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Rolling On: Weylandt & le Métier

May 10, 2011

Still down after yesterday’s crash, but revived by a day at home with my littlest, who’s been in fine form. High energy and terrific humor, which has been fun. In doing a little gardening this morning—which consisted of her spilling lots of water out of the rain barrel to fill her watering can to splash various plants on the back deck—we stopped and looked at the bike I am building for the two of us (now, nearing completion). A bike without wheels is probably rather more of an abstraction for a toddler than it is for the adult who is building it, but she wanted to know where her seat would go and when we might go for a ride. This weekend, with any luck. Perhaps we’ll go for a ride up our rail trail to Sanctuary Park for a play and a picnic. Or further up the trail to the train station for an ice cream. Good stuff to look forward to.

Photographer Graham Watson posted this photograph at the finale of today’s stage of the Giro d’Italia, which was neutralized and ridden at a moderate pace in Weylandt’s honor. It shows Weylandt’s eight teammates accompanied by his close friend and riding partner Tyler Farrar crossing the line with the rest of the peloton following at a distance. Moving stuff.

Tying together my ongoing reflections on Weylandt, some months ago, I wrote a review of Michael Barry’s terrific book, Le Métier for It’s a super read: thoughtful, compelling, and equal parts joyous and sad. Barry, a Canadian who currently rides for Team Sky, is a gifted writer, and offers an unabashed and introspective lens into the daily life of the pro rider. In that review, I noted the following:

Le métier can translate loosely into English as “the job,” but a better translation probably revolves around something like “the trade” or “the craft,” stressing both technique and experience.  In Barry’s hands le métier is also something just this side of an addiction.  He describes in such vivid and painful prose the struggle and agony inherent in professional cycling—the crashes, the hospital rooms, the suffering, the travel, the stress, the exhaustion—that I found myself recoiling in guilt from my eager anticipation for the Spring Classics or the Grand Tours.  By and large, Barry portrays a miserable existence, saved only by the fact that these select few are permitted—blessed—to make a living doing something they love, even if le métier is a far cry from aesthetic and beauty of cycling that drew them to the sport in the first place.  This is the addiction.  The tone and pace of the book are most peaceful when Barry describes his pre-season training rides around his home in Girona, Spain.  In those excerpts, before the frantic training and racing that will follow, he seems at peace and the rhythm of the bicycle provides freedom.  It is, of course, the same machine and the same activity that enslaves him the rest of the year, keeping him from family and milking every last ounce of power and energy from his body and soul.

Barry concludes the final chapter with the following:

Each cyclist fights an internal battle.  Some fight on the bike because it gives them purpose and simplifies the complexities in life.  Others escape.  Others ride to fill a void.  Others battle childhood disturbances.  Others pedal for fitness or weight loss.  We each have our reasons.

Over the hundreds of thousands of kilometers I’ve ridden, I’ve slowly come to realize why my desire developed and became an obsession.  Without it, I struggle—I am anxious, unfocused, and tense.  Cycling has become spiritual, as it is a passion that I can pursue in the natural environment.  I can pedal away angst, find calm and clarity with the rhythmic motion and freedom.  The commitment gives me focus; the love gives me panache.  Whether it is pedaling to victory or training in the mountains, I find peace.

To a large extent, this is what triggered yesterday’s post on Weylandt. I’m inclined to disagree with Barry’s assertion that all cyclists are engaged in an internal battle, although maybe mine is simply the opportunity to feel the physical pain that reminds me I’m alive. I live a pretty sedentary professional existence; cycling reminds my lungs and legs and heart that they need to be challenged. I don’t see it so much as a battle, but perhaps that’s just a matter of semantics.

More importantly, there’s also a tradition within the professional peloton that its riders have often escaped the drudgeries of manual or back-breaking labor to become revered cycling heroes. This is certainly the narrative that Jean Bobet portrays of the post-World War II cycling scene in his brilliant book, Tomorrow We Ride. And that theme was recently revived with Philippe Gilbert’s heroics; Gilbert, who grew up on the roadside of Liège-Bastogne-Liège was the son of munitions factory workers. It might not always be the case anymore, especially with the cost of bikes and the chic element that has the mainstream cycling world thinking of it as the new golf—read: high end sport. And I don’t know if it applies to Weylandt at all, although Belgians continue to worship their cycling heroes, past and present. But Barry’s notion of le métier is useful for erasing some of the glamor we’re prone to attributing to pro riders. Weylandt’s crash serves as sobering reminder that they, too, are all too mortal.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Mikael permalink
    May 11, 2011 6:01 am

    Beautiful pieces of writing Mr Egan, just enjoyed an afternoon of not a great deal of work being done reading through these entries.

    The last two have been brilliant, and at a time when many in the cycling community have struggled to find words to express their feelings.

    Looking forward to the post that explains “Steampunk” though!

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