As a spectator sport, the narrative of bike races come from commentators, not the athletes themselves, who are mostly silent. We watch the riders sit incommunicado for three hours, and then at the very end, one of them raises his hands, fingerbangs, releases an arrow from his bow, or rocks the baby, or chops his crotch--and that's supposed to be expressive?
And that's not even considering the other 189-odd non-winning cyclists who communicate nothing at all for the entire race. The 140 characters of Twitter are, in comparison, a veritable Dreamweaver compared to the silence that cyclists must endure.
So when a rider does win, his gesture is packed with meaning. Levi's three-fingered salute, for example, could either be the conveyance that he knows he has his third Tour of California in the bag or the fraternal sign for "one in the X, two in the Y."
Such gestures, in the manner of "Can Stop, Won't Stop" tattoos, often seem to express frustration rather than insight or inspiration. Maybe this is due to the limitations of riding a bike--one can't be in a box, crawling out of a box, swan-diving into the best night of your life on a bike.
Take Mark Cavendish's salute after winning a stage the Tour of Romandie. Afterwards, he told us that the salute was intended for those who doubted his ability to come back from what perhaps the most devastating visit to the dentist in the history of cycling.
But this was after he'd been forced out of the race and fined.
It's a bizarre thing to win and then use the platform of winning to wish ill will upon some person or category of persons. I mean, in the picture, it seems like it's directed at me. And that's the problem with a gesture like this--we could get behind it if we only know that it was directed at the right assholes.
A similar gesture occurred yesterday at the Tour of Qinghai. Ivan Stevic elevated his middle finger after outsprinting the field, which sounds like a bad idea in a place like China.
Stevic "explained after the win that he gestured at the finish with his finger in response to the difficulties his team has endured this week, more so than trying to offend anyone." Among these difficulties his team has endured has been extremely loose stool.
I see no problem with giving the finger to diarrhea, but this is China, and things are different there. For his disrespect to the Party, Stevic was removed from the race and the Communist Party, fined $1,000 Swiss francs and forced to drink local beer in the VIP tent.
Riders forget that they don't necessarily need to tell the world to die with a sufficiently rude gesture. Sometimes, just showing up and riding is gesture enough. Floyd Landis, who kicked off his participation at Cascade, raced in a gray flapping T-shirt and a Cat 5-level number pinjob. That pinjob says more than all the vitriolic fingers ever could.
I'll interpret: "Dear cycling--I ♥ you."