In the massive controlled chaos that is the Tour de France, it is accepted that getting a stage win in the race is considered a peak in a cyclist’s career. It takes so much work and so much talent to get to that point in a cyclists pro journey, the fact of crossing the line first in a Tour stage is a pinnacle seldom attained.
There are only 20-some chances for victory during each year’s Tour. Out of those twenty stages, there are only a few cyclists with a real chance for victory in each stage. These are the also usually the result of calculated attempts by team managers to set up one of the top team members for a shot at a stage win. It is very, very hard to win a stage of the Tour all on your own. You must be very talented. And very lucky.
Yet such victories are important because earning results for the team is vital to sponsors. No sponsor likes to pay millions to support a team and get zilch in terms of exposure. That’s also why there are solo breakaways, to gain exposure and camera time for team sponsors.
One Hit Wonders
The entire enterprise resembles the former setup of the music industry where record labels once vied for opportunities to get their artist a number one hit. When a hot little tune came along that people seemed to like, the hype machine would kick into gear. If you got lucky, the song would rise the charts in terms of sales and the group would gain popularity. If talent and timing held out, there might be a string of records that make it to hit status. When a mega-talent such as the Beatles comes along, the term One-Hit Wonder grows even more dramatic by comparison.
Of course there are plenty of One Hit Wonders to testify to the fact that it is both a difficult and lucky thing to have a record climb the charts. The wonderful Tom Hanks movie “That Thing You Do” chronicles the rise and ultimate dissolution of a pop band from Erie, Pennsylvania. The song “That Thing You Do” is even an aberration of sorts. Written as a ballad, the song launched from first into fifth gear when the substitute drummer hammered into a faster beat and created a hit out of nothing.
Or, if you prefer your One Hit Wonders a bit grittier, you need to check out the movie or play called The Commitments. This movie makes you appreciate the grit and hard work it takes to make it, and how fast things can go wrong even when they’re going right.
Once hit, twice shy? No way.
We can all relate, right? It’s the same with those who run and ride. You can be cruising along in your training only to pick up an injury at the last minute or crash into a tree. Just like me. Ha ha. Talk about a one-hit wonder. Wondering what hit me? One downed tree!
But you gotta get back on your bike and ride. That’s what I did after the bike wobble crash as well as the one-hit encounter with the tree.
Well, such is the case it seems with many a pro cyclist as well. That state of fitness allowing you to ride at the front of the peloton only comes along once in a while. Everything has to be right. The diet. Training. Even the weather can play havoc with well-made plans. Or you can crash out in spectacular style. God Bless Johnny Hoogerland. He got back on the bike and rode that very day the support vehicle drove him into a ditch and a barbed wire fence that did surgery on his butt cheek.
Johnny got back on the bike because that’s what one-hit wonders have to do. Keep on trying.
Singing a different tune
Those of us that engage in these sports of running, riding and swimming understand the ephemeral nature of real fitness. Yet that’s also why pro athletes are so amazing. They seem to have a different type of engine in them. Indeed, most of them amount to physiological geeks. They are born with certain traits that lend them the ability to train that hard and perform at a level most of us can only hold for a mile or two, if that.
The comparison between athletics and music holds true in that respect as well. Most people with good voices have that natural ability. Yes, training helps tremendously. But if you can’t really sing in the first place, you’re not going to win American Idol or The Voice.
That’s what makes the early rounds of shows like American Idol so interestingly raw. Back when the show started, the early rounds were nothing short of cruel, taking advantage of hopeless dreams and crazed characters that actually thought they could sing. Let’s admit it: We all laughed at their efforts, especially the guy Simon called a Sugar Glider. Mean, yet funny. He looked weird and he could not sing. Yet deep down we know that when we sing in the car most of us sound just as bad, or worse.
So that whole American Idol thing was rather like taking an everyday bike path cyclist and throwing them into a Tour stage. What did we think would happen? Yet delusion and desire often go hand and hand. That’s the entire premise of reality TV.
Of course the Tour de France is also a form of reality TV. Pro cyclists such as Matthew Busche that chronicle their Tour experiences admit that while there are team plans and individual goals, it really comes down to being opportunistic and avoiding disaster. You either discover your strength at a critical moment or it fades away into obscurity.
The dramatic nature of such discoveries is still what makes cycling a compelling event to watch. Once in a Grand Tour while, whether it be the Giro de Italia, the Tour de France or the Vuelta a Espana, there are moments when riders break free into some sort of weird stratosphere where the legs are good and the lungs pull oxygen out of nowhere. It can be thrilling to watch. Like Thor Hushovd.
Once in a while a rider gets into a breakaway and the brute strength of the peloton cannot catch them. Sometimes it comes down to a singular moment. Right down to the wire. That lone cyclist is pedaling for all they’re worth as the peloton like an uncaged animal thrusts and claws its way toward the finish line. But the rider stays away and raises their arms in victory.
And once in a very great while a rider strings together a succession of one-hit wonders as did French cyclist Thomas Voeckler, riding on guts and pride to lead the Tour de France. Inspiring.
Who cares if they are a one-hit wonder? Riding 10,000 miles a year to represent a pro team in cycling requires total sacrifice. So does training at elite levels in distance running.
It still makes me shake my head that a pro-golfer earns a million dollars for winning a tournament while a world class marathoner wins $100,000 for running a marathon, but there are a lot of things in this world that do not seem fair by comparison.
I can only speak to competing at a sub-elite level, yet the commitment to race even at that level required everything I had to achieve results. Like a singer at the microphone, you pour your guts into every line with the hope that you will connect with that universal energy that carries you to your dream.
Those of us without rock star capability can still attain results that inspire. When we get out there and try our best it does not matter if we are leading a Tour stage or coming down the final 400 meters of the Boston Marathon ahead of everyone else. We can be our own One-Hit-Wonder and be proud in the reality of breaking out of our own expectations.
And if we’re really smart and really lucky, we even pull out a string of hits over time. So here’s to all of us One Hit Wonders.