Why pro cycling needs to ditch its ‘hardness’ obsession

by Jacob Solomon Jun 4, 2023 News
Why pro cycling needs to ditch its ‘hardness’ obsession

The final time trial to Monte Lussari was an explosion of drama, twists, and suspense, played out against the backdrop of glorious sunshine, a steep mountain road, and a fervent atmosphere.

It wasn't always that way. During last week's sunny mountainous denouement, the Jumbo-Visma rider's show stopping ride on Monte Lussari added some much needed pink gloss to our memories.

Primož Roglič wins stage 20 of the 2023 Giro d’Italia (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

SWpix.com is owned by ZAC Williams.

The first two weeks of the Giro were a tough affair, even for a race noted for its ability to cause suffering.

The opening phase of the first grand tour of the season was a grey, seemingly never-ending slog, beset by illness, incident, and bad weather, instead of the bright technicolour pushed by the Giro's marketing team.

The return of Covid-19 decimated the peloton during the second week and led to the sudden, unexpected exit of Remco Evenepoel and podium contender Aleksandr Vlasov.

The shocking crash that brought down Geraint Thomas and Primo Rogli was caused by the carelessness of the driver.

The crashes and bouts of sickness were compounded by stage after stage of miserable and at times apocalyptic weather conditions, played out against the all-too-real backdrop of the natural disaster that devastated the region just days after the race.

It wasn't much of a spectacle for us to watch from our sofas, but it was worse for the riders, who had to endure what must have felt like the longest two weeks of their life.

The attrition rate was high because only 125 riders made it to Rome, the lowest number in over two decades.

Lukas Pöstlberger grabs an umbrella at the 2023 Giro d’Italia (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

Lukas Pstlberger opted for a brolly before the rain came.

Has the peloton ‘gone soft’?

Some sections of social media, as well as a few ex-pros-turned-pundits, reacted to the misery suffered by the peloton. The class of 2023 was accused of going soft.

After the Giro finished, the complaints began to mount.

Evenepoel abandoned the race after a positive Covid test just hours after narrowly beating Thomas for his second time trial win, sparking conspiracy theories.

While others accused him of faking illness to cover up his waning strength on the road, others questioned his decision to leave the race when still in stage-winning form.

Evenepoel stage 9 Giro (by Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

SWpix.com is owned by ZAC Williams.

Over a week after Covid ended his Giro challenge, Evenepoel finally hit back at those armchair critics, and what he called the "fake and negative comments" made in the wake of his exit.

I am not afraid of losing or hiding from it. This is for people who think that. These comments made the last days very hard. I will take those moments with me on the bike as I prepare for my next race.

I want everyone to know that I am not a robot but a normal human being with normal feelings.

The critics continued to voice their displeasure at the riders for not simply sucking it up and getting on with it despite Remco's appeal for empathizing.

The riders hold last-minute discussions with the organisers to shorten stage 10 of the 2023 Giro d’Italia (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

The riders tried to shorten the sodden stage 10 to Viareggio, but failed.

The president of the riders was accused by a Spanish cycling fan site of being behind the shortened stage after the riders hopped on their team buses to make it to the amended start.

The author argued that the race shouldn't be forced to endure the kind of weather conditions that plagued this year's race.

The article argued that the riders of the modern era were weak and the racing was tailored to comfort.

Thanks for the story. I will say this very nicely. My job is to represent the riders, not convince them, change their options, and definitely not side with the organisers, UCI, or fans. I'm not here to make friends with organisers, UCI, teams, or even fans.

It is not my voice.… https://t.co/XVCVTDCSKv (link is external)

— Adam Hansen (@HansenAdam) May 18, 2023 (link is external)

A rider will only withdraw from a race after they have spent days, sometimes weeks, over their limit, slogging through the rain and freezing temperatures before reaching the finish line.

The former rider argued that the health of the riders should not be sacrificed for entertainment. Thomas De Gendt had an argument with a fan about health and safety at the Giro.

Geraint Thomas was blunt when asked about the criticism thrown at the peloton from ex-pros who used social media.

A lot of things from the 1980's and 90's we don't do now, which we're proud of, so they can say what they want

Geraint Thomas in the pink jersey on stage 14 of the 2023 Giro d’Italia (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

SWpix.com is owned by ZAC Williams.

The sport's spectators remain divided despite the riders presenting a united front.

There are contrasting images of Andy Hampsten's ascent of the snow-covered Gavia at the 1988 Giro and the buses carrying the riders to Le Chble 35 years later.

The absurdity of a poll and the reality of a life as a pro cyclist were highlighted by a photo posted by the rider.

Gleb Syritsa road rash (Astana Qazaqstan/Twitter)

It was really bad... (Astana Qazaqstan).

When road.cc shared that horrible image on Facebook, what was the first thing people said?

The man tripped me. I apologize. The sport is wrong. It's hard as nails that man.

The old footballer comparison. It's a classic.

A comment from one of our readers reminded me of a moment during England's ill-fated World Cup quarter final against France last year when I watched a pro cyclist laugh out loud at the sight of Harry Kane flamboyantly throwing himself.

The pro asked why he was doing that. He hasn't been touched.

Footballers don't roll about on the ground screaming because they have low pain thresholds. They are just trying to gain an advantage for their team by convincing the referee that a foul was committed.

Cyclists don't get anything by making plain their suffering. A long spell at the side of the road after a crash means a harder chase back to the group.

Mark Cavendish Giro d'Italia stage five crash 2023 (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

Mark Cavendish crashes in the finish line.

Pro racers can play the system in their own way, just like cyclists can play the system in their own way as well.

On the opening sprint stage of the 2012 Tour de France, Brad Wiggins saw a crash ahead of him and he was able to react. With less than three kilometres to go in the stage, anyone caught up in or behind a spill received the same time as the rest of the group, and that's when the crash happened. As Cadel Evans and Vincenzo Nibali raced to avoid losing time up the road, the Sky leader enjoyed a relaxing spin to the finish.

Is that the same thing as Harry Kane buying a kick?

It creates a view of cycling shared by fans, teams, and organizers that it is perfectly acceptable to expect, and push, pro riders to routinely stretch themselves beyond their limits; illness, injury, and dangerous courses be They are harder than those cry- baby footballers.

The Thin Line

There is no dispute that cycling is dangerous. The riders spend weeks and months away from their families because of the long races, the training is hard, and crashes are a constant hazard.

There is no need to romanticise that pain, or to mythologise the sport's obsession with hardness, both of which serve to throw the riders to the lions in the name of entertainment.

Magnus Cort after winning stage 10 of the 2023 Giro d’Italia (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

After winning the 10th stage of the Giro, Magnus Cort celebrated.

The class of 2023 is the antithesis of professional cycling's tradition of pain and suffering and epic feats.

There is a line between being tough and being stupid.

Modern concussion protocols mean that the risk of riders making their way back through the group, barely cognisant of who or where they are, should become a cautionary tale.

Extreme weather conditions will become more and more common at bike races as a result of the consequences of our destructive impact on the climate.

The Giro avoided Italy's deadly floods.

Sean Kelly noted during the Giro that the snow-covered, icy roads were a fixture of the Irish-dominated editions of Paris-Nice in the 1980s.

The image of a brave rider fighting through illness on a grand tour has been put in a bad light by Covid and the long-term effects of the virus.

In the 2020s, cycling has the ability to produce amazing sporting feats. The recent exploits of Annemiek van Vleuten and Tadej Pogaar, as well as last Saturday's dramatic finale on Monte Lussari, will tell you that. They just happen to be in a different place now.

Riding through the snow at the 2023 Giro d’Italia (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

SWpix.com is owned by ZAC Williams.

The modern viewer doesn't need to see dishevelled racers standing on the side of the road shouting 'assassins!' at the Tour organizers to enjoy professional cycling For the sake of a top 10 on GC, riders with broken bones are barely able to grip the handlebars. Remco Evenepoel was going to ruin his season and possibly his career in order to honor the pink jersey.

Good racing is what we need. It is exactly what we have been getting for the past three years.

The sport of professional cycling is pitiless. At times, it's necessary to be a more compassionate and human person as well. Let us change the narrative and stop framing cycling as the world's toughest sport.

The sport deserves better.