We need our smile back

comic relief
–noun
1) an amusing scene, incident, or speech introduced into serious or tragic elements, as in a play, in order to provide temporary relief from tension, or to intensify the dramatic action. 

2)relief from tension caused by the introduction or occurrence of a comic element, as by an amusing human foible.

I reflected a lot on my ride this morning. Here’s the back story. Typical Sunday morning of coffee, newspaper, drifting conversation. That was until my wife looked at an ad opposite an article that prompted this question. “Have you ever heard of an espresso machine, Saeco?”

After breakfast, I went upstairs to change for my ride. I paused before the sea of jerseys and started digging. Past regular jerseys, under the team jerseys of Discovery and CSC, I found it. My Saeco jersey. Actually, I found two. The traditional red jersey and the white “Julius Caesar” version.

As I rode, I thought that after the 1998 Festina scandal , cycling was in critical condition. It needed someone to come and resuscitate the the sport. Lance Armstrong was the perfect man to lift cycling off its deathbed.

It seems that in order to save the sport back then, we needed to perform a humorectomy. Teams found the formula to winning involved supreme focus. A smile was wasted energy. So what do we need this time around? I think with the tension surrounding the sport between the infighting of the leadership and the doping, we need to break the ice before getting back to the serious work of saving cycling. We need a little comic relief to remind us what it is we are saving. Therefore, before we look for another Boss, we need a King. As in the Lion King.

Mario Cipollini was the sport’s perfect showman. The key differentiating point was he took his work seriously but not himself. That differs from your run of the mill court jester. Let’s take a look at the ingredients.

First the team. No team since the red train of Saeco could control the last 20km of a race. Look at the mayhem in the finale today. Controlling the peloton is a mixture of power and grace. Saeco had that. Even with strong teams like T-Mobile and Fasso Bortolo/Milram, the last few kilometers are akin to the Wild West. I believe that many crashes are due to a lack of order in the peloton.

For further proof, look at the Mario’s trains after he left Saeco. Even the king could not recapture lightning in a bottle.

Now, let’s look at the man. Behind the camera lights was work ethic that the public rarely saw. Many riders in the peloton would mention that Super Mario would regularly put in 300km training sessions. On the road, a palamares as long and as fruitful as his is not done by chance. In his profession, sprinters do not last very long. Mario Cipollini won his first Giro stage in 1989 and his last (42nd) in 2003. Not bad. Add to that wins in classics and his World Championship in 2002 and you have one of the greatest riders in cycling.

Finally with all the showmanship, you never saw anything except total concentration in the final 20km of a flat stage. If you were not in front of Mario when he hit top speed, you were not going to see the line before him.

Of course, we all know Mario the showman. He could go over the top without it looking that way. There are still vestiges of him in the peloton. Whenever a leader wears color coded kits, they owe that to Mario. His comments, his clothes, and of course his kits showed us all that we can be serious and have a little fun at the same time. I think we need a little of that right now.

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One Response to We need our smile back

  1. You’re absolutely right. And SAECO has a special meaning for me as well, since I raced my first ever race in the standard red SAECO jersey (before I knew you weren’t supposed to). I got my bike – a red Cannondale – in 2005 and discovered racing. Alas, that was (I’m pretty sure) SAECO’s last year. Fortunately (or at least comically) I collected all the SAECO stuff from eBay to go with my new bike – in addition to the std red jersey, I got 2 other jerseys, 2 shorts (including my first bibs), socks(!), gloves and even a seatbag(!!). Sadly, as I got more “sophisticated” (and weighed less), I sold off a lot of it – but I still have the “Italian flag” jersey (still one of my favorites), the socks, gloves and seatbag.

    Unfortunately, I also sold that standard red jersey with the “racing pedigree.” Wish I had that back. But it was too large anyway. Anybody got one in medium? ,^)

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