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Is there a pro that best embodies the spirit of cycling?

Frank Strack
21 Oct 2016

Watching the pros in action is a step towards understanding the origin of The Rules, says Frank Strack.

Dear Frank, 

The Velominati take their cues from the pros – but do you have favourite pro riders from each era who best embody the spirit of The Rules? 

Chris, by email

Dear Chris

The first thing to point out is that we did not invent The Rules. What the Velominati have done is merely document the unwritten code of cycling’s culture, etiquette and style. 

The Rules do their best to embody the spirit of those riders who helped weave the fabric of our sport. As they state, ‘When a cyclist kits up and climbs aboard their bike, they aren’t standing on the shoulders of giants, they stand upon a towering mountain of history and legend.’

Every so often, some bright spark comes along, reads our list of (currently) 95 Rules, and posts the observation that The Rules focus mainly on the aesthetic and don’t dwell on the matter of actually riding the bike well. They make a good point, but riding a bike well comes mostly from riding your bike lots, and for that there is one Rule that isn’t even unique to cycling – Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule, which states one must put in 10,000 hours of practice in order to master any activity.

And then with Rule #5 (Harden the fuck up), well, that makes two Rules pointed at becoming a better cyclist. After that come factors like diet and focusing your training, but that’s what coaches are for. Although any good coach is always tailoring a training plan to the qualities and goals of the rider, it’s pretty black and white stuff: do the work and experience progress.

Everything interesting in life is found in the grey area between absolutes, and that is where The Rules focus: the morass of what is and isn’t acceptable from the cultural, etiquette and style standpoint of (mostly) European road cycling. The Rules are the woven fibres that make up the fabric of our beautiful sport, and there are three legs that hold up this stool. 

First and foremost is Rule #5, which surrounds and penetrates everything essential in the sport, much like The Force surrounds us, penetrates us and binds the universe together. 

The second is Fournel’s Theorem (To look good is already to go fast), which speaks to the underlying power of our psychology and how we perceive ourselves, and its influence on the hormones the mind releases into the body. A positive self-image is proven to alter our chemical make-up to enhance performance. 

Finally, we have Rule #43 (Don’t be a jackass. And if you absolutely must be a jackass, be a funny jackass.) This speaks to the spirit of sportsmanship. Cycling is probably a hobby, and at most a sport, even if you happen to be one of the chosen few for whom cycling is a profession.

Sport is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as ‘an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment’. For entertainment – this was never meant to be life or death (we typically call that ‘war’).

Having a good attitude, being a good sportsman, being collegial with your competitors… those are the properties that embody the greatest legends of our sport, and are the qualities that we most admire within ourselves. Looking back, there are many who possessed all three of those properties simultaneously and those, then, are the riders whom The Rules most closely seek to embody. 

Firstly there’s Fausto Coppi, whose elegance on the bike was matched only by his ability to dominate his foes while remaining close friends with his arch-rival, Gino Bartali. Jaques Anquetil would be another whose style and strength were matched by his lifelong friendship with his eternal second, Raymond Poulidor.

Eddy Merckx, the same, except his Rule #43 adherence continues to this day: he can always be relied upon to offer a measured insight into the most combustible topics within the sport. Tom Boonen is a rider of the modern era who always Looks Fantastic, yet embodies the competitive fight that has seen him become one of the most decorated Classics specialists in history. At the same time, he possesses the sort of sportsmanship that is rarely seen – after being narrowly denied his record-breaking fifth Roubaix win, he ascended to the second step on the podium with pride and was the first to congratulate the victor, Mathew Hayman. 

The list goes on, and will continue to be added to, but these are the sorts of riders who inspired us to cast in writ The Rules.

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