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WORDS: Max Leonard
Reading William Fotheringham’s excellent translation of Laurent Fignon’s autobiography, Nous étions jeunes et insouciants (or We Were Young and Carefree), it struck me that no other sport is as dependent on feeling as road racing.
Fignon is always describing how he feels on the bike. There are the good moments that must be celebrated: “I was flying. It was a joyful feeling… the pedals were so light that it almost felt ecstatic going to the front to put in my turn.” Or later, during his second Milan-San Remo win: “My legs didn’t hurt; the pedals turned fluidly. I felt astonishingly calm.” A recurring criticism of Cyrille Guimard concerns his DS’s tactical caution, which Fignon felt prevented him from giving expression to his best form. Yet Fignon also recognises the importance of hiding in the peloton behind domestiques to disguise moments of suffering, and of struggling through a bad patch to win through: “I was in agony, believe me… I clung on; it was life or death.”
One of the great French anglicisms is the phrase au feeling. Doing something au feeling conveys an air of wilful spontaneity, of joyous individual expression. In Fignon’s telling, he always rode au feeling. His book is an ode to the days before race radios and heart rate monitors – so the criticism goes – turned professional cyclists into automata. Indeed, he recounts a moment in 1986 when “I lost my temper with those blasted pulse monitors: I handed mine back so that it wouldn’t tell me anything more”.
Fignon views the moment when EPO arrived, coinciding more or less with his retirement, was the moment professional cyclists – and their sport – lost their insouciance for ever more. It is a tempting, if not wholly convincing argument. Yet it is impossible not to feel the emotional force behind his words: “My career saw the end of the last untroubled age of bike racing. The men of that era still looked each other in the eye. We didn’t tiptoe away when the time came to light the fuse: we preferred rousing anthems to gentle lullabies. And we didn’t mind getting burned if necessary. A true cyclist sometimes has to bite the dust before he can reach the stars.”
- Last week was a great one for Rapha Condor JLT, all the action and images now up on the team site: http://t.co/ftBejPnnCJ
- RT @alainrumpf: Well done @mike_cuming and @raphacondorjlt winner of #TdK2013 under the scrutiny of latest drone… http://t.co/gv81uP9mHP
- In their attempt to cross the US in 24 days, @michaeltabtabai & Andrew Hudon will ‘Leave It On The Road’. → http://t.co/Per6QsCAtt
- We are delighted to announce the opening of a one-month, pop-up @RaphaCycleClub in Tokyo this summer from 22/6–21/7 → http://t.co/Jrc0EKZ9ky
- Huge congratulations to @raphacondorjlt’s @mike_cuming for winning the @TourdeKorea2013 and to @tomsoutham for best DS. #TdK2013
- @danfromnam in Corsica — outtake from our 2013 Spring/Summer shoot #corsica #beningstagram http://t.co/03A7pT9mtj
- Winner Winner Chicken Dinner ! The most important jersey of #TdK2013 hot off the press. http://t.co/Pflx0eUfdv”
- What a day... The boys keep Mike Cuming in yellow, after having to chase all day. Great performance by all.
- Just rehearsing the whole of Pacino's speech from Any Given Sunday to recite to the boys...
- UK: Thanks to all who came to to tonight’s Rapha Étape Evening in London with @CyclefitUK — one of our biggest turnouts yet.