Robin Scott-Elliot: Success can be just like riding a bike (until your team throws a wobbly)
View From The Sofa: Milan v Arsenal, ITV / Track Cycling World Cup, BBC
Monday 20 February 2012
There were two strikingly contrasting images caught on camera last week. The first was a shot of the away dugout in San Siro on Wednesday. In Milan a dugout is just that so, as Arsène Wenger sat mournfully inside it, his chin appeared to rest on the side of the pitch. If that was a picture of gloom, a snapshot of a man who appears powerless to check the decline of his own great project, the slow-motion replay of Chris Hoy celebrating victory was a moment of pulsating glory and a powerful promise for what is to come.
Even through the distancing medium of TV, Hoy exudes physicality and confidence. His thighs are large enough to cast Sammy Lee as one Lowry's matchstick men. There is an aura around Britain's cyclists, partly because they win things but also because they disappear from view for three-and-a-half years (give or take the odd cereal ad) and then re-emerge, faces hidden behind mirrored visors ready to rule again.
Their mystique and record of close to unblemished success makes for a telling and timely contrast to a daily sporting menu that can feel crammed full of E numbers. There's something of the shiny cult about the whole cycling set-up but it's one that is difficult to resist, if only I knew my keirin – who gets to ride the little phut-phut bike at the front? – from my omnium. That is where Hugh Porter comes in. Porter has been part of the British cycling story almost since the wheel was invented. During his successful career he was coached by Tommy Godwin, who won medals at the 1948 Olympics and, at 91, was in the crowd at the Velodrome this weekend. Sitting next to Porter in the commentary box was Chris Boardman, the inspiration to many of the current generation.
What Porter does well now is talk. Porter can talk and talk. And talk. It's something about cycling commentators; David Duffield could chat non-stop through an entire stage of the Tour de France, often taking viewers through his previous night's dinner mouthful by mouthful. Porter's enthusiasm is unbending but he also takes time to explain what is going on, so beckoning you into the cult. Before long it becomes impossible to see Victoria Pendleton and not call her Queen Victoria.
Can you picture Wenger on a bike? Are you getting black-and-white movie, piano music, knees sticking out at right angles as the front wheel wobbles furiously over cobbles? He has tried to make his team ride without stabilisers but, as last week made painfully clear, it looks like the wheels are coming off, as Porter might say and Duffield definitely would.
Adrian Chiles was in his element in the middle of Arsenal's despondence. Nobody does cheery misery like Chiles. Alongside him, Roy Keane glowered. Keane has not taken to punditry like Gary Neville. He talks incredibly quickly, sometimes too quickly to be understood, but gets by through looking incredibly furious about whatever he is saying. Chiles sensibly seems to have decided best to just nod and move on.
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