Sunday, January 21, 2018

"The Hardmen, Legends and Lessons from the Cycling Gods," by Velominati

The Velominati is a high order of Cyclists devoted to racing.  They have published two books, bibles of a sort, that elaborate upon the ninety-five commandments they live by and that they wish all Cyclists embraced. Their first book in 2014 was titled "The Rules, The Way of the Cycling Disciple."  It should be no surprise that among their commandments is "It's all about the bike," and it's companion, "Family does not come first, the bike does."

Their second book, three years later, "The Hardmen, Legends and Lessons from the Cycling Gods," provides thirty-eight parables that further illuminate The Rules.  Most of the stories dwell upon the foremost of the Rules--"Harden the fuck up," as in be tough, no whimpering allowed.  They advocate riding hard and suffering with dignity and pride regardless of the conditions--rain, cold, hot, wind, cobbles, steep climbs.  Relishing the suffering is what defines a Hardman, what all Cyclists should aspire to--male and female alike.  Seven of the parables feature women--Nicole Cooke, Marianne Vos, Rebecca Twigg, Annie Londonderry, Megan Fisher, Lizzie Deignan and Beryl "BB" Burton.  

Eddie Merckx is featured in two of them. No one is held in higher esteem.  He is alternately referred to as The Prophet, Our Lord or simply God. He is said to have a "limitless capacity to suffer."  No one looks better suffering than Merckx.  The first chapter of the book is devoted to Merckx's hour record in 1972 when he had to be carried off his bike.  He said the effort took a year off his career and that he would never attempt it again.  The second Merckx Hardman tale is about him riding one hundred kilometers in the rain and snow from his home in Brussels the day before the start of Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 1971 as penance for not winning Flèche-Wallone earlier in the week.  He won the race by five minutes.  The caption on the photo of him riding in the rain during the race reads, "Hey, weather.  Go fuck your self."

The books applaud toughness and emphasize the extreme, unrelenting effort that Cyclists should maintain--Rule #90 is "Never get out of the big ring," #93 is "Descents are not for recovery."  The Pain Cave is a friend.  Pain should be sought, not avoided.  It is one of the joys of cycling.  It liberates one and makes one a more complete person.  Throughout the book Cycling and Cyclisf are accorded the honor of being capitalized.  Pain and Suffering are held in such reverence it is a great oversight that they are not capitalized as well.  At least Pain Cave is. Big Ring is another that merits capitalization.

They know enough to capitalize L'Alpe d'Huez the five times it is referenced. They are purists through and through and though they are largely English and American, they defer to the French in many ways, including the French version of this most iconic of climbs.  They use French terms as frequently as they can--parcours, rouleur, grimpeur, domestique--out of respect and also to "further mystify our sport to those not familiar with it."  Stephen Roche is quoted in French in his Hardman episode when he pushed himself to collapse after completing the the climb to La Plagne in the Pyrenees in the 1987 Tour that he won.  He was hauled off in an ambulance.  When a doctor asked him how he was, he replied, "Everything's okay, mais pas de femme ce soir." (But no woman for me tonight).  

Lance Armstrong is mentioned even more than Merckx, but he does not merit a chapter, as he's only brought up with disdain, other than applauding his pronouncement "Pain is temporary; quitting lasts forever," but with the amendment--"even assholes can be insightful." Rather than applying the adjective "disgraced" to him as is more common, they prefer stronger pejoratives, as is their style, also describing him as a "pathological liar" and a "dickhead."  At times he's just snidely referred to as a "certain brash Texan."  His Tour dominance winning it seven straight times was compared to that of Merckx "minus the dickish behaviour."

Both books are peppered with the f-word--18 times in the first, 33 in the second--for emphasis and color.  To become an accomplished Cyclisf is simple--"Just ride the bike.  A four-year old can do it, for fuck's sake.  Like anything, getting good at it requires major commitment."

For those who may have missed their first book, they list all ninety-five rules at the back of this book, with a brief description of each.  They are followed by a glossary.  Many of the terms are earlier footnoted, but it is a pleasure to be reminded of them.  One of them is "Five and Nine," shorthand for two of the most important Rules--"Harden the Fuck Up" and "If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you're a badass. Period."

The pleasure of suffering is a constant refrain.  After an arduous climb a Velominatus should reply, "I suffered like I've never suffered before.  It was fantastic."

Cycling is a religious experience.  Among its sacred relics are a complete set of Campagnolo tools and a Silca pump and a Merckx wool Molteni jersey.

Curiously there was not a single reference to tears in "The Rules."  Their follow-up makes up for it with a wide range of tear references, understanding they are an integral part of the sport, not only as an expression of pride of accomplishment (Eros Poli winning the Ventoux stage of the 1994 Tour)but also as an expression of enduring under extreme conditions (Andy Hampsten in the snow on the Gavia in the 1988 Giro).  No tears is also a badge of honor, such as Bernard Hinault not crying when he crashed seven times on the way to winning the 1981 Paris Roubaix.  That was to be expected as, "He never cried," the Velominati assert.  The same might be said of Andrei Tchmil.  He was discovered in Russia after undergoing evaluation by "men with clipboards collecting data on cunning, intimidation, lack of empathy and inability to cry."  The defeated are often brought to tears.  The Velominati maintain that Roger De Vlaeminck enhanced his legendary sideburns with "the odd tear collected from his vanquished foes." They point out ocular slime dribbling from Jens Voigt, a rare substance that occurs when one wants to cry from pain, but there isn't any water left in the system for actual "tears."

These books penetrate to a depth that few books on cycling manage.  They are much more than manuals.  Just as there are those who live for the bike, these are books to live by.


Vincent Carter said...

George were you nodding in agreement at every rule?

george christensen said...

Absolutely. And you too?