I was reading a few of David Millar’s retirement interviews recently and started thinking about some of his observations. I don’t often agree with what David has said historically. I think I take this stance because I am bitter about him doping-the way he “confessed” and then his almighty preaching about racing clean. All of it seemed like damage control by him, or maybe JV, I don’t know.
But, he isn’t a super dumb guy. He is just a guy that felt the need to explain getting caught cheating. It’s what he came up with. But, I do relate to this quote below.
“The team has become an identity for a rider; before, a rider would transcend the team. It’s become robotic. I liked the dysfunctionality, the cult-ness, the randomness.”
He went on to say-
“Obviously that led to the criminal aspect, the corruption, the madness, but I didn’t know that when I fell in love with it.”
I don’t really have any idea what he means in the 2nd quote, but really agree with what he says initially.
For most of my “career”, cycling was mostly, 1st, an individual sport, then 2nd, a team sport. In modern cycling, it is opposite. This has disillusioned me quite a bit.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the team aspect of the sport. I just don’t agree with how the professional teams have molded the sport into, as David says, “robotic”.
I guess we can blame Lance, once again, for this. Lance’s building of teams, that only worked for him, really escalated the sport to where we are today.
It’s not really fair to completely blame Lance. There are tons of reasons that the sport has morphed into a robotic state.
One is the team directors, sitting in their cars, felt like they were doing menial labor and needed an outlet to feel somewhat important. Thus, the TV’s in the team cars and the radios. You can’t have robots without a mechanism to sense, control the action, and to coordinate the robots.
Obviously, another is the doping. With doping, one rider, or a group of riders, can stay good, nearly the whole year, better than everyone else, so the team can rely on them to perform at a super high level. This isn’t the case when drugs aren’t prevalent in sport.
And I’m sure we could come up with tons of more reasons. But, whatever the reasons, the end result is that it makes the sport boring. Teams sitting at the front of the race, for hours, setting tempo, just to have a field sprint or race the last climb. Sacrificing a rider to just go back to a car and fetch water bottles. Crazy.
It is worse with criterium racing here in the United States. Especially during stage racing, but it happens at all big criteriums. One team of 8 riders, goes to the front and rides tempo for 90 minutes. That is pretty boring-ass bike racing. It isn’t going to garner new fans to the sport or keep the current ones.
One of the best things about the sport, previously, was the randomness to it. Our sport is special because the best athletes don’t always win. Drafting is pretty specific to cycling. There are so many more aspects to it that just being a great athlete, doesn’t ensure success. A great cyclist has to possess more than just good genetics.
I think that the UCI, and probably USAC, want our sport to have its heroes. They think that each country, and/or team, having one rider, for the fans to cheer for, make the sport more popular. And popularity is what brings in money. It’s all about money.
What they don’t realize is that the sport can be successful, as it was, random. The sport is beautiful because it is a visual sport. A colorful field of cyclists is gorgeous on its own. It is almost irrelevant who wins any given day.
I know you’re thinking, Tilford, you’re full of shit. Sure, it matters who wins. But it really doesn’t.
Look at the results from the 2014 Worlds a couple weeks ago. Michal Kwiatkowski, Poland, made a beautiful move and took some calculated risks to win the race. It was great to watch. It was a beautiful move that paid off big. Poland, that big cycling country, has the jersey for the next year.
Back in 1985, at the World Championships in Italy, a 39 year old rider, who was thought to be well past his prime, Joop Zoetemelk, Holland, snuck away from a field of favorites, including Greg Lemond, to steal the victory. It was a great move and memorable.
Someone wins each race. The better riders will win more, but the sport is exciting when just about anyone wins.
We have a segment of the sport that allows the best cyclists shine. It is stage racing. Stage racing is the aspect of the sport that supposedly sorts out the best all around riders in the sport. But the whole sport isn’t only about stage racing, even though the powers at be, would like to make us all think so.
The sport is unique, and so great, because any size athlete can excel at some aspect of it. You don’t have to be an American athlete, 6′ 3″ +, and 250 lbs., to compete. (But when the same scrawny little climbers start winning the flat time trials, then we have issues.) Any body style has a place in the sport, whether on the road, track, MTB or cross. It is a very diverse sport in that regard.
I don’t know how to “fix” this. It took a couple decades to get here and that is all that most people knowo f the sport. Since television and the internet, all the sport most of us has seen is the current way. They didn’t get to observe and compete when it was much more random.
I think that if they had a chance to see racing of old, they would realize that it is much better for the sport and is way more exciting