11 August 2017

Why Bicycle Racing Has Only Moments In America

When it was still interesting and relevant, Saturday Night Live did a feature called "What If History?"  

Now, I'm going to engage in a bit of speculation "what might have been," at least as it relates to cycling.

What if Bernard Hinault had won the 1986 Tour de France?

What if Greg LeMond hadn't ridden that amazing final time trial in the 1989 Tour and Laurent Fignon had won instead?

Finally, what if Lance hadn't ridden in the Tours of 1999-2005?

In the humble opinion of this blogger who has much to be humble about (!), cycling would never have enjoyed even those brief spurts of popularity it had in the US.  And your blogger who has so much to be humble about would be even more of a geek than she is.

I am thinking about that now in light of some coverage I found on the Colorado Classic.  It's a four-day race in the Centennial State, and today is the second day of this year's edition.

The Denver Post's coverage very clearly showed why interest in racing in the US has been so sporadic, at best.  The one article today's edition devoted to the race focused on an ultimately meaningless breakaway made by Taylor Phinney.  If that name sounds familiar, it's because he is the son of Davis Phinney and Connie Carpenter, two icons of American bicycle racing's near-golden age in the 1980s. 

But his lineage isn't the reason the Post focused such attention on Taylor Phinney.  Rather, he is a "local boy":  he lives in the cycling mecca of Boulder, not far from Denver.

To be fair, most American media outlets aren't paying attention to the race at all.  Still, it's disturbing--at least to those of us who care about cycling--that it only gets attention when it has a "local" angle.  When perhaps the greatest rider of all, Eddy Mercx, was in his prime, almost no attention was paid to him in the US.  The same can be said for Bernard Hinault, who was probably Mercx's most worthy successor, let alone Jacques Anquetil, who held the mantle before Mercx took it.

Whatever comes of Lance's bans or any American racer on the horizon, cycling will never become a sport that vies with baseball, football and basketball--or, for that matter, tennis or golf-- for the attention of Americans unless more attention is paid, by the media and the public, to the overall sport and not only to the "American heroes."

When a sport is about individuals rather than teams (Lots of people consider themselves Yankee fans even if they can't name the second-string catcher.), it is especially important for would-be fans to know how important the domestiques as well as the near-champions are to the sport.  I know it takes a lot of time and dedication, which not everyone has, or wants to devote. That, I think, is a reason why horse racing is dying:  Most people pay attention only to the Triple Crown races and the horses that win them.  A true racing fan knows all of the other horses and riders. (I was never such a fan, but members of my family were, which is how I know this.)

Anyway, congratulations to John Murphy, who won the stage in which Taylor Phinney made his breakaway.


  1. There was a time when professional hockey wished it could be as popular as Madison(6 day)racing. Now US bicycle racing wishes it could be as popular as soccer or lacrosse is here.

  2. Mike--Back in the days of six-day racing, riders were the highest-paid American athletes, save for a few elite baseball players. Hard to believe, isn't it?