Anatomy of a Photo: Cannibals Eat Badgers, Too

1977 Liege: The Giants with Big Ring Face, one Badger Cub with Pain Face

I’m not quire sure which climb this is, but I’m certain the race is Liége-Bastogne-Liége and I’m guessing the climb La Redoute. On the surface, we have the end of a bygone era; when the big names contested not only the cobblestones of Roubaix and Flanders, but also the Côtes of Wallonia.

The looks on these rider’s faces says everything we need to know. An aging but still great Cannibal has the look of a man who spent his career as the Custodian of the keys to the Hurt Locker, but his pride won’t let him relinquish them to anyone in this group, even as his snarl clearly tells us he knows his power is fading. De Vlaeminck clearly wishes he could trade these slopes for some brutal stones, but his determination makes him stick to Merckx like cat hair to an Italian wool suit. Freddy Maertens isn’t even in the Hurt Locker anymore. He got squeezed out through the air vents on the locker door when Merckx crammed RDV in there as an Elementary School bully does the class dork.

And the Badger…oh, the young Badger cub is being inducted into Classics bike racing in the most unimaginably painful way. He’s under so much pressure, his cycling cap has crept all the way up to his hairline, which I’m guessing is also regressing in real-time from the effort. The look on his face is half self-satisfaction that he has managed to hold onto the big wheels in front of him, and half about-to-burst balloon. If this photo were in color, you can bet his face would be bright-red. I also note with curiosity that the Badger is the only rider still seated and in the drops. You can almost hear him cracking from 35 years away.

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28 Replies to “Anatomy of a Photo: Cannibals Eat Badgers, Too”

  1. Just in time. Some dumb ass says Contador will be the best rider ever, not to take anything away from him but lets get real. We all know it’s Merckx.

  2. Le Blaireau may look like he’s cracking. But if this is 1977, he won it.

  3. @Alex
    Trudat. But everyone knows if you turn yourself around right before you blow, it actually propels you up the road. That must be what he did.

  4. He doesn’t actually even look like he’s suffering to me – more like he’s chewing over his options and waiting to take it to the old bastards.

  5. It is ’77 – Merckx’s only “FIAT” year. Not only did Le Blaireau win, the Belgian trio saw to it that they themselves didn’t even make the podium!

    “….I told him [Guimard] that I was really flying, I could hardly feel the pedals.”, Bernard Hinault after his win.

  6. My first thoughts of this image, before reading, was the Badger is in complete control in that moment. If he did indeed win this race and this does appear to be a penultimate moment, I stand by my assessment. This is a passing of the torch moment on film. BTW: The Cannibal still won 14% (better than 1 in 6) of the races he entered that year, 1977.

  7. This –

    “Freddy Maertens isn’t even in the Hurt Locker anymore. He got squeezed out through the air vents on the locker door when Merckx crammed RDV in there as an Elementary School bully does the class dork.”

    – may be some of your finest work yet, Frank. Gold.

  8. Oli Brooke-White :
    He doesn’t actually even look like he’s suffering to me – more like he’s chewing over his options and waiting to take it to the old bastards.

    spot on.
    That was my first thought when looking at the photo before reading the post. I had to look twice, didn’t even realise who it was until frank told me! Just thought, geez that bloke looks under control compared to the other three.

    frank, you have outdone yourself with the use of euphemisms throughout. Well done, great piece of work.

  9. Ha! Excellent work, everyone, I can’t say I’m surprised.

    They say a photo is worth a thousand words, and the Dutch say that writing is striking, meaning that fewer words are more effective than more words when trying to make a point. Well, that just goes to show that a thousand words is way too many; when I look at this shot I see a man in pain. But that’s the beauty of a photo – they’re almost necessarily out of context because they are but a moment in an endless stream of moments.

    Continuing with my assumption that he’s hurting (and no matter if he won or not, I think we’ve all done enough riding to know that even when we feel good, we hurt – win or lose) and that it’s the Cannibal inflicting the pain, it just goes to show what youthful enthusiasm (morale) can do to a rider. I would be willing to bet that the 50% satisfaction look on his face is his own surprise at how well he’s going.

    Then again, this is the Badger we’re talking about and I suppose he just expected that kind of performance out of himself right from the get-go. Because that’s what makes badgers Badgers.

  10. Classic! The Badger is biding his time here, not out of the race. I wish to Merckx I could put my peers in that locker with such panache!

  11. Whilst Bernard appears the most comfortable of this all-star lineup, I like the way Eddy appears to be channeling his hurt into a sweet sneer. “Call yourself a hill?”

  12. As opposed to Freddy, who looks like he’s been hit in the face with a floursack full of doorknobs.

  13. Jehsus Maria. Frank, what a sparkling write-up. Pure awesomeness.

    I’m laughing a bit about the bully shoving someone in a locker; I was no bully, but we did sneak a dissected earth worm into a pal’s sandwich, since we’d figured out his locker combination.

    Great photo, better words!

    Badgers eat Cannibals. This sounds like the name of a cycling club I’d like to be a member of…

  14. Ciao everyone!
    I see in this beautiful photo the actual dimentions of the four riders.
    Three giants and, well, a badgers.

  15. I’m adding this picture to my locker at work, which fittingly I call the Hurt Locker of Fame. Most of the pictures consist of Merckx, Ulrich and Faboo all gettin’ their grit on.

  16. @mauibike
    I agree. The Badger seems to be assessing the situation and figuring out which one will blow himself up first. Or which one might still be able to blow him up.

  17. i knew John Kerry was a cyclist, but frank, this foto just goes to prove it

  18. NB: Le Badgeur is “out of step.” The others stand and he churns away.

  19. eightzero :
    NB: Le Badgeur is “out of step.” The others stand and he churns away.

    Perhaps he doesn’t have to?

  20. Perhaps the others stand to turn over their big gears while Hinault relies on his souplesse to fan the pedals seated – looks to me like Merckx and De Vlaeminck are in the big dog while Maertens and Hinault are in the small ring…

  21. Good day all
    This is my first post, however I felt that this was worth sharing. I’m South African, and half Afrikaans. In Afrikaans (largely based on Dutch and bearing some similarity to Flemish as well) the letter V is pronounced with an “f”. In singularity one would actually pronounce it “fear”.. Coincidence…? I think not.

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