(Eddy Merckx was fanatical about his equipment)
Before the days of twitter , Facebook and the Internet the greatest cyclists in the World were almost supernatural . Fans would spend days recounting any brief glimpse of a Champion in the flesh . Monthly magazines like ‘Winning’ were torn apart as pictures of Hero cyclists were blue-tacked to bedroom walls . Classic and Tour winners had an aura similar to Film stars where just their presence in a room could be felt without even seeing them . They were Hero’s who could inspire a nation !
(Lance and Johan tweeting)
Nowadays with so many Professional and not so professional riders on twitter , Facebook etc. every small mundane part of their lives is immediately in the public domain , as are any personality quirks or irks . Many will think that this is a good thing as there is no such thing as too much information and the sooner they get it the better .
But , and it is a big but , is the ability to see the current crop of professional sportspeople , warts and all , taking from the inspirational hero qualities that the Champions of the past had .
(Geraint Thomas on Twitter )
On twitter last week two of Geraint Thomas’ team mates got hold of his phone and tweeted that a girl was pregnant . Immediately tweets of congratulations were flooding into his twitter timeline and he quickly had to make a denial and apologise to his actual girlfriend , all live on the net for all to see . Nicholas Roche took umbrage at a mediocre review of his book and asked the reviewer on twitter what they had accomplished . Most of his tweets are also punctuated with some very unusual spellings . Robbie Mcewen apologised to Mark Renshaw for puking on him during a race . All of this is hugely interesting to those with a tabloid mentality but is it ‘professional’ . Is all publicity good publicity ?
Now , obviously the carry on of Thomas and his team mates was just a few lads having the craic and Nicholas Roche comes across on twitter as a really nice down to earth guy , just as he does in his book but would any of this make you want to get up at 5 am to get out training on your bike in order to emulate your heros ?
Think back to interviews with the ultimate professional cyclist Sean Kelly . Each and every answer given to a journalist’s question was preceded with a deep inhale of breath followed by a pursing of lips to allow the air back out as the eyebrows raised and the forehead furrowed before all releasing as the answer poured forth . This all took 4 to 5 seconds during which the answer was being well thought out and a concise insightful and very professional answer was given . Kelly was a 24/7 professional and was always aware of representing his sponsors in a professional manner .
(Kelly then and now always a professional)
Nowadays it is the sponsors who want the riders on twitter , Facebook etc. as they see this as free widespread viral marketing , but is this going to be a short-term gain at the expense of the true fanatical following that real Hero’s inspire ?
Many of today’s pro cyclists are dependant on their coaches , nutritionists and mechanics to do every thing for them so that all they have to do is ride the bike . Some don’t even know how to wash a bike properly or even change a tube if they puncture on a smooth road in Mallorca with no team car around . Kelly and Champions like him knew every facet of their profession inside out and their attention to detail was legendary . I remember building a bike for Kelly and when he was collecting it he asked if the saddle was level , I put a level on the saddle and showed him the bubble perfectly centred , then he asked ‘is the floor level ?’ I put the level on the floor and sure enough it was very slightly off . The saddle had to be adjusted slightly to compensate . That is the attention to detail that he brings to everything he does !
Perhaps today’s professional sports people should be given classes in how best to be ‘professional’ in their dealings with all forms of media , or maybe those days are gone and true ‘God like’ Hero’s will never be seen again .