There is an old saying that says when you are putting together a basketball team remember, “You can’t teach height.” This let’s everyone know that you need a combination of hard work and a little bit of luck in the genetic lottery. So, the first step in becoming a professional cyclist is to pick the right parents.
Folks like me, have come to grip with the fact that while I have the passion of a thoroughbred, I have the body of a Clydesdale. That was tough to realize and took a little while to settle in. The feeling is very similar to a mountain stage in a bike race. You all start at the bottom together. Then as the stage grows, the pack starts to thin. That’s OK because even through you are at your limit; you are still with the elite group. You’re ego convinces you that you are just as good as anyone in this group. Then the group becomes more of a line and you are at the back of that line trying to hold the wheel of the person in front of you. The ego still sees the group, sees the leader and feeds you the information that you belong. Then, someone picks up the pace. You see the wheel in front of you inch away. You are now only a couple of feet behind that wheel and desperately trying to hold on to the lead group. After all, you worked as hard as anyone there so you belong. Right? Wrong.
The big engines take it to a level you had no idea existed. Then the realization quickly sets in. You are not a thoroughbred. You are at peak fitness, the best you can be, and you are dropped. This figurative example happens to all of us at some point. Some earlier than others. The acceleration tends to happen between town sports and travel, middle school and high school, high school and college, college and the pros.
Sport drops us. We all can’t be Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, Michael Jordan.
Now, let’s say you won the genetic lottery. You are blessed with the natural ability that 99.9% of us envy. Sprinkle in some hard work and you stay with all the accelerations and make it to the top! Only to find out that at the top, there is one person who had a better lottery ticket. Only one person. If you were born a little earlier or a little later and you would have enjoyed the accolades you so richly deserved.
The last Triple Crown in horse racing was won in 31 years ago in 1978. No horse has been able to do it since. The horse was called Affirmed. What a beautiful horse. Very few horses were blessed with the ability to run like Affirmed. Certainly not in the last 31 years. In all three Triple Crown races, Affirmed ran away from the field like they were standing still. Everyone except Alydar. Alydar might be the second best horse of the last 50 years. Also a beauty to behold. Alydar had only one flaw. He was born at the same time as Affirmed.
When the greatest horses of all time are mentioned, Affirmed is hailed as one of only 11 Triple Crown winners. Alydar barely gets mentioned. Alydar is the only horse ever to finish second in all three races. And those seconds were measured in inches. If it were not for a cruel twist of fate, there would be 12 Triple Crown winners.
Is Tyler Farrar cycling’s Alydar? Is Andy Schleck? I hope not. I am huge fans of both and don’t want to see these two cyclists as a footnote in history. After watching the Tour de France this year, I marveled at these two riders. Then I lamented the fact that they are part of the Mark Cavendish/Alberto Contador era in cycling.
I know what my fall felt like. When you get that far, how does it feel?