Friday, 20 April 2012
Paris Roubaix - Don't take away my break away
It took a while for my cyclist to fall back in love with the sport that was no longer part of his life. It started accidentally with the Tour de France one July when there was nothing better on the telly, and gradually gradually reeled us both in, him for the second time and me for the first.
The sprint stages were then and are still my least favourite of races, much as I love me some Cav. You might as well have them spin round the block a couple of times and run in the last 5k to my mind. And yes, I know I'm missing the point; the potential for drama, the splits, the echelons, the beauty of the peloton snaking through the scenery, pretty helecopter shots of castles etc and so on. Yawnsome; I'll only be arsed enough to half-watch the highlights show, and that's really only to make sure none of the GC boys did anything silly, like fall over.
When I first started idly watching those stages I had no idea how it all worked. I would look on aghast as the peloton cat-and-moused with a plucky few who had found themselves a few minutes up the road, bouncing those unsuspecting riders on an invisible string before snapping them back and swallowing them whole so some protected fella hidden in the pack all day could thunder across the finish line with his hands in the air, while a fraction of a second behind him other similarly packaged and delivered fellas who I couldn't pick out of a line up thump their handlebars in dismay. It seemed so unfair. I hadn't worked out that a breakaway could be more than merely a means to an end but frequently, to the smaller teams at least, the end in itself. The breakaway is more often than not doomed to fail, a suicide mission. An offering by the sponsors to the Gods of television... oh you got the point. Way before I did.
But sometimes there is different breakaway story. The riders that simply break away because they're stronger, tougher, smarter, braver. The ones I love to watch, who fight hard and deserve to win. The winners who don't merely contest the last 200m of a race, but the whole sodding thing, start to finish. These are no exercises in sponsor-pleasing, no kamikaze attempts to borrow the spotlight of the TV camera for a bit before handing it back to a bigger boy; but the rider wapping his balls out and taking the race on.
That's how I feel about Tom Boonen's win at Paris Roubaix. No-one thought he could do it like he did it. But he did. With 50-odd k left to go he disappeared down the road and the internet lit up, mainly with comments along the lines of 'What the HELL is he doing?!'. But he knew better and he showed us all and bloody well done to him. He saw his moment and he took his chance, and recorded a win that was undeniable. No holding someone else's wheel 'til the crucial final seconds, no lead out, no mental chess with a companion rider, just him and the bike and the road. And I loved it.
One day, when I was being particularly difficult, I asked my cyclist why there were two podium girls for the winner. He looked at me like I was quite possibly not intelligent enough to breathe unaided.
'Why the hell do you think? One on each end!
...Side! SIDE! I MEANT SIDE! ONE ON EACH SIDE!'
But if ever a rider has managed to get a podium girl on each end, my money's on Tommeke.