struggling in the mountains where he once soared. He dropped out of the Vuelta under more auspicious circumstances when six riders were allowed back in after not making the time limit, a limit which was established by The Eagle’s blistering pace. That may be one way to protest crooked officiating. Yet another would be to bury the chaps even further on the next mountain stage. Perhaps Federico not only set the standard of performance for a pure climber, but he also foretold of the fragile mental states of so many climbers who followed.
Don’t get me wrong here. Federico Bahamontes is a Giant of the Road. He rode in a bygone era which saw longer Grand Tours on rougher roads ridden on heavier bikes and when grinta played a much bigger role in tactics. Now in his eighties, he still looks like he could rip my spindly legs off on a climb. What puzzles me is when riders seem to cut their own noses off to spite their faces. Somebody get me a sports psychologist.