Cyclo-therapy: Get on your bike and you’ve bucked the system. You are performing a small act of defiance
Saturday 13 December 2008
It's the BBC 'Sports Personality of the Year Award' tomorrow night, and there are four cyclists among the 10 contenders. Wa-hey! Cycling has finally come in from the cold. Granted its rightful place at sport's top table. And yet, and yet ...
Cycling, it seems to me, has always thrived on its otherness. It exists in its own little world, separate from the mainstream. Get on your bike and you have bucked the system. You are performing a small act of defiance. It's political. And from this derives the self-righteousness that rubs so many non-cyclists up the wrong way.
At the professional level, cycling can seem equally impenetrable to the outsider. We can relate to someone missing a penalty in the Cup Final or hitting a winner at Wimbledon. But riding the Tour de France? Pro cycling looks like a secret brotherhood with its own arcane ways and, even more puzzlingly, a culture that somehow reconciles nobility and tawdriness.
Cycling can't seem to decide whether it wants the wider world to embrace it or not. The editor of Cycling Weekly once told me about a reader who complained when the magazine went in for a promotional drive. You shouldn't be encouraging new people, he said. There will be those in cycling for whom the presence of four cyclists on the 'Sports Personality' shortlist is the cause of unease.
There is a paradoxical side to this otherness. That's the resentment that so often surfaces over the media's treatment of the sport. I've noticed that in the many interviews she has given recently, Nicole Cooke, the Olympic women's road race champion and one of those in line for the BBC award, often criticises press and TV for the lack of coverage her sport receives.
Of course, Cooke's right. And after the patronising way she was interviewed on the show last year – "Do you fall off your bike very often?" – her frustration is understandable. That exchange summed up the chasm that exists between the world of cycling and the world of everything else.
My bet is that tomorrow night the BBC will do its utmost to respect and honour cycling, make it feel it belongs. Which will be, er, quite nice. And then Rebecca Adlington or Lewis Hamilton will walk off with the big prize, and the recriminations can begin all over again.
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