Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

07 July 2014

Cycling, Football And Sociology

In an earlier post, I noted that some of the best teams in the World Cup football (soccer, to Yanks) tournament represent some of the world's top cycling nations--and that the US is in ascendancy in both sports.

In following the tournament and the opening stages of the Tour de France, I realized another striking parallel between the two sports.  In the traditional powerhouses of cycling and football, the top players and riders come from the ranks of the poor or working class.  Much of the peloton could just as easily have been working in a factory or farm had their cycling talents not been discovered and developed.  In fact, at the beginning of his professional career, at least one journalist wondered whether Eddy Mercx had the desire or discipline to win because he was "bourgeois"?  How bourgeois was he?  His father owned a grocery store and had just acquired another.  In purely Marxist terms that indeed made Mercx pere "bourgeois", but hardly made his son a "rich kid."

Caption:  Adonia Lugo, a UC Irvine doctoral candidate in anthropology, has dedicated much of her academic and personal life to alternative transportation; everyday, she uses a combination of buses, trains, and bicycling to commute to Irvine from Los Angel
Adonia Lugo, a bike advocate and anthropologist in Los Angeles

Football players have traditionally come from backgrounds similar to those of cyclists, although there is a greater presence of immigrants, or children of immigrants, on the pitch than one finds in the peloton. Still, one rarely finds someone in football or cycling team kit who had the opportunity to do other things.

Here in the US, things are different.  Both sports are seen as suburban and middle-class.  It's true that not many of our cyclists or footballers have come from the inner cities or farmlands.  Rather, the hotbeds of both sports are found mainly in middle-to-upper class suburbs on the two coasts rather than in the Rust Belt.

Ironically, the teams that represented the US in the three prewar World Cup tournametns were primarily blue-collar industrial workers.  They were immigrants, or the children of them, who lived in the sooty enclaves of New Jersey and New England factory towns.  Their last hurrah came in the first postwar tournament when they pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the history of sport:  They beat the mighty British team in the tournament's opening game.


  1. I would say that Plano, TX and Carson City NV both qualify as "inner cities." Together, those two count for nine TDF wins. If we're talking football, well football is the sport of Texas rural areas, as in "Saturday Night Lights."

  2. Steve--Having never seen Plano, and not having seen Carson City in a long time, I'll trust your assessment. Still, many people--particularly those who are poor and/or of color--in the US see cycling and soccer as white, middle-class (or upper middle-class) sports.