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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

It’s time to tune into pro cycling

Professional cycling embodies true humanity in sport

 

By ALEX MOTAWI — almotawi@ucdavis.edu

 

There is something special about professional cycling. When I first tuned in, I thought it was just like every other sport on television, but it’s different. I had a hard time putting my finger on why it was, but now that sports are veering back towards normalcy, it dawned on me. Unlike in other sports where games might not take place on consecutive days, it can take weeks to finish a pro cycling race. The emotion that comes from that length is why cycling is so beautiful to watch. 

The main event in the cycling season is the Tour de France, which consists of 21 separate stages over the four-week grand tour. Winning the general classification, which means finishing all 21 stages in the fastest cumulative time, is the greatest achievement in the sport. Last year, it was won by the Slovenian phenom Tadej Pogacar, who, after almost 83 total hours of racing, won by just five minutes. He also took the win two years ago by 59 seconds, not racing into the lead until he pulled off a miraculous time trial on stage 20. For a general classification (GC) rider like him, even just one bad stage in the 21-stage race can lose them the entire race — and it happens often. Every single day matters.

For riders who don’t have the chops to compete in the GC (almost everyone), it’s a dream come to life to win a stage in one of the three grand tours. Winning a stage in a grand tour almost guarantees you a long career in the peloton regardless of how you were seen before. For a lower-division team that received a chance invite into a grand tour (or even a lower-ranked World Tour team), winning just one stage can define season success for the entire team. This means every single day is full of riders doing everything in their power to cross the line first, and it shows. Watching an underdog cross the line in first place and break down in tears after pushing their bodies for what can be over six hours is a special experience.

In that respect, the one-day classics are even better. These races are special. They average 160 miles and take over six hours to complete and are designed to be incredibly difficult courses full of hills as well as cobblestone or gravel sections. In races like grand tour stages, an underdog can get lucky and win a stage; in a race like this, luck can only hurt you (bad luck in the form of mechanical issues or crashes). In races like these, the strongest person out of the roughly 150 riders takes the win, every time. The endings of one-day races are, in my opinion, peak cycling. These are the races where riders collapse after the finish line in tears that represent both joy and heartbreak.

Cycling is not just a men’s sport, either. The women’s pro peloton is the strongest it has ever been and its racing circuit is adding new prestigious races every season. While women’s cycling has been neglected in the past, it is quickly becoming an institution fans can be proud of and an integral part of the overall sport. It’s just as entertaining and its growth as a sport is a blast to watch — I often feel like men’s cycling rides on the coattails of tradition, while women’s cycling is blazing a new path.

Fans of athletes or entertainers have seen emotional interviews before. They are right after a team wins the Super Bowl or gives the onstage performance of a lifetime. They are the rare scenes that memorialize such great moments and if you are a sap like me, you are crying right along with them. In cycling, scenes like these happen after almost every race and are stronger than ever, as there are few sports that can push a person further past their limits than cycling. The finish of last year’s Paris-Roubaix is quintessential cycling. The winner (Sonny Colbrelli) is covered in mud, bawling his eyes out on the ground after six hours of racing, and the rider who lost by less than a second is doing the same. While that is one of the most emotional scenes in recent memory, riders leaving their hearts on the field is commonplace, and the true reason why watching pro cycling is such a treat.

I watch sports to watch people push their boundaries. I watch sports to see people give everything they have and more to try and reach something greater. I watch sports to see the greatest humanity has to offer. I watch sports to see people be people — and that is what you get from pro cycling.

 

Written by: Alex Motawi — almotawi@ucdavis.edu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.

 

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