Making New Memories

Maurice-Francois Garin - winner of the inaugural Tour de France in 1903
The rider with the notable moustache in the picture above, Maurice-Francois Garin, was quoted with the following quip during the 1904 Tour de France:

"I'll win the Tour de France provided I'm not murdered before we get to Paris."

Garin, Italian-born and French-raised, was crowned the inaugural Tour de France winner in 1903. The following year, four months after his second victory, he was unceremoniously stripped of his title, along with eight others, for cheating and received a two year ban.

The post-event investigation resulted in the disqualification of all the stage winners and the first four finishers. With Tour archives being misplaced during World War II, it was unclear precisely what had happened. Stories swelled of riders spreading tacks on the road, poisonings, hanging on to motorcycles, collusion with race officials, felling of trees to hold back rivals, beatings, broken fingers, threats of murder, and the fantastic story of Garin hitching a ride on a train.

The rumour of the unauthorised train ride was confirmed, it seems, by a cemetery attendant looking after Garin’s grave. The witness, a boy at the time, heard Garin tell his stories as an old man.
Guy Pearce "Memento"
Fast forward a hundred-or-so years later, and little has changed. The cycling breed is still enveloped in mystery, scandal and controversy. Sport, they say, is a reflection of life. And yet none does this as well as the sport of the bicycle. Whereas ball sports would be the reduction of a Shakespearian ditty onto a Kindle, cycling would be Dante’s Inferno tattooed on the obliques of a prison inmate. It has all the ups and downs, nuances, discolourations, fables, pains and grandeur of man’s earthly plight towards the heavens. And yet, few sports deliver this plight better than the blue collar spectacle of pain that is il ciclismo.

We forget that to be any good at this sport, a poor and neglectful upbringing where a rider can tap into the angst of his childhood is often an asset. If your recall being hungry as a child or were taught to fend for yourself before you could read for yourself, you have the makings of an elite cyclist. Few soft mammas’ boys ever escaped the bourgeoisie on two wheels.

As society kills its cycling icons on magazines, forums and flat screen TVs, providing the viewers the option of swallowing the blue pill or the red pill, I look on in incredulity. We expect miracles, and when we get them, we celebrate by sipping on the kool-aid and wearing our matching jersey and wristband. When all is revealed to be an illusion, we immediately lynch the magician and lie to ourselves that it never happened. Like Guy Pearce in Memento, we erase the history books and re-start our quest in pursuit of our next miracle. As though it never happened.
a disgraced former champion with a notable moustache
And yet one miracle is not enough. The fans want more. The succubi want more. The merchandisers want more. More breakaways. More above average. More phenomena. More incredible feats of human endurance and monster quads able to propel bikes up mountains faster than natural sinew and muscle would allow. And some kid racer riding away from his lamentable youth puts his head down, notches down a gear and decides he will do anything to escape.

And when the miracle is resurrected, we want an articulate interview of the victor spewing modesty, dreams and inspirational headlines.
History Revisited
Occasionally, when I need to alleviate my own quandaries on this mortal coil, I think of these words which our disgraced champion, Garin, wrote following his second Tour victory:

The 2,500km that I've just ridden seem a long line, grey and monotonous, where nothing stood out from anything else. But I suffered on the road; I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was sleepy, I suffered, I cried between Lyon and Marseille, I had the pride of winning other stages, and at the controls I saw the fine figure of my friend Delattre, who had prepared my sustenance, but I repeat, nothing strikes me particularly.

But wait! I'm completely wrong when I say that nothing strikes me, I'm confusing things or explaining myself badly. I must say that one single thing struck me, that a single thing sticks in my memory: I see myself, from the start of the Tour de France, like a bull pierced by banderillas, who pulls the banderillas with him, never able to rid himself of them”.

We all need mirrors to remind ourselves who we are. I'm no different. (Leonard Shelby: “Memento”)