Thursday, January 30, 2014

Beauty is not the goal

Lucho Herrera, Tour de France 1991 (Photo: Rod MacFadyen, who I interviewed about these pictures last year)

In a recent conversation I had about sports writing, particularly within the realm of cycling, a well-known essay about Tennis (Roger Federer's playing in particular) by David Foster Wallace came up. It's one I had read before, after being urged to do so by several people within the course of a month or so. But after this recent conversation, I had to revisit it. Upon doing so, I noticed one passage in particular that I think applies perfectly to cycling, and I share it with you in light of my last post about the changes in cycling, and about attempting to regress to an earlier time. For Wallace, it would appear, the sheer beauty of sport was what drew him in, and kept him engaged.

Beauty is not the goal of competitive sports, but high-level sports are a prime venue for the expression of human beauty. The relation is roughly that of courage to war.

The human beauty we’re talking about here is beauty of a particular type; it might be called kinetic beauty. Its power and appeal are universal. It has nothing to do with sex or cultural norms. What it seems to have to do with, really, is human beings’ reconciliation with the fact of having a body.¹

Of course, in men’s sports no one ever talks about beauty or grace or the body. Men may profess their “love” of sports, but that love must always be cast and enacted in the symbology of war: elimination vs. advance, hierarchy of rank and standing, obsessive statistics, technical analysis, tribal and/or nationalist fervor, uniforms, mass noise, banners, chest-thumping, face-painting, etc. For reasons that are not well understood, war’s codes are safer for most of us than love’s.

¹: There’s a great deal that’s bad about having a body. If this is not so obviously true that no one needs examples, we can just quickly mention pain, sores, odors, nausea, aging, gravity, sepsis, clumsiness, illness, limits — every last schism between our physical wills and our actual capacities. Can anyone doubt we need help being reconciled? Crave it? It’s your body that dies, after all.
Steven Rooks, Tour de France 1991 (Photo: Rod MacFadyen)
Laurent Fignon, Tour de France 1991 (Photo: Rod MacFadyen)


  1. Fignon is on a cross bike!

  2. Replies
    1. Do you know if there is more to the story of those brakes? Seems like he's on a road bike of the era, except the brakes. It doesn't look to have special tire clearance, cable routing, or lack of water bottle mounts--things I'd expect from 'cross bike back then.

    2. Verner,
      When I first saw those pictures, I did a bit of online research, to see what I could find. A well known frame maker in the US who I shared the images with did the same, since he too was interested. We didn't find out much, but this is as far as we got (I think, since this was back in March, it's possible that we came up with an answer, and I've now forgotten it).

      We first thought Fignon was using that bike, with those brakes because his normal road bike had Campy Delta's, and he probably preferred these cantis for their braking power. But then we found this picture, and others, that show he was not using Delta brakes,

      Instead, I found a couple of other pictures and video of him earlier in 1991 using that frame, or one like it, with canti brakes.

      From what little you can see, it doesn't look like a 'cross bike per se, but maybe a road bike with cantilever brakes. Branded Raleigh but built by god-knows-who. To my knowledge, he didn't race cyclocross in the winter maybe he just had that frame and others like it made? This is not much help, I know, but maybe others can weight in.

    3. In the thread at weightweenies ... from which these photos sprang there is a reference to this use of canties, "If my memory serves me correct Fignon changed to the canti bike mid stage as it was believed to be lighter..."
      I've no idea if this was the case, though...
      Love is a perfect word for our appreciation and involvement in sport. Obsessive Love is maybe a little more to the point.


  3. Seems like there have always been some kooky pro bike choices for weight savings, and poor vs decent braking, and this may fit into that realm. It would be interesting to hear from the builder (god knows) about whether this was a builder recommendation, or a demand from Fignon. Today I'm sure there are as many weird choices and almost superstitious ideas of tech, though back then the results were more obvious on the bikes. Thanks Klaus and Ruben.

  4. didn't Cyfac build frames for Fignon?


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