13 April 2016

A Real Race Face

Today, most of us would cringe if we were to see a white performer in blackface.  I could barely contain my rage when I found out that the only film version of The Tragedy of Othello available in the library of a college in which I taught was the one in which Laurence Olivier is in blackface.  I know he was legendary, but I didn't think I--let alone my students--could stomach the sight of even an actor of his stature in that mask of oppression.

You might think I've been infected with the hypersensitive political correctness of the academic world when I say that this photo nearly made me jump out of my skin:


He is Barry Hoban and, thankfully, he wasn't channeling Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer.  Rather, he was wearing a mudpack to protect himself against the terrible weather he and other riders encountered in the 1972 Paris-Nice race.  Hoban was also wearing two layers under his team jersey and two pairs of gloves. 

By the way, he won that race.  In 1969, he became the first Briton to win two consecutive stages (Nos. 18 and 19) of the Tour de France, and the only Englishman to do so until Mark Cavendish did it in 2008.  He also won six other Tour stages from 1967 through 1975, and completed 11 of the 12 Tours he started.  To this day, no British rider, and almost no other rider from any other country, has finished more Tours.

He also won two stages each of the 1964 Vuelta a Espana and the 1974 Ghent-Wevelgem.  In the latter race, he finished ahead of Eddy Mercx and Roger de Vlaeminck in the overall standings.  In addition, he won a number of one-day classics and stages of longer races.

In the 1967 Tour, he won the stage from Carpentras to Sete the day after Tom Simpson collapsed and died during his ascent of Mont Ventoux.  Two years later, Hoban married Simpson's widow, with whom he had a daughter and raised two stepdaughters.

This is what he looked like without the mudpack:


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