Truth and Fiction

Hinault, Le Blaireau
Hinault, Le Blaireau

There is nothing more disappointing than discovering the truth behind a myth or spotting the mortal behind a legend. This is why I make a point never to do any research or in any other way attempt to validate my assumptions when evaluating a situation; mystery that feels like a fact and sounds like a fact is better than an actual fact. Truth, like sex, is something that should be kept private between willing participants, not spread around for everyone to see.

Lucky for me, I’m Dutch, which means my assumptions are usually correct and by extension means I’ve mastered almost every challenge I’ve taken on in life; sometimes it pays to descend from pale Northern European stock that subsists equally on root vegetables and wild guesses (external participants’ experience may vary).

I’ve always been obsessed with history and mythology; the Iliad and The Odyssey occupied my mind like little else did if you can ignore Luke Skywalker or exactly what I might accomplish in life if I had access to a lightsaber and/or the use of The Force. When I became interested in Cycling due in part to Greg LeMond’s influence on the sport in the early 80’s, I was immediately confronted by this crazy character he was embroiled with nicknamed Le Blaireau who was a tireless competitor spitting out quips like, “If I breathe, I attack.” I pulled on the yarn and discovered similar or greater legends and stories hand over fist. This was a sport that seemed to combine everything I love in life: history, legend, myth, aerobic sport, discipline, technique, and not a small amount of OCD within its practitioners.

The most amazing thing about Cycling is that it has a unique kind of mythology. Mythology is normally something that lays in the distant past, far from the reach of our personal experiences. But in Cycling, our mythology and legend lays within the span of our influence, it is something tangible we feel when we watch it unfold before us at the roadside or even on television. This is also why our fallen heros continue to be lionized; when the observer is genuinely unaware of the false forces behind the performance, the emotions felt at the time leave an indelible mark that are unsullied of thoughts of cheating or malfeasance. Discovering the truth years later may well tarnish the reasonable portion of our minds, but the imprint of those original emotions can never be removed and continue to influence us at a level that lives somewhere below the conscious and the rational. This explains why those of us who watched a rider like Pantani dance away from the bunch in the late 90’s continue to love him, while those who came to the sport later view his performances as obviously false and wonder how we could rationally continue to ignore the elephant behind his legend. The point is, rational has nothing to do with it.

They say truth can be stranger than fiction, but I have rarely seen anything more interesting than myth; we are lucky to be a part of a sport whose mythology is still developing and rather than frown upon the truth behind some of its details, I cherish the opportunity to be a part of it.

VLVV.

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68 Replies to “Truth and Fiction”

  1. @DeKerr

    @frank

    @freddy

    @DeKerr

    Good one. Reminds me of McCrae’s In Flanders Fields. Excerpt:

    We are the Dead…

    Take up our quarrel with the foe:
    To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
    In Flanders fields.

    I was brought into that piece by way of Big Head Todd and the Monsters in ’89. Such great writing, and to be in Northern France and Belgium, you feel those spirits still hanging in the air.

    @Ron

    As someone who came into cycling in their mid-20s, I’m enthralled by the legends, the myths, and the tales of the peloton. Oh, it doesn’t hurt that I’m a historian either. Great piece, Frank! I only started riding seriously in the early aughts and watching seriously within the past few years. But, I can’t get enough these days. Cycling is a part of my daily life and I enjoy the history lessons provided by Keepers and Followers alike, thanks!

    Your posts are always so enthusiastic and ADD, totally awesome, I bet you and Buck could really tear a place up if you ever got together.

    The conflagration of irascibility would be GLORIOUS!

    And @freddy, being born of the maple leaf and thistle though never served, that one always gives me a solid case of the Feels.

    I’m sorry, I believe you’re speaking Canadian, not English. Please try again, I haven’t the foggiest fucking clue what you just said.

    @the-farmer

    @Teocalli

    Watching a TV programme at the weekend in the UK Guy Martin – Speed on C4. Worth a watch in C4 Player if you missed it in the UK. Anyway he came up with a name G P Mills and here which is worth looking up. Not sure anyone would get away with his solution for nuisance chasing dogs though these days.

    Also a little anecdote that the term Break Neck Speed originated from racing Penny Farthings – for obvious, if unfortunate, reasons.

    Watched that, sitting in a puddle of piss, top man!

    Haven’t watched it, but the piss puddle sitting sounds compelling.

  2. @DeKerr

    @frank

    @freddy

    @DeKerr

    Good one. Reminds me of McCrae’s In Flanders Fields. Excerpt:

    We are the Dead…

    Take up our quarrel with the foe:
    To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
    In Flanders fields.

    I was brought into that piece by way of Big Head Todd and the Monsters in ’89. Such great writing, and to be in Northern France and Belgium, you feel those spirits still hanging in the air.

    @Ron

    As someone who came into cycling in their mid-20s, I’m enthralled by the legends, the myths, and the tales of the peloton. Oh, it doesn’t hurt that I’m a historian either. Great piece, Frank! I only started riding seriously in the early aughts and watching seriously within the past few years. But, I can’t get enough these days. Cycling is a part of my daily life and I enjoy the history lessons provided by Keepers and Followers alike, thanks!

    Your posts are always so enthusiastic and ADD, totally awesome, I bet you and Buck could really tear a place up if you ever got together.

    The conflagration of irascibility would be GLORIOUS!

    And @freddy, being born of the maple leaf and thistle though never served, that one always gives me a solid case of the Feels.

    Although Dutch born, I’ve lived most of my life in Guelph (McCrae’s birthplace), so you could say his poetry has seeped into the bones a wee tad. Every year around Remembrance Day a local thespian would recite In Flanders Fields properly in church (ie according to the sentence structure–not the lines). It would send shivers down my spine (Frank: that’s partly what @DeKerr means by “the Feels”).

  3. @frank

    I have to say, the best cold/wet jersey available is the Gabba jersey by Castelli. Unreal. Pair that up to wool knee/arm/leg warmers and you are good to go in the worst of weather.

    A most useful and deeply appreciated piece of kit. And adding the ability to choose between base layers of different r-values makes it amazingly versatile with regard to ambient temperature and wind chill.

  4. I am at the end of the comments and I have no idea what the original article was about. Legends of cycling? Or was it climbing? Were we discussing poetry or was it a review of wet weather gear? What happened?

  5. @therealpeel

    I am at the end of the comments and I have no idea what the original article was about. Legends of cycling? Or was it climbing? Were we discussing poetry or was it a review of wet weather gear? What happened?

    Sounds about normal for a thread around here?

  6. @DeKerr

    Once more unto the rise my friends, once more
    Or burn up our matches in reckless pursuit.
    On the ride, there’s nothing so becomes a man
    As casually deliberate.
    But when the bells and horns of competition ring in our ears,
    Then imitate the action of Le Blaireau;
    Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood.

    Disguise your suffering with practiced bluff;
    Pedal circles and not squares;
    Let your magnificent stroke serve as the beacon
    To those who hold your wheel; lead them deep,
    Deep into the pain cave
    And once there, you attack
    Only to leave them without a flashlight.
    Grit your teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
    Hold hard the breath and sur la plaque.
    Open the break. On, on, you glorious riders.
    Whose legs are glistening like the guns of Navarone!
    Legs that, like those of De Vlaemincks,
    Have in these parts from morn till even rode
    And stabled their bikes for lack of light:
    Dishonour not your soingeurs; now attest
    That the treasures of your musette are the finest.
    Be copy now to men who are also peaking,
    And teach them how to ride. And you, good domestiques,
    Whose legs were made to shut up, show us here
    How deep the cave goes; let us swear
    That you are worth your palmares; which I doubt not;
    For there is none of you so mean and base,
    That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
    I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
    Straining upon the start. The flame rouge ahead;
    The sprint is on: and upon this charge,
    Remember “” It never gets easier, you only go faster!

    Well that there is fucking Gold!!

  7. Frank – I’m high-energy, I just try to contribute whatever I can!

    Yeah, I gotta pay Buck a visit. Now that I’m no longer in NY state, it’ll have to be a pitstop, but there ain’t no reason why I can’t make him tow me up Bear Mountain. Will have to detour sometime when I travel north.

  8. @frank

    @VeloVita

    Or Tim Krabbe’s accounts of the stories of Anquetil always removing the bidon from his bike and placing it in his jersey pocket on climbs in order to make the bike as light as it could be….only then to find photograph after photograph of the bidon still placed in its cage as Anquetil pedaled up each slope. Krabbe insists that the story told about Anquetil speaks more to the nature of the rider and therefore is indeed MORE true. I like that.

    I might also point out that he’s Dutch.

    I wouldn’t have guessed that judging by the cover of the book.

  9. @Ron

    Frank – I’m high-energy, I just try to contribute whatever I can!

    Yeah, I gotta pay Buck a visit. Now that I’m no longer in NY state, it’ll have to be a pitstop, but there ain’t no reason why I can’t make him tow me up Bear Mountain. Will have to detour sometime when I travel north.

    YES!  Ron, we have a date with DESTINY!!!  Or a ride, not sure which?  Either way, some of us are going to do one FUCK of a ride next summer on the 18th of June from the coast of Maine to Burlington, VT.  Cogal write up coming sometime soon, right Gianni???  We should meet up for that one!

    And Frahnk!!!  Fuckin work has blocked your website!!!  Not sure why the US Army no longer approves of you, maybe it was b/c my productivity was dropping like a Schleck in a race sometime in the last two years.  But, you know of anyway to sneak around DOD filters at work???

  10. @DeKerr

    A great piece, on a great rider. Je voudrais rencontrer l’homme un jour.

    http://rouleur.cc/journal/history/bernard-hinault

    Indeed, great story.  What year was it published?  I could not find the date.  Mentions Pharmstrong’s comeback so must be 2009?  But, I have to say that the author is a bit too much in love with Le Blaireau when he says things about Hinault like, “Eddy Merckx, quite his equal in achievement”.  Eddy Merckx was Hinault’s equal in achievement???

  11. Loved this and subsequent replies, they get to the heart of why people ride and follow their heroes. It’s romance isn’t it. And I agree, Krabbe is a genius too.

    I was reminded of this poem when reading through the posts so thought I’d share it.

    No matter, the road is life.

    Right here, right now I can go anywhere.
    Be anyone.
    Everything looks so new in the soft apricot glow of the early morning light.  The clean washed out blue of the endless watercolour sky.  The mouthwatering fresh greens of the trees and hedges, every possible shade from almost yellow to almost black.
     
    Sunlight trickles through the leaves above and dapples the path ahead.  The air is soft and lazy-still but for the gentlest and most welcome kiss of breeze on my skin.
    There is only me in this moment.  Everything there has ever been from then to now has been in anticipation of this.  An entire universe, born of nothing an infinity ago for the express purpose of these – are they minutes? are they hours?
     
    I am lulled by the hypnotic rhythm of my legs.  The only sound is the ticking of the wheels as they turn and the life of the landscape around me.  The road slides past beneath me.
    Exhaustion.  Elation.
    The path is in turn smooth and rough – a slash of asphalt in the green, straight and solid and true in some places, gradually being reclaimed by the encroaching wild in others.
    My mind is emptied of all conscious thoughts but one. Consistent.  Insistent.  Persistent.
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .

    My fucking arse is KILLING me.

    I thank you for reading. :-)
  12. @frank Can’t argue with any of that Frank and you make a good point, it is credible that Hinault inadvertently made Lemond tougher in the head. Still a shitty way to treat a man, let alone a team mate. I haven’t seen the film, only read the book. I’ll make an effort to check it out

  13. Good read, it is indeed an amazing sport with so many stories and enormous popular appeal. The sport has changed a lot, not all for the better. I don’t think today’s athletes are as good at racing as they were 16+ years ago. I hope we get rid of the ear pieces and let the riders race like the 80’s. The sport was better for it. The way races were won and lost would not work in today’s format and I surely hope we get back to the days where riders had to feel the race and rely on race info combined with info inside the peloton.

    Love the sport and always will, for its legends, it’s code and the great people who practice it

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