Riders who put the “V” in Diva: Federico Bahamontes

Riders who put the “V” in Diva: Federico Bahamontes

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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.

// Folklore // General // Nostalgia // Racing // The Hardmen // Tradition

  1. @G’phant

    Thank you for the kind words.

    As for Bahamontes, he might be a nice old man now, but he was a strange bird (pun intended) during his racing years. Here’s a Wiki quote about how he fired off a Millarcopter as a means to quit the Tour:

    “He was also temperamental, throwing his bike down a ravine to stop any pressure to continue riding when he dropped out of the 1956 Tour de France on the col de Luitel. The following year he dropped out again when the retirement of his team-mate, Miguel Poblet, left him without support. He held on to his bike but took off his shoes.”

    As for Nilsson’s psyche, I found one Swedish blog that, translated, said he had a good sense of humor. I didn’t know the Swedes had humor. (No offense intended to the Swedish Velominati.)

  2. @Jeff in PetroMetro
    I read that about Bahamontes as well. That’s what I was getting at by cutting off his nose to spite his face. Say what you will about COTHO for example, he is not a quitter. He certainly held true to his “quitting is forever” quote. I also think you’re onto something about the greed vs. fear piece. As long as we’re armchairing psych. COTHO, again as example, may have approached things from a greed perspective.

    I’m Swedish btw. No offense taken.

  3. I love how Bahomeillisson appears to be climbing in his 55×2. Look how low his shoulders are. Talk about laying down the v!

  4. @Marko, @Jeff in PetroMetro

    Say what you will about COTHO for example, he is not a quitter. He certainly held true to his “quitting is forever” quote.

    He wasn’t a quitter until this Tour. At the Tour he became Huevos with Sour Cream.

    On the other hand, I would also venture (airplane sardine chair phyching) that COTHO was completely terrified of being beaten; I think @Jeff’s assessment is dead-on. The more you gain, the more you’ve got to lose.

    I also read this interesting piece in the NYTimes a few months back on the types of personalities that found successful companies; they have this tendency to be very driven internally, but also completely centered on themselves. (There a name for it and it’s not “narcissistic” although it’s close.) In some cases it becomes this thing around beating themselves, or – often – proving others wrong. And, for my money, as soon as you start worrying about that whole “proving others wrong” bit, you’re just riding on fear. Because why else should you give a shit?

    If you’re driven internally, all that external shit doesn’t matter. I don’t know the man, but I think Merckx wasn’t riding on fear of losing; I think he was a fucking dominator and loved to ride his bike fast. I don’t think you win that many races out of fear. Smallest race – a little Kermesse – and he’d do the same bit.

    But fear can fuck with you completely. There was a ski race in Ely MN; I was still just on the highschool and junior circuit, but I was racing the marathon citizens races; I’d gotten a pass to do the 50k even though I was under-age. But there I was, skiing in the lead group, holding my own. Then I started looking around at the guys I’m with and start thinking, “Man, I don’t belong here.” Which was bullshit because I was there, but my stupid brain started getting in the way and after a few laps, I intentionally crashed just so I’d be rid of the pressure of being in that group. Idiot. I regret that to this day, and I remember the feeling…the heavy feeling I had every time I told someone I’d crashed while in the lead group and pretended to be really disappointed about it. I never minded losing if I’d done everything I could but lost. I couldn’t stand losing if my head got in the way. Lesson learned, and never again.

  5. The worst, though, is when a local Cat 5 is a Diva.

  6. @frank

    Yes, this tour there was something different about him, that’s for sure. I don’t know if he just didn’t have it in him or what (well obviously now he didn’t), but it seemed like he just didn’t *care*, like the passion was gone. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if he was just riding as a marketing tool and not because he wanted to be there.

    Athletes in general seem to be overpaid divas these days… I don’t know how it is in other countries, but at least that is how it seems here in the states. If you watch any pro basketball at all you know what I’m talking about. It drives me nuts and makes me not want to watch the sport at all.

    Marko, good article! And great detective work on figuring out it was a painting and its source. I sort of thought it was a painting too, based on how the cars, road, and cliff wall looked, but I was also thinking perhaps it was just a manipulated photo, or one that had been subjected to some bad jpg compression or something…

  7. @Marko
    Regarding Lance, I don’t have any concrete insight into his motivation, as I didn’t know him personally. But I know/knew people who either work for him or are friends. I’m pretty sure, when he was young, his motivation was a hybrid of teenage anger and a growing self-awareness that he possessed leg breaking, lung exploding, spirit crushing natural talent.

    I think there was some serious insecurity that manifested itself in his need to defeat others in competition. That’s not quite the same as trying to win.

    Some people are “ready-aim-fire”. Based on what I saw and what I heard, he was “fire-ready-aim” and still is to some degree. It’s worked for him.

    Some useless background: He’s a few years younger than I. We grew up a few miles apart. We frequented the same LBS, Richardson Bike Mart. We were in a couple of races together in Austin, not that I did anything more than give the race promoter my money. (I had about a fifth of the talent that resided in the snot of Lance’s left nostril.) I witnessed a roadside conversation where Eddie B., the former U.S. national coach, suggested he ride the road in something more than a banana hammock and Sharpie ink. (This after Lance crushed in a hilly time trial as a fucking 15 or 16 year old, then put on his running shoes.) I’m also pretty sure he was the subject of a chat I had with a professor/researcher at the University of Texas (my alma mater) that went something like, “Jeff, thank you for being a dependable lab rat. Just so you know, based on your values and your biopsies, you’re never going to win the Tour de France, but you probably already guessed that. However, we just had a teenager in the lab who actually could win the Tour based on his values.” For reasons of confidentiality, no names were mentioned, so it’s possible there was yet another teenager from Texas who should have gone on to road greatness, but I doubt it.

    As far as his personality, Lance came on strong back then and a lot of people didn’t like him for it. I guess that’s still the case among pro bike racing fans and some members of the peloton. Cavendish kind of reminds me of him.

    He is a Jesus figure in Texas (we are the buckle in the Bible Belt). He just about died, then he rose from all but death to win the only bike race that soccer MILFs have ever heard of. Y’all know the rest.

    I wish I had his talent. I’d like to think I would have been a little less harsh. But whose to say. One thing’s for sure: he never quit, and he’s not going away from the public eye anytime soon.

  8. @frank
    I don’t think he actually quit. I think he didn’t have the engine anymore and I think it surprised him. Also, he’s way over committed to things outside of bike racing. He’s the CEO of the brand LANCE. He’s become a one-named star like Madonna, Cher, and A-Rod.

    He stayed for one more dance than he should have, and I agree with McSqueak about why he did it. There was one more paycheck and one more chance to sell yellow wristbands.

  9. Here is a post I found today of Alf Engers, a English time trialist (or is it time trialer?) who missed his prime years because he always had problems with the sanctioning bodies at the times.

  10. @Jeff in PetroMetro

    Yes, to sell yellow wristbands and be “the” guy behind the Shack brand/team. He was very heavily marketed during this last tour – ads for Radioshack, ads for cars, ads for gross pisswater beer. Then Versus hyped up the whole “CONTADOR vs. ARMSTRONG ULTIMATE SHOWDOWN 5000!!” until Lance crashed too many times to be a factor in the race and they had to give that angle up.

    They were pushing brand Lance very hard, and I’m sure it was worth his while, as well as the ad company behind it.

    All that being said, I use to enjoy watching him quite a bit. He certainly had the fire in him for a while.

  11. Dare I suggest that the histrionics and temperamental behaviour of Bahamontes, Coppi et al might have had something to do with regular intake of amphetamines and god knows what else.

    Coming down from some of their little cocktails would be the chemical equivalent of descending the Tourmalet.

  12. great article Marko, absolutely spot on.

    Of course, I have never thought of the Diva’s in the sport, but don’t you think there are more of them now?? Sure, Italians have always been dramatic, but the younger riders who are really good seem nowdays as much ‘Diva’ as they are ‘Hard as Nails’. Take as Sarge mentions, they whinning Contador, or Cav’ and the like.

    Great point!

  13. @Jeff in PetroMetro
    I lived in Plano/Richardson in 1977-1979 when I was in 1st, 2nd and part of 3rd grade. Lance is a few months younger than I am but I’ve wondered if our boyhood paths ever crossed riding bikes around the neighborhood.

  14. @mcsqueak
    I understand Lance is going back to triathlon, Iron Man Hawaii, top of the food chain stuff.

    Triathlon is super hot again. Here in Houston, the handful of professionals who aren’t morbidly obese are all taking up triathlon. P3’s and P4’s are flying out the door to the Audi crowd (no offense to Audi owners).

    VeloNews is now a pretty small part of a venture capital group that focuses more on triathlon and running.

    Triathletes are willing to pay $200 entry fees. Marketers really like Type A personalities who pay that kind of money to participate in something. That is almost equivalent to greens fees at big time golf courses. And triathlon is really a race against yourself, like golf.

    Triathlon is the New Golf. And it fights obesity. And young Type A’s look sexy doing it shirtless (dudes) or in tight running bras (hopefully not dudes). And Hollywood is all about it. And you can do it like a fun run. And there isn’t an official to pull you off the course before you get lapped. And you probably won’t potato chip your $2000 wheels and break your collarbone like you probably will at your first Cat. 5 race.

    Hence, Lance returns to triathlon, raises money for Livestrong (not such a bad thing) and sells yellow wristbands (fucking annoying) and Treks out of the box and Nikes and Oakleys and Michelob Ultra.

  15. @Marko
    Maybe. Check your old elementary school pictures!

  16. Cipo, who “lived a very different cycling” in comparison to today’s peloton, declares AC as anything but a diva, in fact he “has the anonymous face of a surveyor or an accountant.”

    Diva, machismo, take your pick; just show some charisma with your cadence.

  17. @ChrisO
    Yes, yes. You are on to something there. Excellent point.

  18. @Jeff in PetroMetro
    I did at one point some time back. I went to a Montessori school on Plano road and remembered a kid named Lance there. Different last name though.

  19. @Jeff in PetroMetro

    Interesting about Lance moving on to triathlons. Since his days in the peloton are over, it would give him a way to be competitive (and probably win), as well as continue to raise awareness and money for his causes.

    I’d agree with your assessment if triathlons being the new golf. I live in Portland, and they are plenty popular here as well, with all sorts of events running from spring into fall. Sometimes I’ll see people out with their aero bars while I’m out on one of my rides.

    However, if you’ve ever seen video of the “swim to bike” transfer station at some of these events, you’d wonder why there aren’t more serious injuries. Seriously, it gives real meaning to the idea that triathletes have no bike handling skills and are mediocre at three sports rather than excelling at one.

  20. However, if you’ve ever seen video of the “swim to bike” transfer station at some of these events, you’d wonder why there aren’t more serious injuries. Seriously, it gives real meaning to the idea that triathletes have no bike handling skills and are mediocre at three sports rather than excelling at one.

    I’ma big proponent of “Singleness of Focus”, meaning I like to concentrate on sucking at one sport completely.

  21. frank:
    I’ma big proponent of “Singleness of Focus”, meaning I like to concentrate on sucking at one sport completely.

    Indeed. With all the hours I poured into cycling from the early spring through October, I still felt like I was not nearly where I could be given more time, even though I was in the best cycling shape I’ve ever been in (which again isn’t saying much, I’ve not been cycling nearly as long as most of you).

    I can’t imaging trying to also be a competent swimmer AND runner, working with the limited amount of free time I have. No thank you.

  22. Cycling is all I need

  23. @Pedale.Forchetta
    Indeed. Rule #42.

  24. I swim well for my weight, but I hate cold water. I hate running, period. Just give me my road bike, some sit ups, some push ups, some stretches, the occasional massage, and I am golden.

  25. @Marko
    Based on what I know about Lance’s early childhood, his mom could not afford Montessori.

  26. Who is a seriously Big Time Diva in the peloton these days? Bad Cadel? Hadn’t heard him whine since before he got the rainbow jersey. McEwen? Cavendish? Greipel?

    Spartacus leaving the Vuelta and Riis at the side of the road was pretty Diva-esque, but that was a contract negotiation tactic, and everyone knew he was leaving early for the Worlds anyway. Just not that early.

    Who am I missing?

  27. Jeff in PetroMetro :

    Hence, Lance returns to triathlon, raises money for Livestrong (not such a bad thing) and sells yellow wristbands (fucking annoying) and Treks out of the box and Nikes and Oakleys and Michelob Ultra.

    Don’t forget book deals. Lance 4.0 – “It’s Not About the Shoes, the Bike or the Budgie Smugglers” … ?

  28. So let me set the record straight by adding some photos of Federico Bahamontes



  29. Jeff in PetroMetro :

    Who am I missing?

    Rui Costa? Though maybe fighting (or whatever it was Rui was trying to do) is different.

  30. I think you Lance bashers are forgetting how hard he was trying before he hit the deck at over 50kph. That was a very hard crash and with the bunch moving fast, and he fought tooth and nail to get back on and succeeded until there was another surge and he popped. I’d like to see how any of you 38/39 year olds would handle a crash that bad. Also, he was fair hauling on the cobbles to Arenberg before his puncture caused him to lose a minute, and he wasn’t mucking about when he was chasing back then either…

    I firmly believe he had top 5 GC form, but his luck finally ran out. Good on him for hanging in there until Paris when all hope had gone (although I did think he could have worked harder for Horner at times).

  31. @Oli Brooke-White
    At the risk of going down another Langent, I’m with you here Oli. The guy threw everything he had at it this year and just had a bad run, straight up.

  32. @G’phant, @Jeff in PetroMetro
    Cavendouche takes it, hands-down:

    I think Sastre is the most under-rated Diva; ever since winning the Tour, he’s always leaving teams because they “don’t give him the respect he deserves.”

    Although he’s not racing, Riis is quite the bitcher, too, albeit for fairly good reason.

    Cadel was a diva before he contracted a case of Cadelephantitis.

  33. @frank

    Not only that, he’s got what appears to be a Rule #48 infringement.

  34. Came across this Youtube link. Classic sounds whilst handing out some V.


  35. @Marko
    The Cavendiva video was awesome! I hadn’t seen that.

    Yes, that is clearly a Rule #48 violation. And as I am a firm believer in the classic, universally agreed upon set up of brake levers, I must bring to light a possible Rule #46 violation. Those levers do seem a bit elevated, should one hold a straight edge at the bottom of his drops. There must be at least a two centimeter gap to the bottom tips of his levers. Merckx! Kids these days.

  36. @AD
    Wow! That was breathtaking. Makes me want to go clean my old Mercian with Super Record and ride it today. Sadly, I’m not gonna have the time.

    After the New Year, I hope to have my old race bike cleaned up and presentation worthy on The Bikes page. I also have to find and digitize pictures of my old Gitane race bike, leather hairnet, and Detto Pietro shoes.

  37. @G’phant
    Budgie Smugglers. Had to Google that one. I’m sorry I did. Gonna have to reformat the hardrive.

  38. @heath
    This might be the best rant of the year. I grew some hair on my chest reading it. Might go find a city limit sign today and sprint for it. I think I could elbow out a Mini-Cooper.

  39. @Jeff in PetroMetro
    That Cipo interview is pure gold. It totally squares with the spirit of this thread, no?. Cipo is clearly saying take the V out of Diva and put it back where it belongs, on the road. That and get laid, as much as possible and then one more, at the same time.

  40. @Jeff in PetroMetro
    By the way, Heath, you have the distinction of posting Velominati’s 10,000th post. Well done, mate.

  41. @frank

    A graph of posting frequency over the life of the site would be interesting to see. I found this site back in September (I think) and it seems that most articles now get 30 – 100 responses, but looking back at older articles, there was a lot less conversation going on.

    Whatever you’re doing, keep it up, it seems to be working.

  42. @Marko

  43. @Jeff in PetroMetro
    And when I need a pick me up I always go to this to make my day.

  44. @Marko
    Check the time on the post. Breakfast of champions.

  45. Diva or Hardman? Discuss…

  46. @Jeff in PetroMetro
    The team doc is certainly a hardman for putting up with that job. The car rules.

  47. Riis, a Diva? Indubitably.


    I love Stephen Roche’s stab at him: “i’m sure his morale must be down in his yellow socks.”

  48. @Jeff in PetroMetro, @Marko
    That is a brave doctor. Judging by the Name on the car, maybe this particular doctor specializes in fixing the riders’ knicks post crash?

  49. At the highest levels of sport the mind is nearly as important as the body. I always wonder what separates the best and the ones we remember forever from the lads who got close, but just didn’t have it. I think a lot of it is mental strength, the ability to focus, and the maturity of spirit to compliment the abundance of skill.

    Just reading an article last week on pro footballers (soccer) who held a ton of promise but never quite lived up to it.

    And yeah, the local Cat 5 Diva really is annoying. I do some group rides with a guy who is huge, both tall and muscular, but he completely lacks any V. If he loses the final sprint he comes up with an excuse immediately and then bitches about it until the next ride. Oh boy, he’s a gem.

    Great article!

  50. Hello to all, thee contents existing at this website are
    truly amaxing forr people experience, well, keep up the good work fellows.

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