Now that winter is approaching what can serious cyclists do to occupy the endless hours they usually spend cycling spring, summer, and fall? Some guys in Pelham will cycle 18,000 kilometres or more this year. Do the math. They’re fast riders, but even at a 30 kph average that’s 600 hours of cycling, or 15 hours per week, March to November.
Pelham is home to serious female cyclists too, rapaciously devouring kilometres and unsuspecting male riders who might attempt to keep up with them on the road. The cycling part I completely understand, but to publicly speculate how such women might fill their winter non-riding days is outside my expertise. Prudence and an abundance of caution dictate I stick to discussing the two most likely male options: watching pro cycling or football.
Yes, there are a growing number of cyclists using trainers each winter in their homes, gyms, or spinning studios, but what about those whose callused sit bones and mashed down-below nerve fibres categorically demand a break from pedalling? Remember the good old days, say back in 2010, when a guy could squander a dozen January afternoons watching Lance Armstrong and his band of merry cheaters cycle Australia’s Tour Down Under stage race, for free, on TV? Put up your feet, pop open a low-calorie beer, and share the glory of your favourite pro cyclist via television. Or did you pack your love of cycling away with your bike when the temperature dropped to zero, pull out a tattered Buffalo Bills jersey, paint your face blue, put up your feet, pop open a smuggled American Budweiser, and pray that this would finally be their year.
For the record, I truly love my Canadian football much more than the over-hyped NFL four-down version, but now that climate change has arrived in Pelham we serious cyclists are outdoors riding on Grey Cup weekend with little more discomfort than cold toes and the odd nasal drip.
The similarities between watching the NFL and pro cycling are striking, and it’s hard to choose which is better. Both sports are incredibly boring to watch until right near the end, when the best cyclists sprint to the finish line or the home team desperately fights against the clock for a come-from-behind victory. Extremely talented play-by-play announcers struggle to make the early portion of the broadcast even remotely interesting. Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen prattled on about every aspect of the top riders and race, then used quick cuts to photos of the spectacular Australian coast when they ran out of prattle. Anytime announcers Troy Aikman and Joe Buck sensed NFL viewers might switch channels, they would cut to ten seconds of cheerleaders leaning forward blowing kisses to the cameramen kneeling at their feet. Much as I live for cycling trivia and ocean waves, score one for the NFL. Lance may have ultimately confessed to Oprah that he cheated to win his seven Tour de France (TdF) yellow jerseys, but while he was the iconic Texas-born, cancer-surviving American Hero, spanking all his haughty European competitors, he ignited an unprecedented interest in competitive cycling in North America. When Lance rode the TdF, the television networks followed. The 2022 TdF attracted an international audience of 3.5 billion, number one of all sporting events, but its North American audience has deflated like a bike tire with a slow leak. NBC Sports Network officially pulled the plug on cable broadcasts of bike racing at the end of 2021, leaving streaming as the only way to watch pro cycling in Canada. This year the NFL is attracting an average of 17 million television viewers per game in the United States alone, their best ratings since 2015. Why the disparity?
Both sports have fan-familiar veteran warriors. Aaron Rodgers has been quarterbacking the Green Bay Packers to divisional titles for 17 years, and Columbian Nairo Quintana remains one of the best cyclists to never win the TdF during his 14 years as a pro. Rodgers leads a squad of ten players on the field, gets rid of the football as fast as he can, and doesn’t believe in man-made Covid vaccinations. Quintana puts in the distance beside his teammates in every race, and he cried when he left Movistar, his team of many years. Cycling wins this point hands down.
Speaking of hands-down wins, NFL touchdown celebrations are ridiculous. When’s the last time you saw a cyclist do a lame end zone dance or weird group charades moves moments after a stage win, or thump his chest silverback style after purposely knocking another rider down, or flare his nostrils, make a crazy face and scream, “Dats da way y’all play de game mutha”? Can you imagine unassuming Dane Jonas Vingegard (2022 Yellow Jersey winner) or quintessentially Canadian Hugo Houle (2022 Stage 16 winner) rant such an inane comment from the podium?
I’m betting the primary reason for these striking behaviourial differences is because once pro cyclists put on their helmets, they all leave the starting line by pedaling in the same direction. When football players compete, they line up facing each other helmet to helmet, with the clear intention of smashing into one another with as much ferocity as possible.
Then there’s the 45-second play clock, put in place so football players with short attention spans don’t forget why they’re on the field, and actually run a play occasionally. It appears most pro riders can at least remember unassisted to keep pedaling as they race, and pro cycling teams can change a flat tire quicker than most quarterbacks can call a snap count. Point to cycling.
A random poll of those few female cycling friends that actually watch NFL football and pro cycling call it a draw when it comes to their preference for the boys of the NFL or pro cycling. Five percent favour the lean, shaven, wiry and taut leg muscles and flowing hair of cyclists, whose sexy European names they can’t pronounce, while another five percent are firmly in the camp of NFL players’ bulging biceps, shoulder length dreads, upside down black eye shadow and chamois-free tights. Ninety percent are undecided and claim to need a lot more viewing time to decide.
Without doubt, football players have more interesting names than pro cyclists. Who could forget Taco Charlton, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Guy Wimper, Dick Butkus, or John David Booty, to name a few. Other than ironically named Canadian racer Ryder Hesjedal, cycling stars’ names are decidedly humdrum and usually difficult to pronounce. Point to the NFL.
Plus there’s Super Bowl commercials and halftime spectacles. When’s the last time you saw a list of the ten best Tour de France TV commercials? Pro cycling could use a decent half time show too. Wouldn’t it be fascinating if all the racers in the peloton stopped for a rest and latte at the bottom of the Col du Tourmalet while the Sorbonne University marching band dragged a wheeled stage with the Foo Fighters or Maneskin onto the course. Imagine Paul and Phil trying to call that scene today.
Alas, I fear another winter of indecision approaching, with pro cycling streaming on the laptop and Monday Night Football playing on the flatscreen TV beside it, while I sit hoping for an early spring.