Cycling may be a sport of athletes at their pinnacle but that means nothing if they can’t sort out their brand.
The Giro d’Italia may have been one of the biggest cycling events of the year, but it was also when I finally decided that cycling just isn’t for me. I tried, and I mostly definitely failed.
Racing has always been something significant. I can watch F1, rallying, Formula E, Moto GP, the velodrome – whatever it has been, if there’s a race with a human on a machine then that is my jam. It was why last year I decided to finally give road cycling a go. It had been the sport that so many people I know love, and Fernando Alonso keeps banging on about it so it seemed daft to miss out. Yet, it has been an utterly sterile experience.
Road cycling is one of the toughest events anyone can participate in. There is absolutely no doubt that the athletes require huge skill and tenacity. Everything they do requires utter commitment. It’s not just about the next stage. It’s about the stages after that and the ones after even those. Cyclists have to think in the long term. It’s about team work, strategy, and utter hard work. It should be amazing to watch but it never gave me chills.
The inescapable fact is that cycling’s reputation is in the gutter. Often, just when you think you can finally get behind a cyclist they’re involved in some sort of scandal. Froome, who was making history with his form, saw his reputation implode after a failed drugs test was revealed, except perhaps to those who have become so used to the sport’s numerous drug scandals. Froome though is still competing, and there have been scandals with different cyclists throughout the years so that now the entire sport feels questionable.
I want to watch those pushing themselves to the limit, but what fun is there in that if someone’s limit is deliberately set better than others? It is for that reason why it’s not particularly enjoyable to watch Russia compete in sports after their own scandals around doping. Sport, which many competitors so often forget, is not just about winning. It’s about the story along the way. It’s why people complain that Chelsea and Man U are now boring and why F1 fans can’t stand the rich teams dominating and want the underdog to win. Look to the glory years of Schumacher, who was utterly ruthless in pursuit of victory and won everything there was going with Ferrari and yet lacked the love from fans. Yet, compare that with Felipe Massa, the plucky racer who won the hearts of millions when he lost the championship to Hamilton at the very last corner by a single point but he accept defeat with grace and pride. Hamilton was the new champion but F1 had a new hero to cheer.
“What fun is there in that if someone’s limit is deliberately set better than others?”
When people watch sports they want someone, or a team, they can cheer on with pride. That is nearly impossible when there are so many lingering doubts about what is really going on behind the scenes and whether a sport has any integrity at all.
Many sports have had scandals, and many probably have scandals waiting to be found out. But the fact is that time and again cycling seems to go through the same story without learning anything and it makes it immensely exhausting to try to defend, or even remotely care about. It’s a shame on the entire sport, the fans, and those who wish to compete in nothing but the spirit of fairness. Regardless of what Froome or other cyclists have or haven’t done, the very existence of questions around their form and competitiveness pulls the whole sport into disrepute. It’s a failing of an entire system, and it’s too difficult to want to cheer on this sport at all.
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