For Gino by Rob Sandy
Image by fe.tte
By now, everyone has seen Matej Mohorič’s fabulous interview following his stunning win of Stage 19 of the 2023 Tour de France. He spoke emotionally and eloquently about what the win meant to him and his team and at the same time was able to pay heartfelt tribute to his colleagues across the peloton. From a sporting perspective, it was an illuminating insight into the demands, sacrifices and rewards of top level of this dangerous, brutally difficult sport.
But his interview was revealing on another, more significant level.
I took my own race win the same week. Sure, mine was a trivial little sprint in a fairly meaningless 30 minute criterium and I didn’t get a television interview afterwards, but it was a tiny part of the same sprawling picture.
In a race a few weeks before, on the same tarmac, I’d seen a friend from another cycling club go flying over the handlebars following a minor coming together with another rider. He landed headfirst on the ground and broke his jaw and nose and been knocked unconscious. The rasping, bubbling sound of his laboured breathing has stayed with me. He was discharged from hospital the following week and will make a full recovery, but at the time it was horrible and sobering. I had to stop and think.
As a club, we still mourn the loss of one of our riders in a road race about ten years ago. A minor misjudgement led him to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time and he was hit by a car. It affected us all. I had the opportunity to meet his mother at another road race some years ago, and we shared a few words. What I took away was that, even as a non-cyclist who had lost her son to the sport, she understood. And what she understood was this:
As cyclists we are united. Everyone who sits down on a bike and pedals is part of the same community, whether we know it or not. Shared experiences bring us together. It is a hobby that hurts us.
When we go out on our bikes we know it is dangerous. There are risks we cannot mitigate and some days it takes a great deal of courage just to swing a leg over the top tube. And yet we do it anyway. There are times on the bike when we have all known fear, and pain and despair. In the darkness of a pre-dawn training ride or a late night turbo session we suffer alone.
And yet, cycling provides friendships, and moments of joy in achievement or exploration. It’s a light that we shine on ourselves to reveal the depths of our courage and resilience. It strengthens mind and body and can provide profound, intense experiences. It’s a sport that gives everything and yet the contradiction is that in a heartbeat it can take it all away. Whatever happens in our life, at some point we’ll get back on our bikes and go for a ride.
That is what I thought was most revealing about Mohorič’s interview. It showed that behind the mirrored shades, 4% body fat and 420w FTP the cyclists of the pro peloton are just like us. Through cycling they know pain, suffering, grief and fear, but also like us they know triumph, joy and pure enjoyment. And, like us, whatever happens, the day afterwards they will get back on their bikes and ride.
Cycling cannot change the past but it has a huge potential to alter our future. It’s not just fitness, or competition, or transport or a route to self-knowledge; it is all of these things and more. So when we say ‘I need to go for a ride’ we hope the other person can understand the emphasis we place on both the words ‘need’ and ‘ride’ in the sentence.
Matej Mohorič spoke for the peloton. He spoke for me too. he spoke for us all.