Okay, I know they’re not all top blokes. Without naming names, I’m sure there are some real toss-pots amongst the thousands of professional road cyclists on the planet right now. And, yes, as several people have pointed out to me most of these are probably sprinters who are like that for a reason. But self-absorbed speed demons aside, there seems to be a high percentage of riders in the pro peloton who despite being super-natural athletes on the bike are, frankly, super-normal human beings off it. Sure they have egos, but they’re rarely of the rampant narcissistic variety. This got me thinking, and asking, why?
There are plenty of theories floating about, of course. At first glance all appear to hold some water. Here are a few of the more common ones that have been suggested to me in recent weeks…
Theory one has to do with the career path typically required to become a pro cyclist. With a few notable exceptions, unlike many big business sports where child protégés are snapped up by clubs, sponsors and managers and cocooned away for greatness from a young age (golf, tennis, football and pro basketball spring instantly to mind), most of world’s top riders have earned their stripes the hard way – earning a pittance, staying in budget accommodation, racing in lowly crits, changing their own tyres and doing hour upon hour of donkey work for others, long before they ever cracked it into the big time. It’s a great way to learn humility.
The next theory centres upon the way cycling teams are structured. Yes, from the outside it’s an individual sport. But as we all well know, in truth it’s anything but. Like it or not, teammates keep you in line. Because no matter how good you are, you can’t achieve much without them, especially in the big races. Sure there’s a pecking order; but who wants to burry themselves for a prick who’s become too big for his cleats? Add to this the generally short-term contracts on offer for most riders, and you simply can’t afford to upset your team too much or you’ll be unemployed – or at the very least ostracised – by the time next season rolls around.
THE DEMANDS OF PRO CYCLING
Another school of thought suggests the down-to-earth nature of many pro riders is connected directly to the extreme physical demands of cycling itself, especially at the highest levels. Sure, the top guys are handsomely paid. But they’re also stretched to physical and mental breaking point on a regular basis each season by opponents, parcours and the elements (remember this year’s Milano-Sanremo and the Giro?). Just look at Australia’s first-ever Tour de France winner, Cadel Evans. Being the best hurts. No matter how good your loyal domestiques are, you’re going to suffer. A lot. In most walks of life, fragile prima donnas and show-ponies aren’t known for their love of hardship and sustained pain. Accordingly, cycling tends to flush most of them out long before they reach the big time, and send them and their egos elsewhere.
What do you think? Do any of these theories ring true to you? Are there other explanations? Or perhaps I have it hopelessly wrong, and they’re really all egotistical bastards? Let me know…