Tuesday, June 11, 2013

An endless parade of obsessive behavior, and repulsive oil-soaked tumbleweed moving slowly down the pavement.

As the cycling world has turned its attention to the Dauphine and the Tour de Suisse, I'm still stuck (mentally at least) at the Giro. It's the way my mind works, and perhaps begins to explain how I made it into the 90s with a mullet. For this post (probably the last one about this year's Giro), I'll spare you the majority of the things that are still bouncing around my head, and simply focus on a few points that I thought were worth sharing. 

Photo: Cycling Inquisition


Whatever you can possibly say against time trials as a spectator is likely something I've thought about, or said myself. They are as boring as watching paint dry while Sean Kelly commentates. Having said that, I must now take back part of my past comments. Why? Because if you're only able to see a stage from one place, time trials give you endless opportunities to see riders one by one. This is particularly true near the start. There, riders check their bikes nervously, as they adjust their shoe covers and zippers as many times as humanly possible. They're nervous and anxious, two emotions that are released in an endless parade of obsessive behavior that is more fun to watch than some races.

My personal favorite? The fact that every cuff must be adjusted and then checked seventy times before the start, just to ensure that all elastic power has not been lost from the time that they left the team bus. This is particularly important if any elastic cuff is being asked to perform double duty, and act as a place to keep a gel packet. If that's the case, the number of times the cuff must be checked easily doubles.


Photo: Cycling Inquisition
Photo: Cycling Inquisition
Photo: Cycling Inquisition
 
Photo: Cycling Inquisition

In their 2001 book Sanity and Sanctity: Mental Health Work Among the Ultra-Orthodox in Jerusalem, Dr. David Greenberg and Eliezer Witztum devoted several chapters to the propensity toward obsessive compulsive disorder (largely focused on religious ritual) that exists among devout religious Jews. Though the behavior I saw at the Mori velodrome probably didn't warrant medical intervention (not that I'd know anyway), I found it interesting that the obsessive display was usually followed by another required step before going up to the start ramp. 

Take the image below, for example. In what would appear to be a fictitious pastiche of Italian culture, a local priest spoke to riders before they went up to the start ramp. He focused largely on Italian riders, whose names he knew well. He spoke to all of them, often in hushed tones, sometimes followed by what appeared to be a shared prayer. This was followed by the priest ushering the riders to a group of elderly and disabled fans, including a man in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank. All Italian riders complied fully, and as soon as one finished, the next one would line up for the exact same procedure.

Right after greeting the man with the oxygen tank, all of them went on to check the elastic cuffs on their kit seventy more times.

Photo: Cycling Inquisition

Say what you will about Garzelli and his plucked eyebrows. I certainly have. But if I had to give an award to a guy that loves being at the Giro, it would have to be him. He rides his trainer before breakfast in full kit while still at the hotel. At the race start, he rides the trainer again. Okay, maybe this is age and not devotion, but it was interesting to see. He then rides in circles around fans, greeting them as he goes by, some of them in disbelief that he's just gone by for the tenth time.

Photo: Cycling Inquisition

Photo: Cycling Inquisition


Perhaps the one guy that likes being at the Giro more than Garzelli is Pozzato. Not content with warming up by the bus and riding around fans on his road bike, he took to the streets on his mountain bike, riding among the crowds, and basically surprising fans one after the other in a victory-less victory lap that lasted two hours.

Photo: Manual For Speed
Photo: Cycling Inquisition

Amateur cyclists go on and on about tan lines on their legs, arms and sometimes hands. Professionals, on the other hand, have tan lines that most people haven't even thought about.

Photo: Cycling Inquisition

It's excruciating to watch UCI officials weigh TT bikes on a scale that is tied to a pop-up canopy from Cosco with a cheap string, only to then put the bike on a shaky rig to see if the saddle is level. But perhaps the most nerve-racking part of the whole thing is watching riders flinch as UCI personnel use wrenches and fists to correct their saddle position in a manner reminiscent of watching gorillas attempting to open a bottle. My personal favorite, however, was how diligent they were about covering up every single set of world champion stripes on bikes that did not belong to a world champion. This was done with electrical tape, and it was usually Vision's TT bars that suffered the most.

Photo: Cycling Inquisition

Surely you've noticed them, the cotton balls that riders stuff into their nostrils (usually soaked in eucalyptus oil or some similar product) before time trials. If you're a bit strange like me, you've probably wondered at what point riders take these off, and where. Well, I now have the answer. This happens as they go up the steps to the starting ramp. At first, you'll see just a few of these cotton balls on the floor, but as more and more riders start, the quantity grows to comical levels. Repulsive oil-soaked, tumbleweed moving slowly down the pavement.

Photo: Cycling Inquisition


Photo: Cycling Inquisition

Yet another thought that occurred to me while at the Giro time trial: why don't more riders warm up facing away from the fans? At this point, someone is likely to throw in a comment about how cycling is very blue collar, and you have access to the riders or something along those lines. Be that as it may, how annoying must it be to have people staring at you endlessly (sometimes from mere inches away) while you are sitting there on your bike. Sunglasses help, but the unusual nature of this ritual remains. I'm sure that having to stare at the side of the bus is no fun, but neither is having to look at my face as I take pictures of you.

Photo: Cycling Inquisition

Photo: Cycling Inquisition

Photo: Cycling Inquisition


 In closing, here are a few more of the pictures I took, in no particular order.
 

Photo: Cycling Inquisition

Photo: Cycling Inquisition

Photo: Cycling Inquisition
Photo: Cycling Inquisition

9 comments:

  1. Great pics, last one of the models is in my favorites. I don't understand why UCI personnel correct the saddle position of the bikes?

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  2. Ah, because there's rules about everything you see:
    http://www.velonation.com/News/ID/10715/UCI-to-enforce-saddle-tilt-rule-in-2012.aspx

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  3. only difficulty with this piece is trying to decide which is most arresting- photos or text. superb work, as per usual!

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  4. Excellent piece - and I love the photos!

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  5. Super interesting and entertaining; thanks for all your insight into the stuff that happens behind the scenes at the Giro!

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  6. Thank you Dennis. If we could just get like four more people to agree with you, this blog would be a hit!

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