We Can Be Heroes

Cycling is reknowned for its gods, those born mortal, but deified in their lifetimes – Merxkx, Antequil, Coppi. There are those who strived – through one means or another to attain the godhead, but fell far from grace – Simpson, Pantani, Armstrong. Then we those who never seek immortality, but are loved as heroes, as humans battling themselves, the landscape, and the elements so that they can compete against their fellows. Yesterday’s Olympics mens Time Trial gold medal, Fabien Cancellara is a pure example – he managed to bring his Herculean career to a close with grace and dignity, and didn’t make it look easy. Fabs is a fine human being, not a god. He’s known as “Spartacus” after all, named after the fabled Thracian gladiator and military leader. Fabs has class. Fabs might have won the Olympic TT, but the guy who came, I think, third last is a hero. Dan Craven, AKA Dan from Nam rode the TT as a last minute invitee, when space was made available by injured cyclists. Dan not only represented Namibia in the Olympic Road Race, he “live tweeted” from inside the race with hilarious effect.

And so he asked his Twitter following whether he should ride the TT. And Twitter said Yes!

So Dan took off yesterday with no “aero” time trial equipment other than a helmet cover and did his nation proud, even spending some time on the “hot seat” – because he was the first rider to start, and thus finish, earning himself the temporary gold medal position.

Just check out his Twitter feed brilliant observations of life at the Olympics. Dan from Nam’s been fighting his way back into form for a while now, after being laid low with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for some time. Great to see the humour  hasn’t been impacted. Read more about Dan’s accidental time trial here and here. And now, Dan has entered ALL Olympic events. Dan is a hero.

Update: Check out this great article from Dan’s parnter, Collyn Ahart: Winning isn’t everything: why I think every professional athlete needs a second story

Note: A while back, I  found myself in the top 10 on a Strava segment in the Pyrenees, where Dan was the KOM. Just checked, and I’m still in 5th. Still makes me feel like a hero. Almost as good as all the random bits of Belgian cobbles that I have KOMs on.

Marianne Vos, the Dutch cyclist who was won pretty much everything  on road, off-road, cyclocross and track has class. She’s a hero; she’s not aloof enough for Goddess status, and doesn’t take herself too seriously. Gods never seem that smiley. Though she does live in the interestingly named Babyloniënbroek. So I do wonder.

The men and women who pedalled from Belgium to Turkey in the last fortnight. Fucking mad heroes.

But I’ve spent way to long chattering about Dan and Fabs and Marianne and the Transcontinental crazies. What I wanted to write about was this: Fuck the gods. Everyone who throws their a bike is a hero. I don’t care what kind of bike, or how many kilometres you ride or how many Strava KOMs you’ve got.

When I returned to road racing in my late 20s, I had roadie clubmates ribbing me about my recent mountainbiking past, as if it were some kind of handicap, or made me less of a roadie. I had road raced in my teens, so I could handle my bike in the bunch – and to be honest, offroading gives you a whole set of new mountainbiking skills. Every serious cyclist should change disciplines now and then, and don’t get hung up on it. You’re riding a bike. Enjoy it and stop moaning, and maybe you can become a cycling hero. Every day I see cycling heros.  The convergance of road and off road through gravel bikes is probably a good thing. Bikes are just bikes, and like any tools, they can be used for different purposes.

The lady who lived across the canals from us in Amsterdam who would plonk three, or was it four small kids on to her multi-saddled bicycle-thing-machine and pedal off on grey rainy mornings. Anyone who cycles in Brussels traffic is a bona fide hero. The parents I met last night as I exited the Serra de Collserola park at dusk, ushering their kids forward on mountain-bikes equipped with powerful halogen headlights. I say exited, but I mean fled, I had just had an unnerving run-in with some wild growling creature. I’m told it was probably sengler – a wild boar. But I know better. Not a hero. The man I saw this morning with his young daughter on a child seat on his MTB, his young son pedalling beside him on the Passeig de Gaudi. Hero to his kids, hero to all.

This lady at the top of this blog, I who I photographed in Mallorca, tho: She may be a goddess.

The guy who made a wooden crossbar seat for his little kid, I see his bike locked near my office. The  old guys and girls hittin’ 60 who peel out in their lycra to hit the trails around here. Heroes. The folks on the electric bikes doing collecting their shopping. Those who commute every day via bicycle using road infrastructure that is less than they deserve Heroes. The small farmer in the 2nd best suit and peaked cap wheeling his black pushbike up the hill on some back road in Co. Clare. Hero.

Riding a bicycle is still an act of rebellion against the status quo of fossil-fueled conformity. Without realising it, every cyclist is a campaigner for a more fun, healthy and cleaner way of living. It doesn’t matter whether its on a lightweight carbon or a BMX or a Brompton or a bakfiets, whether you’re riding up a col in the Alps or going out to do some shopping.

Just ride your bike.

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