Anatomy of a Photo: Agony

Paul Sherwen after the 1983 Paris-Roubaix; Photo Graham Watson

Sitting at the top of Haleakala, I thought of this photo with the staunch realization that there are no words to describe the agony of exhaustion, except Graham Watson’s caption in Visions of Cycling:

Paul Sherwen’s mother cried when she saw this picture of her son, taken after the finish of the 1983 Paris-Roubaix

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89 Replies to “Anatomy of a Photo: Agony”

  1. I often cringe when I see cyclists in the fancy tight clothing and tap shoes writhing around on the ground after a crash, the often look so wimpy. I mean come on, HTFU really. The real reason I cringe though is because I know that’s what the general public is thinking. If they only had the slightest clue how hard this is sometimes.

  2. michael :
    I often cringe when I see cyclists in the fancy tight clothing and tap shoes writhing around on the ground after a crash, the often look so wimpy. I mean come on, HTFU really. The real reason I cringe though is because I know that’s what the general public is thinking. If they only had the slightest clue how hard this is sometimes.

    totally agree with the sentiment @michael
    I think most of us can relate to a similar feeling displayed in the photo at sometime or other

  3. @Marko
    That was J. Vaughters trying to explain what crashing on a bike was like. And that seems an apt description.

    Mr and Mrs Dutch Monkey have flown East, whew, a lot of fun in 10 days. His tan lines have been reinstated.

  4. Trying to explain cycling to a non-cyclist, and the pain and suffering and beautifulness of it all remond sme of the saying, “If you have to ask, you’ll never understand. That photo says it all. I really need to get that book. Blows me away.

  5. Sorry for the typo’s above. Too caught up in the excitement of the post! And I just fixed my serious library hole as I just ordered a copy of that book.

  6. Man, sorry, cannot stop posting about this photo. It is the first time I have seen it and it rivals my favorite cycling photo of all time: The 1989 Chambery, France World Cycling Championship finish with Lemond just beating Konyshev and Kelly. I have that one in a poster and now I need to find the above one in a poster size. Just amazing.

  7. @Buck Rogers
    a great image – back when Lemon puss was cool.

    When I flash back and forth between the images of Sherwen and Frank it strikes me that the amateur has attained the same level as the pro. A rare occurrence in my book.

  8. And to actually add to this conversation: I agree with many posters above, I do not think that non-cyclists (or people that don’t work out in general) understand the glorious suffering that can happen on the bike. The harder you push yourself, the better it feels afterwords, too.

    I think the mistake comes because you are “sitting” (to the layperson) and the bike is propelling you forward, the non-cyclists somehow mistake that for making the sport easier, somehow… (in their mind) as if having to haul your own fat ass up a hill, PLUS the weight of a bike makes it easier, just because it has wheels.

  9. @mcsqueak, @Buck Rogers
    It was amazing to see the expressions from people on The Hill. Fit people would wave and honk and be cool, fat people just had a completely blank expression or be annoyed that I slowed them by 5 seconds. Except the fat guy at the top who asked it I’d come from the bottom. The fact that he talked to me within 200 meters of the finish is enough evidence that he also didn’t get it.

    @Oli Brooke-White
    Thanks – corrected.

  10. @Rob
    Thanks mate, and as flattered as I am, I imagine I’m about in 1/23433th as much agony as Paul. I just know how to look the part, remember?

  11. @frank

    Also, a problem on Haleakala and other tourist destinations is you’ll have people trying to cram in a visit as fast as possible… Why on earth would someone want to spend 4.5 hours cycling UP a hill??

  12. Amazing photo. It also appears in introduction that Paul Sherwen wrote for the book The Spring Classics by a group of French authors — a must for the Velominati library, both for the photographs and the text, describing the origins of the classics and their current form.

    The idea of the glory of suffering is incomprehensible to tourists and the general public. It’s not just that it feels good when you stop, the joy is in the suffering as well. This always becomes apparent when you do a climb, or a hike to a mountain top, where it is possible to arrive by car, or cablecar, and at the top you find tourists who fear straying more than 100m from motorised vehicles. It is also apparent at work on Monday morning when faced with the natural question: “so what did you do this weekend?” The look of incomprehension that follows a tale of mountains, races, crashes normal cycling stuff, has led me to stop talking about it with non-cyclists.

  13. Fredrik: …has led me to stop talking about it with non-cyclists.

    Or just simplify things for them.
    Clueless co-worker: “What did you do this weekend Marko?”
    Me: “Went for a bike ride.”
    Clueless: “Oh, fun.”
    Me: “Yup, have a good week.”

  14. mcsqueak :
    @Buck Rogers
    I’m not Frank (OBVIOUSLY…) but go to gravitar.com and follow the instructions.

    Thanks!!! Finally figured it out. And a HUGE thanks to Frank for posting the image and inspiring me to purchase the book in the first place!

  15. @Jeff in PetroMetro
    Oh it was my great pleasure to host Frank vs the Volcano. It is weird being in a car instead of on a bike in these circumstances but much easier. Frank is editing the video and a wacky little movie should be out in a day or two.

    I wanted to try his zipp 404s on my merlin but never got a chance. It may be a blessing as now I don’t have to burn money for awesome looking carbon wheels, yet.

  16. frank :
    @mcsqueak, @Buck RogersIt was amazing to see the expressions from people on The Hill. Fit people would wave and honk and be cool, fat people just had a completely blank expression or be annoyed that I slowed them by 5 seconds. Except the fat guy at the top who asked it I’d come from the bottom. The fact that he talked to me within 200 meters of the finish is enough evidence that he also didn’t get it.
    @Oli Brooke-WhiteThanks – corrected.

    Yes. It is like you are playing by a completely different set of rules, in another dimension, when you mention some things to people and they just cannot even begin to understand what you are saying. It’s like trying to speaking swahili in a gas in Tennessee–no comprehension on so many levels.

  17. @mcsqueak

    I think the mistake comes because you are “sitting” (to the layperson) and the bike is propelling you forward, the non-cyclists somehow mistake that for making the sport easier, somehow… (in their mind) as if having to haul your own fat ass up a hill, PLUS the weight of a bike makes it easier, just because it has wheels.

    Back in the Dark Ages, I stole LeMond’s explanation so non-cyclists could understand. It went something like, “If a runner gets to the point where he can’t go on any longer, he falls down and lays there until he can get back up. A bike racer gets to that point a couple of times each race where his legs would give out or cramp up if he were standing. But he’s on a bike that keeps rolling. So he recovers a little bit, starts pedaling again, and keeps going. No other sport allows the athlete to completely deplete himself and not fall down and quit.”

  18. @Fredrik
    Exactly. At some point, you think, “Why bother trying to explain”–especially to a person who is 35 but looks 55, weighs 130 kilos, eats for two, plays golf (poorly), smokes cigars, drives a Hummer, and has a comb-over. He’s already made up his mind about cycling (adults riding children’s toys).

  19. @JeffinPetroMetro

    Back in the Dark Ages, I stole LeMond’s explanation so non-cyclists could understand. It went something like, “If a runner gets to the point where he can’t go on any longer, he falls down and lays there until he can get back up. A bike racer gets to that point a couple of times each race where his legs would give out or cramp up if he were standing. But he’s on a bike that keeps rolling. So he recovers a little bit, starts pedaling again, and keeps going. No other sport allows the athlete to completely deplete himself and not fall down and quit.”

    @Marko

    Great explanation & so true. I have had similar conversations (like the rest of us) with non-cyclists who just don’t get it. Even the above explanation would still draw looks of bewilderment or lack of understanding from these same sad types, but at least it sums up the feelings of a velominati.
    I think that to gain ones “velominati enlightenment” or veloenlightenment (to try & poorly coin a new word), one must transcend the physical & mental pain barriers that exist with mere mortals. The lesser/mere mortals (i.e. non-cyclists) will never understand.

  20. @Jeff in PetroMetro
    Krabbe, as usual, puts it so well: “Hot and overcast. I take my gear out of the car and put my bike together. Tourists and locals are watching from sidewalk cafes. Non-racers. The emptiness of those lives shocks me.”

  21. @mightyninja
    I was on a training ride (again, Dark Ages) coming down from Sandia Peak (Albuquerque) at about 80km/h when a fully loaded Suburban passed me on an off-camber sweeping turn to the right. The license plate was from Louisiana. The Suburban was probably going 100km/h to get around me. His tires were squealing, and he drifted into the oncoming lane. But, he made it. And good thing. ‘Cause I was on a bike. And he was in a Suburban. And no Suburban, no matter how full of people and suitcases, should EVER go slower than a skinny-fucker on a bike, even if it means going over the edge of a mountain cliff.

    He really showed me.

    I imagined how the police and the fire department were gonna recover the bodies if that Suburban kept drifting.

  22. @Jeff in PetroMetro

    Yeah, I love it when I’m going through town, keeping up with traffic, yet people still want to try and squeeze by me.

    Whatever, as long as they don’t hit me while passing, I’m fine that their fragile egos can’t handle a cyclist being in front of them, and actually keeping up with the pace.

    You see the same shit while driving on the freeway too, people endlessly jockeying for position, because their lives are so empty the “competition” they get from their morning/evening commutes serves as their rage outlet. That 3^3 meter space of asphalt is THEIRS, damnit!

  23. mcsqueak :
    @Jeff in PetroMetro
    Yeah, I love it when I’m going through town, keeping up with traffic, yet people still want to try and squeeze by me.
    Whatever, as long as they don’t hit me while passing, I’m fine that their fragile egos can’t handle a cyclist being in front of them, and actually keeping up with the pace.
    You see the same shit while driving on the freeway too, people endlessly jockeying for position, because their lives are so empty the “competition” they get from their morning/evening commutes serves as their rage outlet. That 3^3 meter space of asphalt is THEIRS, damnit!

    yes, surrounded by a tonne of steal & plastic makes one extra brave, especially when facing a lycra clad fucker on a pissy little pushie! I’ve always been of the opinion that those drivers in their hotted up rides, vying for their pathetic little piece of ashphalt, at all costs & without any thought of the peril they are putting themselves &/or family, the other drivers & us cyclists in. I am especially impressed when I see a “soccer mum” with a car full of young kids behaving in this manner. I have even been buzzed by a SUV (as we call them here in OZ) with bikes strapped to the roof (what the fuck are these people thinking?) behaving the same way.

    Me thinks that they are substituting/making up for their rather “small” appendages with their “big” vehicles (the males anyway!).

  24. mightyninja:
    to gain ones “velominati enlightenment” or veloenlightenment (to try & poorly coin a new word), one must transcend the physical & mental pain barriers that exist with mere mortals. The lesser/mere mortals (i.e. non-cyclists) will never understand.

    Velotainment – fixed.(maybe?)

    I have heard stories of riders blacking out and coming to to only keep on keeping on. It has never happened to me but I did see god at the top of Smuggler’s Notch once (and yes Gianni I was on a bike in a race…).

  25. Rob :

    mightyninja:to gain ones “velominati enlightenment” or veloenlightenment (to try & poorly coin a new word), one must transcend the physical & mental pain barriers that exist with mere mortals. The lesser/mere mortals (i.e. non-cyclists) will never understand.

    Velotainment – fixed.(maybe?)
    I have heard stories of riders blacking out and coming to to only keep on keeping on. It has never happened to me but I did see god at the top of Smuggler’s Notch once (and yes Gianni I was on a bike in a race…).

    What year was that? I used to race the Smugs Notch race back in the late 80’s early 90’s!

  26. Rob:

    mightyninja:
    to gain ones “velominati enlightenment” or veloenlightenment (to try & poorly coin a new word), one must transcend the physical & mental pain barriers that exist with mere mortals. The lesser/mere mortals (i.e. non-cyclists) will never understand.

    Velotainment – fixed.(maybe?)
    I have heard stories of riders blacking out and coming to to only keep on keeping on. It has never happened to me but I did see god at the top of Smuggler’s Notch once (and yes Gianni I was on a bike in a race…).

    I blacked out once for about 1 mile (sorry that’s not in metric, but the lap was 1 mile). It was during the sprint and next I remember I was riding around on the course crossing the line again with my friend/coach yelling at me.

  27. @mcsqueak
    Alright. I went to gravitar.com ’cause Buck Rogers got a cool fucking avatar and I wanted one. I think I’m gonna have to experiment. My Sean Kelly looks too small.

  28. @michael
    Yea, so did you win or was he pissed at you? (just kidding) I had a few hard rides but never got to that point.

    @Buck Rogers
    Early 80’s not sure what years, maybe 79-80ish. That was a fun race as was racing in New England in general – Putney, the Maine International, Fitchburg, Sunapee.

    @all I just ended a 2 year stint on Long Island, NY and it was there that I finally understood what the mother of all SUV’s means to people with small appendages and big wallets. That is not Suburbans but Hummers. LawnGilander’s have them to feel invincible all the while giving the world the finger. Here is a vehicle that could go on the beach through the woods up mountains and these stuck up twats keep them so perfectly polished and never do anything with them except intimidate. Gwad help the poor slob that leaned up against it and put a scratch on it.

    I feel lucky to have escaped the Island in one piece and look back with fondness to all those rides (pretty much once a week) when I (or the group) would get the finger from some psycho in a Mercedes, Rover, Jeep or such.

  29. @michael
    The first double century I did placed a 6-mile, 2000ft climb that started at mile 173. I had to get off my bike and vomit for awhile at mile 177. I only have vague memories of the remaining 23 miles. It was beautiful.

    I’m going to give 24 hour racing a try this year. I’ve read stories along the lines of “weird shit is going to happen in the middle of the night, just keep pedalling” I’m incredibly excited to discover exactly what that shit is.

  30. @Rob
    Wow! Bringing back memories there, mate! I raced all of those as well as the Bolton Valley Ski Resort access road Hill Climb and the Newport race. Was the Buckfield, Maine race also known as the Maine International? I know that the Buckfield race was a good one when I raced it! You were racing about 7 years prior to me. Great races in great hilly country. Man, I miss VT cycling (but not the taxes and politics!)!

  31. @Buck Rogers
    Thanks. I’ve always liked that picture of LeMan, but he’s too happy. Sherwen’s got that look like he had to ride the last 95km on flat tire.

  32. @Buck Rogers
    Buckfield was a different race I think, never did it. The Maine International was from the Canadian – US border station in Jackman, ME and went to Waterville, ME 110 miles, long climb 15 miles from Waterville. I remember the last time I did it I was in a break of 10 at that hill (with of all people Cris Carmicheal) I got dropped and was so pissed at myself that I won the field sprint for a glorious 10th!

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