Epic drama and the stoical cyclist

Cycling is traditionally a sport for the stoical. Back in the days when men were men and cycling kit was woollen, if you wanted glory, attention, or even a small pat on the back, you were well advised to pick a different way to spend your weekends.

But times have changed. Thankfully it’s no longer seen as a sign of weakness to be nice to someone and with this softening has come a flair for the dramatic that can be summed up in one word…epic.

There was a time when if a cyclist talked about an epic day on the bike, you would expect to hear a story of such desperation, suffering and soul searching that it’s scarcely believable they lived to tell the tale.

In the 1956 Giro d’Italia, home rider Fiorenzo Magni fell on stage 12 and broke his collar bone. Refusing to abandon the race but unable to pull on the handlebars with his left arm, he was forced to grip his bike using a combination of his good arm, and an inner tube wrapped around the handlebars and held tightly in his teeth. He struggled on (crashing again on stage 16, and at one point passing out with pain) and managed to finish in a scarcely believable 2nd place.

An extreme example, I know…but that was an epic.

Fiorenzo Magni - Epic (Photo: Public Domain (Italy) Wikimedia)
Fiorenzo Magni – Epic
(Photo: Public Domain (Italy) Wikimedia)

By those standards, whatever it was that led to you needing a cuddle, a bit of a lie down on the settee and a nice cup of tea probably wasn’t.

Just because you went for a ride and got very tired, or you got a couple of punctures in the middle of nowhere, or you ran out of water 30 miles from home, or it rained and you’d forgotten your waterproof, or your Garmin packed in and you took a few wrong turns and added an hour onto your ride…doesn’t necessarily mean your ride was an epic.

If you overuse the phrase epic for all those unpleasant but ultimately fairly commonplace circumstances, where does that leave you when you encounter a true adventure?

It’s perfectly acceptable to go out for a ride, have a nice time, make your legs ache riding up a few hills, and return home none the worse for wear. Just a ride; not an adventure, not anything that deserves a round of applause, and certainly not an epic.

I suppose we cycling fans tend to pick up the lingo used on the TV and in the cycling media, where the word ‘epic’ is tossed around like confetti (along with other over-used descriptors such as ‘brutal’, ‘suffering’ and ‘cobbles’).

But when it comes to pro cycling we’re talking about guys who start the year riding in scorching desert races in Oman an­d Qatar, spend the spring battering their bodies into submission over the cobbles and through the wind and rain of northern Europe, before pushing themselves to the limit in the three week grand tours, riding 100 miles and more every day over the Alps, the Pyrenees, and through every town and valley in between.

If anyone is qualified to describe their adventures on the bike as epic, it’s your average pro cyclist.

We share far too much these days; if you find yourself getting involved in some adventure out on the bike, think very carefully about how you describe it to your mates afterwards – if you’re still in one piece and walking and talking it’s always to your credit to brush it off as ‘no big deal’.

You can always have a cuddle and a cup of tea later on…behind closed doors of course.

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18 comments

  1. Reblogged this on choose happiness and commented:
    Fun read below. I may be guilty of overuse of ‘epic’. However, in retrospect my rides are epic to me. I’m not a pro cyclist, and never will be. But, I never thought I’d be doing Mulholland Challenge or Breathless Agony either, both of which are Epic in their own right. Joe.

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    • Indeed. I have a friend who has done his fair share of climbing over the years, and his stories of days in the Alps and the Dolomites certainly put any bike ride I’ve ever done into perspective. As for the Fred, it seems to have attracted the bad weather in the past few years – the one year I did it was pretty tame weather-wise but I can imagine in rain and sleet its not pleasant.

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  2. I don’t even know what epic means any more… Obviously, there are too many people out there who have not read Virgil’s Aeneid in Latin… They have no idea what pain and suffering feel like.

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