And what do you know about cycling?

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Don’t know much about history,
Don’t know much biology,
Don’t know much about a science book,
Don’t know much about the French I took

Sam Cooke clearly wasn’t a follower of pro cycling. One of the weirder aspects of following pro cycling is that as well as learning about 11 speed gearing, European geography and foreign languages, you end up with a passing knowledge of haematology. Like it or not, Campagnolo, Galibier, haematocrit are core vocabulary.

Maybe that’s inevitable. This is a sport where fans, the English-speakers at least, have to learn terms like peloton, grupetto, col and flandrien. In turn this pushes you into exploring the sport in all directions whether it’s history, geography or biology.

Call yourself a fan?

Where’s the beef?
Right now keen fans are schooling themselves on the European Union’s “Beef Labelling Regulation 1760/2000″ and I’ll always know that the Spanish border town of Irun has 37 different butchers. We’re also learning that blood bags may contain DEHP plasticizers. You didn’t know that this time last week.

That said, such knowledge is often shallow, you might know who Fausto Coppi was but you don’t know much about Italian life in the 1950s; you might know about red blood cells carrying oxygen but little about white blood cells. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing at times.

Other sports
Do other fans share this detailed obsession? Do soccer fans study the aerodynamics at play behind a curving shot at goal? Do rugby fans have a grasp of the soil composition in major stadiums so they can discuss the vicosity of the mud? Do athletics and cross-country skiing fans have to learn about “doping science” in order to keep up with their sport too?

In reality I suppose most cycling fans probably don’t know an erythrocyte from an echelon. But still, is there another sport where such a broad knowledge of topics is required if you want to follow it closely?

Melanie October 6, 2010 at 11:22 am

"is there another sport where such a broad knowledge of topics is required if you want to follow it closely?"

No, but only because few sports are as committed to ousting dopers as cycling is. Cycling's anti-doping systems may be flawed at times, & there is clearly still a hardcore of riders who think or hope they can get away with doping, but at least we are talking about it. Dr Fuentes (allegedly) had any number of footballers, tennis players and other athletes on his books, yet the front pages of the papers – and rest assured, it WOULD be the front pages – are not splashed with "doping in football" headlines.

Anonymous October 6, 2010 at 11:53 am

Dear Matt –
What you have just wrote is so true – I am wondering myself for sometimes now ( quiet a long time ….) why it's so much more then anything else ( in sport ) that I am interested in it so passionately .
It's for these same reasons that you have just mention (prob. there are some more ……)
Gadi

TheInnerRing October 6, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Thanks for the comments guys.

For me this is partly why the sport survives. It is anchored in places across Europe, tied to the cobbled tracks of Flanders and the mountains of Italy. It reflects history and allows even a disinterested sports fan to experience stunning scenery.

Rooky May 8, 2013 at 11:26 pm

There are many technical sports but I guess they tend to lack mass appeal. For example I am also a competition glider pilot, have you ever heard about this sport? It requires knowledge of meteorology, environmental aerodynamics, low speed aerodynamics, mechanics, navigation, radiotelegraphy, airspace management, air operations, piloting, competition tactics… and to be any good you also need sharp observation and evaluation skills that cannot be taught. Yea … nerdier than cycling by a fair margin.

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