Tour de France Rule #5 Award: Johnny Hoogerland
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Not an absolute; the beauty of Rule #5 is the graduated scale upon which it is measured. Rule #5 means to push yourself beyond the signals your body sends to stop what you’re doing, usually with ever-increasing urgency. It means to disobey reason and to surpass physical boundaries previously considered impassable. This is why Rule #5 stands apart: it is measured upon a personal scale; not against others, but against the very limits of your own mind and body.
In a tradition started last year, the Velominati hand out the Rule #5 Award to the rider whom we feel most embodied the spirit of Rule #5 during the hardest race of the year, Le Tour de France. By overwhelming consensus, the community has identified Johnny Hoogerland as the most deserving winner this year; as such, we present him with this humble award for fighting through one of the most gruesome crashes any of us can recall.
In New Zealand, there’s a saying that “you can fix anything with Number 8 fencing wire” It means that no matter how hard the task, a bit of elbow grease and determination – not to mention ingenuity – can solve the problem.
But not even Number 8 wire is a match for the guts shown by Johnny Hoogerland on Stage 9 of the Tour de France. In fact, barbed wire fences lining the roads of Europe will be cowering at the thought of Johnny catapulting towards them, laying waste to their pitiful attempts to force him to abandon. #8 wire? Pffft… It’s Rule #5 wire where Johnny’s concerned.
How do you single out one rider as ‘the tough guy’ in a race where 200 racers participate in 21 days of racing nearly back-to-back, over the highest mountains in all kinds of weather? How do you single out one rider in a race where a 3-hour 100km Stage raced a bloc over the Telegraph, Galibier, and up l’Alpe d’Huez figures as a “short” stage? How do you pick out one rider in a race lasting more than 86 hours fought out by competitors so tough and closely matched that the time differences are measured in fractions of minutes, not fractions of hours?
How do you pick out one rider when each stage saw riders risk their lives descending at 80kmh (or more) on melting or rain-slick tarmac? How do you pick out one rider when you see a GC contender throw caution to the wind in a do-or-die 60km break over the most difficult climbs in the world in a Hail Mary attempt to win the Tour? How do you pick one rider when you see a heroic effort to bring back that same man and singlehandedly drag him within reach? How do you pick out one rider in a race where sprinters won mountain stages and rouleurs fought for the Maillot Verde? How do you pick one rider in a race where the strength of the adversaries defines the quality of the winner?
I’ll tell you how: You pick the guy who catapulted into a rusty barbed-wire fence at 65 kmh because a man driving a car for the media decided his job was more important than that of those doing the racing. You pick a guy who was robbed of the chance to win a stage and go on to defend the Dotty Jumper by a driver who was ordered by race officials to pull over not once, but twice in order to make way for the team cars. You pick the guy who goes on to laugh it off, suggesting the driver didn’t mean him any harm. You pick the guy who did all that and not only finished the stage within the time limit, but managed to take the Polkadot Jersey that day and hold it for a few more. You pick the guy who, after he received dozens of stitches in addition to the damage done when you come off a bicycle at such speeds (it’s not the falling off that is the problem, but the quick stop afterwards that is), went on to finish every other stage and even get into several more breakaways along the way.
Johnny, it’s hardmen like you who make this sport so incredible and remind us that it’s not just the man who stands on top of the podium at the end of the day who is tough. It’s the fact that they beat riders like you, riders who can endure more hardship than most of us can comprehend that makes this such a great sport. You remind us that there is a reason we dub the men who finish the Tour de France Giants of the Road. As a fellow Dutchman, it is my profound pleasure to offer you the well-deserved Rule #5 Award. I hope you allow yourself a beer or two. Cheers.