Thursday, July 30, 2009

Fumy's Wheelie and the White People Who Loved It

As has been noted by some of the interweb's keenest stereotypists, cycling is on the whole a very Euro-centric sport. The presence of two Japanese riders, one of them, Fumy Beppu, pulling an awesome wheelie, created a great media storm in the year's Tour.
Picture courtesy of

Fumy's wheelie is a somewhat anticlimactic milestone in sports history, especially compared with actually significant moments such as Jesse Owen's achievements in the Nazi Olympics or Abebe Bikila's barefoot marathon win in the 1960 Olympics (see below):

A friend of mine (and a person of color) asked, "There aren't many people of color in the Tour de France, are there?" She said this as we were watching the Tour on Versus: essentially, four white commentators talk about 180 white men, being cheered on by about a million mostly white (and drunk) men. Of course it's Europe, and Europe is mostly white, so this is to be expected, just as it is to be expected that sumo wrestlers are mostly Japanese, banjo pickers are mostly toothless and have reddish necks, and so on.

For me there's no plus side to the exclusion of Africans from the Tour de France. How many Armstrongs have we not seen?

One blogger argues that "the white man's last stand is the Tour de France." He points to the efforts of the African Cyclist's Project and the project's extraordinary results, including the fastest time up Alp d'Huez outside the Tour de France in 2008 and among the top ten times ever recorded outside the Tour de France.

As exciting as this project is, I think the sponsor's optimism ("one of these riders will ride the Tour de France") is misplaced. Racing in Europe requires more than pure talent. Joe Parkin's A Dog in a Hat is testament to this fact. We all know riders with extraordinary motors who can't seem to win.

This doesn't mean Africans can't soon race (and win) the Tour. It simply means that we need more diversity at the lower levels.

We're not going to get it anytime soon from Africa. Having lived in Africa myself, I can say with some degree of confidence that crit racing will not occur there for a good many years. We have enough trouble putting on crits in DC (see the ING Capital Criterium)--imagine the problems with putting on a bike race in Kenya.

I'm glad to see guys like Rahsaan Bahati and Justin Williams excell here in America. I'm glad to see some diversity at the local level, where some of our best racers are persons of color.

It will be some time before we have a peleton in the Tour de France that looks like the world, and not just Old Europe. in my opinion, the obstacles are economic rather than racial, but I could be wrong. Still, the consequences are that our sport suffers: thanks to Tiger Woods and Cullen Jones, we now wear the mantle of "sport most dominated by rich white guys."

That totally sucks because cycling is, at heart, the grittiest and most brutal sport outside sheep castrating competitions.


Greg said...

there's a lot of Spaniards and Basques, this is going to sound horrible, but are they considered white too?

Calvini said...

I have no idea on that, Greg. I don't happen to know any Basques or people with X's in their names in general, for that matter.

And I'm gonna step out on a limb here and predict that we don't have any Basques reading our blog, so this may just remain a mystery.

Anonymous said...

You know what real progress will be? When we stop talking about "color" wholesale.

Calvini said...

And...cue CNN's at a distance coverage of the "White House Beer Summit on Race."