Lowdown: ‘Put me back on the bike’ to quote probably the last words of Tom Simpson near the summit of Mont Ventoux, all he wanted to do was ride on. We’ve all seen riders covered in bandages or with ripped clothing and covered in blood, no one will stop them from racing. In the light of Katie Archibald’s crash and subsequent track World Cup win, Lee Rodgers compares the different attitude between the knights of the road/track and soccer players to injuries.
“And welcome to the big game this weekend on Soccer Sunday, just in time for kick off…”
“Should be a good one Dave!”
“Yes Mike it should, the two top teams here in great form and they’re all looking fine and dandy with their ridiculous poncey haircuts. And the referee blows the whistle to get us started… And straight away there’s a foul! Bonaldo goes down like a ton of bricks!”
“Looks like he’s been hit by a truck Dave.”
“He’s certainly rolling about a lot and gesticulating Mike! He might have broken something!”
“Wait Dave… here’s the replay.”
“Oh… he didn’t touch him. Well, what great acting there by Bonaldo…”
And so it goes, in one variety or another, in professional leagues around the world. Grown men in the prime of their lives, being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a month, diving as if they’re trying out for the Olympic 10-meter team. If there is contact of any form they hit the deck as if felled by a left hook from Floyd Mayweather. Yet almost always, amazingly, they jump back up if their team gets the ball and charge right back into the game.
In English football until recently there was often an ever so slightly (ie not slight at all) attitude that pervaded post game commentaries, where the British pundits would blame Johnny Foreigner for all the ails of the modern game (a sort of sporting precursor to Brexit if you will) with all their cheating and rolling about, but, lo and behold, few noticed that homegrown players were at it too. Some correlation to doping in cycling there!
How exactly this became an acceptable part of a game – faking an injury – played by strong, athletic men is beyond me. Surely pride comes before wanting to eke out a small advantage over an opponent, no?
Before I get to cycling and how damn hard we are in comparison, let’s look at this great clip from the last rugby World Cup. In this match, Scotland’s Stuart Hogg has tried to fool the ref that he’s been hit illegally. The referee though is having none of it and gives him a very public telling off.
“If you wanna dive like that then come back here in two weeks and play, not today.”
Two weeks later the soccer teams would return to the stadium – it was a brilliant double put down of both Hogg and the soccer players’ love of diving!
Now, onto cycling. Last week this happened:
Now, that’s some pretty damn hard steel!
Later she was taken to hospital where she tweeted this image:
The adrenalin coursing through her veins, the din of the crown ringing in her ears and the deep loyalty that drove her to not want to let her teammate down, Archibald showed such a reserve of will and strength that it was breathtaking to behold. A modern footballer might well have needed three months in an induced coma to get over that.
Male cyclists can be pretty tough too, of course. Who can ever forget Johnny Hoogerland finishing the Tour de France stage after he and Flecha were taken out by the media car in the 2011 Tour de France?
I interviewed Hoogerland before the post-Tour criterium in Maastricht a year later and asked him if he saw his scars as a badge of his inner strength and determination.
“No!” he replied, “I hate them. I may have surgery later.” But that day, when he rode on to the finish in what must have been agony, he became a symbol for the hardiness of cyclists everywhere.
However, recent research has turned the traditionally held view that men feel more pain than women on its head, and though it has been questioned (usually by men in bars) and is difficult to evaluate as several factors come into play, such as traditional male reluctance to report pain even in experimental settings, it did get me wondering if female cyclists might be tougher than their male counterparts because they are suffering more deeply than us.
Last week I was fortunate enough to host a group of elite athletes for the Taiwan KOM Challenge, amongst which was the former TT world champion and Olympic medalist, Emma Pooley. Emma is also the current and consecutive triple world duathlon champion, having made a remarkably successful shift to that discipline.
As we sat around one day, with the guys being men and joshing each other, I remember looking at a quiet Pooley and thinking “Guys, comparatively, she is way tougher than you lot, and me!”
As a whole, for me cycling is alone at the top of the standings for most painful sport. Perhaps only boxing can come close, with its intense rounds of pain followed by 30 seconds on the stool, the fighter left to sit there and fight another battle, the desire to just give up and not get up again.
But in which other sport do its athletes face such massive demands on their bodies and minds? In what other sport are more or less naked humans face at every turn a tumble into a rock hard surface, or a track that can splinter and drive shards into their skin?
I’ve never seen a rider fake an injury. They slide over 20 feet on hard, gritty road and get right back up, kit ripped to shreds and skin bleeding, to finish the race. By riders may look skinny and slightly ill, but deep down they are hard as nails.
Soccer players, on the other hand. . . don’t get me started!
Lee Rodgers is a former professional road racer on the UCI Asia Tour circuit now racing MTB professionally around the world. His day job combines freelance journalism, coaching cyclists, event organizing and consulting work. You can keep up with his daily scribblings over at www.crankpunk.com.
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