So I know that I typically stay away from the racing side of cycling, but I think I’ll make an exception today.
This years TDF has been quite the spectacle. Among some really good racing and the usual incredible scenery, there has been a little something in particular that has got people talking.
Froome, in the Yellow Jersey, running.
If you don’t already know, a series of chaotic events essentially created the ideal circumstances for a somewhat exuberant mob to bring down the very thing they are there to take part in. The riders at the pointy end of the standings were knocked to the ground, Chris Froome getting the worst of it with a broken bike, no team car available with another, the race lead literally rushing past him to the finish, and with a load of adrenaline, he ran.
It all worked out in the end, but it was a sad day for cycling.
Now, regarding the fans, I say take part in, because for some reason cycling fans have a much different view of their relationship to the sport than fans of other sports. They actually believe that they have a right to involve themselves in the race. Directly. When a fan rushes the field in any other sport, they get tackled to the ground, kicked out, and sometimes even arrested.
Because of the nature of the sport of cycling, you can’t actually barricade the roads for each of the approximately 200km days for three weeks across an entire country, and so you get fans lined up along the roadside to, presumably, cheer on their favorite cyclists.
There has always been interference from “fans” of the sport in the history of cycling, and much of it, especially in the early days, was worse than what goes on now. I think the difference, however, is that in the past it was perhaps more the case that the fans were actual fans. Offering illicit help to their idols and dangerous hindrances to their rivals, it strikes me as, though still terrible and misguided, something that was done for the sport.
Today, with the popularity of the TDF in particular, we see more and more people doing things that compromise the race itself for personal gain – a few mere seconds to appear on national television.
In an age that is typified by superficial and fleeting pleasures – selfies, YouTube, Instagram or any of the other readily accessible platforms for self-promotion (don’t get me wrong, much good can come of it too), and where the idea that one can actually become “famous” just for being a complete twat (try typing “fail” in YouTube and check the number of times they’ve been viewed), the TDF has been ransacked by those on their personal quest for “fame”.
So, though those lining the roads (or laying in wait) may not be any more destructive in the current era, their destruction is so much more maddening for the reason that it’s actually completely pointless.
So, why cycling?
I have this little idea floating around my head that keeps suggesting that it’s because, as grand an event that the TDF is, it’s still just cycling. Grown-ups playing with toys.
“But”, you quite rightly ask, “isn’t that what all sport is?”
Why, yes. But somehow, cycling seems different. Other sports take seriously any attempt of fans to insert themselves into the competition. That professional cycling doesn’t prioritize the safety of their riders is much the same for those who are charged with the safety of those who ride bikes as a means of transportation rather than sport.
“Fans” of professional cycling flock to it for a chance to party and make a spectacle of themselves on TV, and those who are there to capture the event for the various media outlets who want a piece of it endanger and even kill cyclists for the almighty dollar, and little, or at least not enough, is done to protect the riders.
Money. Power. Those who have a financial interest in cycling want everything they can get out of it, which means that the spectacle is maintained and the media coverage is savage, and the consequences are inevitable.
For our own streets, those who have an interest in maintaining and increasing the grip that cars have on our lives (because of money rather than some noble ideal, obviously) act in the same way. Walking and cycling get the short end of the stick. The safety of cyclists on our roads and of those in the TDF come second to the interests of those looking to capitalize from personal gain.
The laws and policies in place to protect cyclists and pedestrians are either non-existent or incredibly weak compared to the risk and responsibility of those who hold the most power to harm. Chris Froome was fined for defending his personal safety and everyday cycling victims are blamed for not wearing helmets or hi-viz clothing. Appropriate barriers were not in place for stage 12 of this years TDF just as infrastructure to protect cyclists is still laughable in most places in Australia. And, the consequences for those who compromise the safety of cyclists in both contexts are non-existent.
Perhaps what professional cycling needs is what has worked for some communities that have had enough of this treatment. The Dutch rose up against the thousands being killed by people in cars and changed a nation. New York and London have been transforming themselves because of strong leaders and determined supporters and campaigners on the ground.
Perhaps fans should take back the race. It could result in other and perhaps bigger problems, but what if the majority of fans who are sick of drunken or just overly excited and opportunistic idiots ruining the show for everyone took matters into their own hands and formed their own barricades for the riders to pass through safely?
What if strict laws were passed that gave Gendarmeries the power to arrest and heavily fine those who interfere and cause harm to those in the race?
What if the riders themselves just stopped, and halted proceedings until the fans sorted themselves out? If the TDF wants media attention, that would surely do the job (though I’m quite sure nobody really wants that to happen).
In the end, cycling doesn’t seem to command the same respect as other sports, nor does fan interference seem to be dealt with in the same way, and I can’t think of a good reason why it’s not.
Professional bike racing couldn’t be more different than people using bikes for every-day travel, but the later seems to be plagued by the same problems as the former, though clearly to a different degree.
So, is there something about riding bikes that causes it to be taken less seriously than everything around it, or am I just imagining this?
Header image: source