Tim Wellens is a name that might only be familiar to a committed pro-cycling fan.
The slender Belgian is not one of the sport’s superstars, but is a talented and increasingly successful all-rounder; in 2016 to date he has won a stage at the Giro d’Italia (arguably the second most prestigious race of the year, behind that French one), and the overall classification at the Tour of Poland.
If you like your cyclists to be all-conquering super-humans then Chris Froome or Peter Sagan are probably the guys for you. Wellens represents something different. Pro cycling has always been revered for its beauty and style as much as the competition, and in a modern peloton awash with unpleasant looking sponsor’s logos and garish team kit, Wellens catches the eye.
The Belgian is long, lean, and flat backed. His pedalling style is fluid, and on a TV screen crammed full of cyclists he has a kind of quiet stillness (combined with the generation of massive amounts of power) which stands out.
He is, in short, good to watch.
Tom Dumoulin, he of the classic sounding cyclists nickname (the Butterfly of Maastricht) is another. Smooth, long limbed, and crushing both time-trials and Pyrenean climbs with grace and effortless power.
But, as the saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat.
Take Russian climber Ilnur Zakarin, and his attack on the summit finish of stage 17 of this year’s 2016 Tour de France. We TV viewers were ‘treated’ to six feet two inches of skin and bone, jersey unzipped to reveal a malnourished rib-cage, radio wires dangling, and slightly implausible hillbilly beard to finish the job.
As David Millar put it during commentary: “he’s not what you would call ‘quiet’ on a bike.”
His head bobs from side to side and his hips rock, but miraculously the hip-rocking and the head-bobbing isn’t in time with the pedal stroke. It’s free-form jazz in the form of a cyclist, as he clicks along in a 7/8 time signature. He’s jazz saxophonist John Coltrane playing the stuff that only a committed devotee of the art could appreciate; easy to admire, difficult to love.
As I watched I was transfixed by the sheer strength of the man, and simultaneously relieved when the camera finally cut away to the main bunch to give my eyes a rest from this jarring unpleasantness.
Unfortunately, when the camera did pan back to the main bunch of riders my eye was then drawn to the violence of Fabio Aru in full exaggerated effort. Mouth gaping and teeth bared, he doesn’t so much pedal his bike as propel it forward using front crawl.
It’s as if the effort is all for show, so comical is the movement, as if to say: “I may be an also-ran in this race, but look how hard I’m trying.”
There is an argument to say that Fabio Aru is only appropriate after the watershed.
And then there’s Chris Froome. He’s a winner, and after his daredevil exploits on this year’s Tour (demon descents, crosswind attacks) he’s probably more popular than he’s ever been, but he’s still got the waggly elbows.
He’s no Laurent Fignon, put it that way.
It takes all sort, of course, and I’d imagine that if my bike related exploits were televised then I too would be no oil painting. In their way the ugly ducklings serve to accentuate the stylists – a kind of unpleasant counterpoint to their fluid grace – and for that reason we should appreciate them.
Not watch them for extended periods of time, necessarily, but appreciate them.