Baugé on racism and outsprinting Cavendish

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Greg Baugé

L’Equipe has a good interview with Grégory Baugé, the triple world champion on the track. There’s plenty of detail about the riding, the training and hopes for the Olympics in 2012. But there are two things that stand out from my road-biased perspective: the idea of racism in pro cycling and a contest with Mark Cavendish. In covering them I don’t want to diminish the rest of the interview, the bits I’m picking up are not the main subjects of the interview. You can read some of the highlights of the interview in English over at cyclingnews.com.

I had fun in the finale, when you had to ride up to the front of the peloton to do the sprint. I loved to win. I think a road career would have been difficult for me with my skin colour; the scene is not ready for it yet.

This is interesting to read. Clearly if he feels this is so then I’m not going to contest it. Baugé is French but from the French West Indies, the Caribbean islands that remain total colonial possessions and are run as départements of France. Cycling is popular in these islands and there’s a flourishing local scene.

Rony Martias

Riders like Rony Martias have made it to the pro ranks, he’s with Saur-Sojasun and rode the Vuelta last year with Bbox. There are very few non-white riders (a shame Daniel Teklehaimanot couldn’t get a berth at Garmin-Cervélo) but I don’t know what the barriers are here, cycling seems pretty open to anyone with a bike but it’s true to say the sport is also conservative and rural, the pro peloton isn’t reflective of the society it rides in. But that is true for many workplaces. Hopefully Baugé’s success will encourage more, of any background, to try the sport in France.

Sprint stunt

But the track sprint king did not rule out a possible match against the currently fastest road sprinter, Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad), who moreover is no stranger to the track. “That would be awesome, a sprint against him on the road,” Baugé replied when asked if he thought he could beat him. “I think I’d beat him, yes. But I would need adapted material – a road bike is less stiff than our bikes. I would be afraid of putting out all I have.”

This personal but I think this is a circus contest and not really fitting for the riders. Baugé is awesome on the track and Cavendish has a superb palmarès on the road as well as a pedigree on the track. But a match? It just sounds like a gimmick, a stunt. Both riders could gain financially, along with a crafty promoter.

But each rider has nothing to prove, Baugé is fast on the track over short distances, Cavendish is a “sprinter” but only after he’s cleared 200km and some hills. Like I say it’s personal but I don’t feel either rider should be compared too much although if both wanted to do, well why not? Except it would be largely meaningless.

A final repetition that interview wasn’t really about these two points but I wanted to take a quick look at them nonetheless.

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{ 29 comments }

Vincent Garnier-Salvi March 29, 2011 at 7:49 pm

I red the interview in L’Equipe, and watch the interview on their website and besides that he wants to be the next olympic champion the only two things that I could remember 2 hours after were exactly the same things that you mentionned. And I am not road biased…
Congrats for a great site!
V.

Champs March 29, 2011 at 7:54 pm

My gravatar hints at the fact that race matters deeply to me in cycling, and I do get the sense that cultural/ethnic biases are at play sometimes. To reduce it to the stand-up comic joke, there’s the perception that “northern Italians ride like this… southern Italians ride like THIS…”

Just last year, a prominent ProTour director went so far to say that riders from fairer skinned regions of Europe were more straightforward and honest than those Latins from Spain and southern Italy. Not one eyelash was batted.

This isn’t to say the peloton is racist, they just haven’t had much exposure, and while cycling may be seen as a “working class” sport in Europe, the cost of participation puts up expensive barriers like hockey. Football/soccer or athletics/track will be much more accessible around the Indies or to first and second generation citizens in less remote outposts of EU nations.

Sarah March 29, 2011 at 8:58 pm

I’m inclined to believe him – it might not necessarily be overt racism, but looking at the profile of cyclists (track and road) v the profile of eg runners (often working class) v the profile of a country, there could easily be institutional racism at play. It could be as much an assumption that there’s no point if you’re eg British Cycling going into schools, to look at kids from BME backgrounds, because they won’t be interested. For instance, my mother is a teacher in a private school, and she truly believes that there’s no point encouraging black children to do certain things, because they’re just not interested – so she’d approach a white kid to get involved with extra-curricular activities, but not approach a black or asian kid, and doesn’t see that as racist, even though of course it is.

I do raise my eyebrows that the only non-white British cyclist seems to be Shanaze Reade, and I’m wondering if that’s because BMX culture is perceived as more urban?

There does seem to be a lot of racial stereotypes in play within cycling – eg Vaughters’ recent blog about how he was wrong to assume Tondó was a doper because he’s a) Spanish & b) rode in Portugal – and getting a pro ride appears from the outside, to be as much about who you know as how well you ride.

It’s good that Baugé is talking about it, though, as hopefully it’ll encourage cycling organisations to have a look at themselves at just make sure nothing they’re doing, unconsciously or not, is keeping talented kids/people out.

Dan March 29, 2011 at 9:51 pm

I agree on a match-up being a gimmick. Theo Bos’s experience transitioning from the track to the road shows that you can’t just jump from one to the other overnight.

As an American I don’t know what to make of this,

“I think a road career would have been difficult for me with my skin colour; the scene is not ready for it yet.”

Seriously? In 2011 in Europe racism is such a problem that a black sports star would be harassed out of the sport? I’m not saying that racism doesn’t exist, but is it really that bad in Europe? Is he imagining that he would have it as bad as Jackie Robinson or something? It’s not like Europeans have never seen successful black athletes before. What gives?

LB March 29, 2011 at 10:03 pm

Well, you must be kidding?
I feel it is extremely obvious that there is a lot of racism in pro road cycling.
Why has there never been a black person on the TDF? Even Beppu was a huge story.

Btw, wasn’t there this story a few years back about rockracing, micheal ball said something like: we had to take him(black guy) out, or we wouldn’t have gotten a license to race in Europe.

I think it is very obvious; and even more sad.

PS: imagine a black guy racing cross in Flanders and beating Nys…

cthulhu March 29, 2011 at 10:52 pm

@Dan: There are successful and accepted black athletes overall in Europe and they don’t face any racism, but it indeed is strange thing that there are virtually no black cyclists. But I think that is a mutual thing, on the one hand it doesn’t seem very appealing to the majority of coloured children, they prefer football, basketball, boxing, athletics… Cycling isn’t appealing to them, whatever the reasons might be. But because it is virtually a white boys (and girls) sport, I won’t dismiss the fact that might produce some really strange looks and/or (unwanted, speak out of ignorance) racism towards those who pick up the sport. And turn them away from it.

JN March 29, 2011 at 10:54 pm

As an Black American, Bauge’s comments stood out when I read the article. Not because of what he said but because it not the first time that he has made these comments. I have travelled throughout Europe for pleasure and for work I have heard on more than one occasion, Poland and Italy spring to mind, where I’ve been told that they (fill in the country) love Black people (Americans) but hate Africans. I personally believe that many countries, I’m looking at you France, have a problem with immigrants. So as an immigrant, I sure Bauge has experienced his fair share of sideways glances.

jkeltgv March 29, 2011 at 10:59 pm

not to confuse too much racism and socio-economic problems but the accessability of the sport is often overlooked when technology is talked about. I think sometimes that the UCI isn’t doing enough to stop the costs of cycling spirilng upwards. It’s OK for the pros to bang on about restrictive anti design laws but when one kid has an old steel banger with downtube shifters and another is riding a new 7.5kg £2k carbon job (which most readers would agree isn’t totally excessive for a 15yo who likes the sport and is doing well)it’s gonna make a difference and perhaps turn one of them towards a sport where the equipment isn’t so important. Cycling must be just about the most expensive sport around for teenage kids. Probably only golf with the addition of club memberships compares and with one notable adultorous exception also has the same racial makeup of cycling.

Starr March 29, 2011 at 11:02 pm

Hey Bauge, the scene is already ready for it.
Seriously stupid quote from the world champ.

jkeltgv March 29, 2011 at 11:07 pm

p.s – walking round Herne Hill (London’s almost lost 48 olympic velodrome) a few weeks back a couple of mixed race kids were in a group of about 10 doing the CX circuit around the back of the track and the parents were mingling. I’m not sure I agree with the ‘they just don’t like it’ argument. It puts up divisions subconciously. ‘THEY are different you see’

ant1 March 29, 2011 at 11:10 pm

having lived both in the US and Europe, when i hear europeans callling americans racists, i think pot/kettle. similar when i hear americans claim that racism isn’t as big of an issue in europe. remember the riots in paris a couple years back? the youth was revolting is how it was framed in the us. they conveniently ignored the fact that the youth in question was mostly poor north african immigrants living in the projects in the suburbs of paris. racism is everywhere in europe. shit, france has an entire political party based on nothing other than racism and xenophobia. and they get plenty of votes. think about what the early american riders in the tour or giro faced (or claim they did). from what i’ve heard/read, it wasn’t all hugs and rainbows. Bauge’s comments don’t surprise me one bit. and sadly, i bet he’s right.

Champs March 30, 2011 at 1:03 am
CM_101 March 30, 2011 at 2:10 am

Go to a Football match in Italy, with black players on the visiting team and you will experience the best of European racism

grolby March 30, 2011 at 3:19 am

Starr, when an athlete of color who lives and works in Europe and has extensive personal experience with both overt and unconscious racism and anti-immigrant sentiment says that his race would make a career in road cycling more of a challenge, I’m inclined to take him seriously. I mean no offense, but I doubt that an American rider in Florida has a better perspective on race in European pro cycling than the black French colonial man who is pro cyclist in Europe.

The Inner Ring March 30, 2011 at 9:58 am

Thanks for all the comments here. I write something and then learn plenty via the comments. I only know a little about bikes so I’d go out of my depth quickly if I venture into race, socio-cultural things and more.

Bomsie March 30, 2011 at 10:47 am

Being fairly new to the sport something I’ve noticed is that it is a sport that looks back with great affection to its past.
Unlike other sports, it seems to me that cycling seems to hold its traditions and its past heroes very close, even though it is obviously forging ahead with technology and other advances at the same time.
With that in mind, it might unconsciously make it uncomfortable for someone from a different ethnic background to pursue an interest in the sport where its history is almost exclusively white.
As I say I’ve never followed the sport as keenly as I do now so I might be wrong, but I don’t like racism and I admire Bauge for his skill and tenacity.

beev March 30, 2011 at 2:12 pm

I’ve read this, and i’ve just gone off Bauge. Sorry, but his comment about the road scene is just grossly “stupid”. All I would say to him is that the next time he puts in 200m’s of work for a medal he should take a good look around the crowd and make a note of all those cheering for him. There is little or no barrier to entry to riding a bike, as he is proof of. Get over yourself! INRNG – you’re far too polite with your measured response – not like you….

Sarah March 30, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Oh, and to the Americans with the comments – this isn’t just about Europe, just have a look at the American teams riding in the pro peloton… it’s not like RadioShack, BMC, HTC and Garmin-Cervélo have a different profile to the Euro-based teams.

It’s also not saying it’s the same in all sports across Europe – there is a very different profile to sports, that’s often commented on – athletics, for instance, is diverse, men’s football (soccer) is, rugby (talking about home-grown talent, not importing Fiji-ans has got so much better in last 10 years) – but other sports, like cycling, are still predominantly white

mattio March 30, 2011 at 2:37 pm

INRNG, thanks for this one. I really admire Bauge.

It would have been interesting had he gone further into detail about what he was referring to vis a vis race and cycling – would save us some of the speculation.

Robert March 30, 2011 at 5:06 pm

I think people are missing the point when they talk about ‘being hassled out’ by racism. I think he is more talking about the difficulty being taken seriously as a road cyclist because of his colour. At the end of the day no team manager picks his team based on fairness or representing the community they cycle through. It is based on results and, by extension, money/sponsorship. Therefore he is more likely to choose a rider from an established country eg Spain, Italy rather than India or Ghana (for example) as it is a safer choice because racing is more established in the aforementioned countries and so judging the calibre of a racer is easier. Managers will (almost) always go for the safer option rather than a risky option. Because of the above, black riders are not often seen in the peloton and so when a good black rider comes up the subconscious question of a manager may be ‘hmmm, why are there no other black riders, there must be a reason’ and so will take the safer option of a white rider.

It will come down to money in the end (and the manager’s need for money) and so the situation is almost self perpetuating.

grolby March 30, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Good comment by Robert.

I find it disturbing that some see an acknowledgment that racism in one form or another does exist and is a problem as a character flaw. I’d say that racism is a much more serious problem than the possibility of someone overstating it. Maybe Bauge is wrong, but I would first be concerned with the possibility of his being right. It’s a bizarre world we live in where calling out racism is considered worse than the possibility that racism might be present.

And again, I think the European pro has a much better feeling for the extent to which race is an issue in the peloton than the fan who is watching the races on TV or over the Web.

mattio March 30, 2011 at 6:14 pm

well put, grolby.

cigo March 30, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Not to be that guy, but unless you are ‘of color’ it is pretty difficult to call whether there is or isn’t racism at play- in whatever arena you are playing. Perhaps it needs saying that racism is faceted and complex. Racism isn’t just the shouting of the ‘N’ word at any opportunity. It IS often associated with economic ad/disadvantage. Frankly, if Bauge says he feels racism- on what ever level, I am inclined to respect his view of reality.

I have the experience of being racially ambiguous. With a bunch of different ethnic contributions over the last couple of generations, I can ‘pass’ as Israeli, Latin, White, Asian, Italian (I even had a Afghani Pashtun try to speak to me in Afghan at the market!)…or conversely, none of the above. THAT is racism. From BOTH sides. To feel acceptance from strangers because they assume I am ‘one of them’ or to feel distance, and distrust because I am not one of them. It’s not malicious necessarily. I look at it as just ‘is’. But I have that privilege. Bauge cannot pretend to be Afghan or White on any given day.

People not ‘of color’ don’t like to hear there is this kind of racism, when I mention it to white people they often get frustrated, likely because they cannot see it and experience it for themselves. It strikes them as a victims story, or in other words, an excuse. But as I said, it cuts both ways. I don’t know, but I would say it’s as likely that Black American kids don’t get a lot of support from their Black American peers to be cyclists as it is that there is some sort of latent racism in US cycling culture that doesn’t embrace non-white cyclists. Economic issues aside, there is a lot of noise about being a basketball player or a football player in the US, and not a lot of noise about being a pro cyclist- not too many kids of any color are fighting for spots on pro development squads.

ian March 30, 2011 at 8:07 pm

@cthulhu, @STARR – I’m not sure what your exposure to sports in europe is, but racisim is a frequent and massive issue right now.
Taunts, chants, and even physical objects are thrown at players on football pitches – in some cities/regions it is quite prevalent.

As I recall, teams have been disqualified from competitions or ordered to play matches without fans present on account of the wide-spread racisim screamed from the stands.

I’m not sure what you are basing your comments on, but I can assure you on both a personal level, as well as at a larger-scale that racisim is entirely alive and kicking in Europe.

ian March 30, 2011 at 8:08 pm

I’ll echo @cigo – unless you’ve experience racisim, you are much less likely to grasp the issue(s).

ian March 31, 2011 at 1:37 am

For those wondering about racism in cycling and/or Europe, have we already forgotten about Pellizotti’s behavior on the podium just a short while ago? Yes, it exists. As someone who raced in Italy, I’d say it can be especially bad there, but I don’t want to make too many generalizations.

cthulhu March 31, 2011 at 11:18 am

@ian:
1. I live in Europe and have personally experienced racism. I got my beatings and discriminations purely because of my ethnic roots. Even by people who are friendly to me purely out of ignorance, and that does hurt as much as the beating.

2. Yes, I know of those games. But those things also happen at games, where there are no foreigners or players with a migration background in the teams. Same goes for the chants, taunts and thrown objects, they pick out the softest or closest(goalie) target. I’m not saying that makes it any better, but these things do happen even if there is no racism card to play.

3. If I look a youth football and see “white” kids playing together with kids of different origin, skin colour, whatsoever, and then compare with professional football and see as mixed national teams, I believe there is no structural racism that that sorts them out of the sport. Now I look at cycling and at the moment in this region I don’t see one youth rider that isn’t a “white” kid and I personally only met three riders of a migration background. And that kind of is also represented in the Pro peloton. And there I wonder is it because the people in this sport want to keep it a “white guys” sport or because it’s not interesting to “non-white” kids/people? And I think it is because of both, because it is a virtually “white guys” sport it inbreeds structural racism but on the other hand there are no idols for the “non-white” kids, so they are not interested. And there I have to concur with Starr, it is/would be the right time for Bauge to step up and break any barriers there might be, if he really wants to race on the road.

4. I never said there is no racism in Europe, since I know better. But it was about racism within the sport and I believe that really depends on the sport.

Eddi April 1, 2011 at 1:33 pm

On racism in Europe: there is the sad story of Mario Balotelli (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mario_Balotelli) which started a whole discussion in Italy when he was being considered for the Squadra Azzurra. Then there is also Gerald Asamoah (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerald_Asamoah), who is often victim of rassist name-calling. Some Germans don’t accept German children of immigrants as Germans, they remain “Ausländer” (“but where do you really come from?”).

TheDude March 20, 2012 at 4:41 am

Perhaps Rahsaan would have very informed insight being one of the few black cyclists in the U.S. professional peloton. An INRNG interview with Bahati would be tre bon…

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