Hair got me into cycling. I know it sounds ridiculous – the leap from barnet(1) to bicycle is not an easy one to imagine – but it’s true. The ponytails of firstly Robert Millar and then, and more importantly, Laurent Fignon bewitched me more than any lofty mountain pass or low-profile time trial machine. Who were these sportsmen who exhibited such flair with their hair? It is said that the aero disadvantage of Fignon’s follicle affectation cost him the 1989 Tour, which he lost to the tousled golden locks of the American Greg Lemond by just eight seconds, but (and I realise that it would have been scant consolation to the distraught Frenchman) it won my undying admiration.
Fignon and on and on.
Team Sky (or Sky Procycling as they were until the start of this season) have undoubtedly changed the way that cycling is perceived in this country. Although they were set up from the start as an internationally rostered team – albeit with a very clear aim of initially achieving success in the Tour de France for a British rider – they were often described as a de facto British national road team. The overlapping managerial & coaching staff from the national track squad adds fuel to this conflation, especially for the legions of new cycling fans that the team’s success has turned onto the sport. It was also inevitable that many of the existing and upcoming British riders would find a home at Sky where the people, program and language were most familiar. But what of those British riders who choose not to ‘Take to the Sky’ with Brailsford and Co? Are they getting a fair share of cycle fan’s support when faced with the media-attention black hole that the Tour-winning team creates wherever it goes?
“Somewhere in the ancient mystic Trinity, you get Three as a magic number” – Bob Dorough, Schoolhouse Rock!
Trouble, they say, comes in threes. The way the back half of last year went personally I would have to add in a factor of at least 10 to that figure, but the notion of a Triad of Adversity seems to be a well held adage. Once a couple of things have gone awry, we almost expect a third calamity to happen and often actively seek it out in order to discount it as quickly as possible. It is an ingrained expectation of the way that things just are. When you think about it like that, it’s also a pretty depressing outlook to have.
So, in a wild stab at New Year’s, ‘on-the-other-hand’, optimism, perhaps we could ask what if the blighted triple was not only a truism but was governed by Newton’s Laws of Motion in the same way that rider’s movements are. In a world where all actions have an equal and opposite reaction, those same three troubles must be balanced by three happinesses. Each three clouds should have three silver linings. As with the third disaster that we yearn to seek out, surely it’s just a case of looking. I’m aware I’m clutching at some pretty thin straws here.
There has been a lot of talk, and great deal more speculation, recently about The Hour; cycling’s supposed Blue Riband event, which has lain dormant for a few years, bogged down by anachronistic rules and the weight of history. The record has been bettered once since Chris Boardman’s definitive ride of 2000, but by such a large margin (and by a rider with more doping positives than wins on his palmares) that there is a tangible level of discomfort to be felt when it is discussed. Cycling is well versed in the arts of cynicism these days and the general feeling is that The Hour is in need of new life and a new, credible record holder.
Fabian Cancellara’s claim last month that he will make an attempt on The Hour in 2014 potentially supplies both those needs. His talent and credibility are enough to appease even the most strident of cynics that his is a name worthy of the event and it’s undoubtedly glittering history. More intriguingly perhaps, his confirmation of an attempt at this stage in the season is creating ripples of interest across the sport, with other big names quickly being linked to making a challenge next year. The record has traditionally seen flurries of attempts followed by years of inactivity so the hope (and, in some quarters, the expectation) is that Cancellara will kickstart a new cycle of competition. Bradley Wiggins and World Time Trial champion Tony Martin are the two names at the head of everyone’s fantasy Battle for the Hour. Each has the capability and the stature required but do either have Cancellara’s cojones to publicly commit to an attempt at this early stage?
Photo by Luis Barbosa