John Vane: Roy’s Summer of Sport (Wednesday 11 July 2012) Peloton transactions

John Vane: Roy’s Summer of Sport (Wednesday 11 July 2012) Peloton transactions

Stage ten of the Tour de France: a big, uphill thing. Roy frowned at the TV. He knew Wiggins was in the overall lead, but didn’t understand the peloton or why someone had a polka dot jersey.

He looked a few things up. He was struck by a comparison between the peloton and birds flying in formation, each member of the cyclist flock making repeated slight adjustments in response to those of others in front of or beside them in order to lessen the effects of wind resistance. The reduction in this “drag” could be drastic for those in the middle of the pack, perhaps as high as forty per cent.

Roy began to grasp the culture of the peloton, its rigid internal conventions, its delicate balance of understandings about collective interests, common ethics and naked, ferocious will-to-win.

It struck him that the peloton was not unlike the City, another enclosed world of minute calibrations, pragmatic collaborations, team objectives, sophisticated group etiquette and greed for competitive edge. He read an article from Fortune Magazine, which made the point:

“A stage race is less a sporting event than a commodities exchange on wheels. What appears to be a random mass of bicycles is really an orderly, complex web of shifting alliances, crossed with brutal competition, designed to keep or acquire the market’s most valued currency: energy.

It went on:

“To thrive in the angry little swarm that is the peloton, enemies often have to stick together and make deals with one another. Cooperation across enemy lines is the centerpiece of a winning game plan.”

The article described what became of a French rider who repeatedly failed to honour the unwritten rule about group toilet breaks by not stopping or slowing up when a bunch of others agreed to take a roadside leak. Instead, he liked to take advantage by sprinting ahead.

At least, he did until the day he himself disappeared into the woods to answer nature’s call and returned to find his bike had been hijacked by two fellow members of the peloton, wheeled far down the road and slung into a ditch. The rebel rider finished last-but-one in the Tour that year, and never took part in it again.

Stage ten was won by a Frenchman, but Wiggins still led the Tour overall. Roy researched this “Wiggo”. He’d been born in Belgium, the son of an Australian professional cyclist, but had moved to Kilburn with his English mother when he was two. Roy soon picked up that Wiggins had a cheeky chappie manner and an accent to match. Don would, therefore, have been unable to discuss him without using the word “backhanders”.

That night, Roy again found it hard to sleep. At two in the morning a light came on his head. He got up and went into the room where Gwen had died, walking on tiptoe as though the house were full of restless babies. He took the motorcycle photo of Don and Gwen down from the wall, carried it back to his room, put the bedside light on, removed the photo from its frame and looked at the back. Something was written there: “Ride to Hastings, 1951”.

Roy did some mental maths. Had Gwen ridden sidecar to Hastings while pregnant? If Brian had already been born, where had he been on the day the photo was taken?

All previous instalments of Roy’s Summer of Sport are HERE. Image from here. Follow John on Twitter.

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Categories: Culture, Roy's Summer of Sport

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