Lead Photo credit: Kennedy Bros. Publishing.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
So wrote Hoosier poet Max Ehrmann in 1927 in his poem Desiderata. The most pertinent lines, perhaps the most universal, are there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. This is something that cyclists are particularly aware of and professions more than anyone. In his marvelous book Domestique, by Charley Wegelius, he recounts how, after a stellar amateur career, he joined the pro ranks with high hopes of continued success. Alas, it was not to be. However, realizing he wasn’t going to be amongst the next superstars of the sport, he resolved to be the best damn domestique he could be. This he duly did and was in demand throughout his career as a rider who could be counted on to work hard for his designated leader.
The lead picture of one of Merckx’s domestiques amplifies the point. There was only one star on the Molteni team: Merckx. The others were there to serve. It’s an extreme case, but when you’re riding for the best, it quickly puts your humble abilities into perspective. And perhaps this is where cycling differs from other team sports: the hierarchy of talent. Not just roles, but talent. Men—professionals—who have talent most of us can only dream about, are told, in no uncertain terms, that their job is to work for someone else, to fetch a bottle, give up a wheel, sacrifice their ambitions so another can realize theirs. It is a role not easily accepted, but one that must be if continued employment is sought in professional cycling.
Wegelius could have taken the huff and found another line of work but he chose to stay and be the best domestique in the bunch. He discusses how his fame and popularity grew as team captains such as Di Luca succeeded. The cognoscenti knew how important he was, how good he was, even though he never crossed the line first. There is no shame in this; quite the contrary, there is pride in being as in demand as others who win. You have a place in the firmament. It might not be glamorous, but how many of our jobs are? We do the best we can, we collaborate, we strategize to move on, consolidate skills and contacts. Professional cycling is like life and vice versa.
The fortunes of time change and affect us all. In life, as in cycling, it’s not a bad idea to keep a spare tire and pump handy for when you’re on your own and the last team car has gone by. In short, be self-sufficient in mind and possessions and survive to ride another day.
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