Generally speaking, when it comes to the sport of professional cycling I tend to avoid in-depth race analysis. Not only is it better left to other outlets such as Cyclingnews, VeloNews, and actor Morgan Freeman's Twitter (his coverage of this year's Dauphiné Libéré was as insightful as it was riveting), but I also feel it's far less relevant to the lives of typical cyclists than, say, my ongoing mission to discover and crown the World's Ugliest Fixie. (The current front-runner is this one.) However, I recently noticed this article on Cyclingnews which inspired me to reconsider:
When a champion as great as Laurent Jalabert calls for something, you get it for him. I don't care whether it's a re-evaluation of French cycling, or greater accountability in the sport in general, or simply a croque-monsieur and a cool drink. Jalabert says he finds the state of French cycling "disturbing," which is hardly surprising since in recent years French cyclists have been performing about as well as Greg LeMond at a sporting conference. Many have speculated as to why this is, and some have even gone so far as to suggest that French racers are riding "cleaner" than their non-French counterparts. Now, I don't know about that, but I do know that they're not winning. I also know that in order to understand mediocrity you have to be mediocre, and the truth is Jalabert is just too successful a rider to understand what's wrong with French cycling. I, on the other hand, am mediocrity's domestique when it comes to racing, so I feel I'm uniquely qualified to help Jalabert in particular and French cycling in general. To that end, I made the following chart, which I hope Jalabert will see and take the time to study:
As you can see, the state of French cycling is sorrier than an obsequious waiter who's just spilled red wine on your date. Furthermore, from this chart, we can draw three conclusions:
1) France is a little good at cycling
2) France is a lot bad at cycling
3) Cheese is almost as delicious as France is good at cycling
This data is disturbing. Ideally, if you're a country with cycling aspirations you want to be more good at cycling than you are bad at it. France, however, is experiencing a good/bad inversion, which is highly undesirable. Furthermore, France is in an extremely precarious situation right now. Currently, while they are much worse at cycling than they are good at it, they are still at least a little more good at cycling than cheese is delicious. However, if their cycling performance continues to deteriorate, cheese will essentially become more delicious than they are good at cycling and riders like Silvain Chavanel and Thomas Voeckler will no longer be able to successfully compete for attention with tasty hunks of Camembert or Brie. Essentially, French cycling is now on life support, and if their best riders fail to remain ever so slightly more interesting than warm cheese it will probably just kick up its Carnacs and die. (This is why you'll often hear cycling journalists say that French cycling is "treading fromage.")
Of course, this data is almost meaningless without some historical context, so I've gone ahead and generated a graph which represents the state of French cycling over time:
You'll note that precisely "A long time ago," when people like Jaques Anquetil were riding, French cycling was "Awesome." However, as we move into the present all performance indicators are heading towards "Sucky" like randy deckhands on shore leave in Bangkok. Even worse, while "Awesomeness" has been steadily decreasing, "Sucking" has been steadily increasing:
Indeed, French cycling suckitude is dangerously close to reaching a state of "R-Sys," or total implosion.
If you're Laurent Jalabert, you're probably asking two questions right now. The first question is, "Is it too late?," and the second question is, "Where the hell is my croque-monsieur?" Well, only Voeckler can speak to the second question (he's generally on "sandwich detail"), and as far as the first one goes the short answer is: "It's complicated." Really, to determine what must be done we must first identify when exactly it was that France started sucking more than not sucking, which involves pinpointing the exact moment at which they attained total cycling mediocrity. This period of stasis occurs when someone or something sucks exactly as much as it doesn't suck, and is also known as the "Nexus of Meh." Having analyzed the data, I can say with confidence that, for French Cycling, the "Nexus of Meh" was July 16th, 1997:
The 1997 Tour de France was a critical one when it comes to understanding French suckage. While Frenchman Richard Virenque went on to finish second overall (the best French finish since Laurent Fignon's second place to Greg LeMond in 1989), the French team Big Mat also finished last in the teams classification that very same year. As such, we can deduce from this that the "Nexus of Meh" occurred during the 1997 Tour, and furthermore we can specify July 16th as this marked the Tour's midway point. This conclusion is supported by the fact that, shortly afterward, France became a cycling nation in decline. The following year saw the famous Festina scandal, from which French cycling arguably never recovered, and we haven't seen a French person on the podium since.
So what can be done? Well, after analyzing the data, I've decided that France's best hope is to get rid of the Tour de France altogether. Anybody who's ever organized a big party knows that you never have fun at your own affair. You never get to eat the food, you don't get to talk to the people you want to talk to, and you certainly don't "hook up." So I'm putting forth the notion that as long as France continues to host the biggest affair on the cycling calendar they're never going to "hook up" with victory. Instead, they should just give the Tour de France to some other country--preferably a flatter one, which would also help since they're such lousy climbers. Also, they'd have a lot more energy left over to contest other races as well. Or, if they insist on keeping it, they should at least try to relax. As it is, they spend way too much time looking for drugs. It's hard enough to have fun at your own party, but it's even harder when you're running around making sure nobody's outside sneaking a joint. Sure, too many drugs can ruin a party--but sometimes not enough drugs can be just as bad.
In the meantime, though, French cyclists do need to take responsibility for their own poor performance. Yes, failing to take personal responsibility can have disastrous consequences. Take for instance this "missed connection" from Craigslist:
Asshat cyclist who nearly ran me down - w4m - 30 (Prospect Park)
Date: 2009-08-09, 8:43PM EDT
Dear Spandex-Bedeck'd Douchebag,
Yes, it is true and it is lame that it took me 30 years to learn to ride a bike. I know you probably sailed out of your mother's womb on a Brompton but that does not give you the right to come crashing into me as I learn how to make this two-wheeled-thingee-mabob stay upright. You had plenty of room to pass me on the left but decided to be the piece of excrement you are and zoom by me on the right. Unfortunately, your ego is larger than your skill set and you came within an inch of smashing into me. You, as the experienced cyclist, have the responsibility of riding defensively and avoiding the novices, be they 5 or 30. WHY try to prove your superiority by scaring newbies? I wasn't an obstacle to your progress until you decided to make me one by cutting across lanes to nearly kill us both.
Wishing You Crotch Abrasions and U-Lock Beatings,
Girl in Green
Sure, the "spandex-bedeck'd douchebag" may have been riding reckelessly, but at least he was wearing an asshat.