Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Panache isn't wearing a Rapha hat

Over at Cycling Tips, there's a letter from Rapha's president about panache in pro cycling. From on his perch, "inspired by British sartorial heritage," Lord Rapha states:

You know panache when you see it: Marco Pantani throwing down his diamond stud before attacking Indurain on the Monte Campione, Jalabert, the sprinter, attacking in the mountains on an all day escape to become an unlikely winner of the King of the Mountains, Cancellara riding away from peloton in the last few km of a Tour stage in 2007, David Millar attacking into Barcelona in 2009, the screams of thousands of his adopted home crowd ringing in his ears. These are exploits that surprise us with their courage and daring. And the riders with panache are often dashing, charismatic individuals who embrace risk and enjoy probing the edges of what’s possible.

Sure. I like Rapha clothes, but if I ever wear anything by Rapha not won or found in the street, please punch me in the nuts.

Please don't take this to be a condemnation of Rapha, or any other high end apparel hucking shop. I don't begrudge you your pink $400 merino wool hat; fop away. But for me, wearing such an item would tell me that, indeed, I have become everything I feared I would become, i.e., the type of guy who uses words like indeed.

Why do I fear the pink Rapha hat? Well, for me to buy such a thing would mean I'd no longer be the guy who cares about one thing: slaying it. I'd care about stuff. I'd no longer be what I think I am: a Midwesterner obsessed with making my body a weapon, not a mannequin.

To wear Rapha would mean I'd be trying to show a little panache on a bike. A requirement of panache is that you're not trying to show panache; you're just trying, through all means necessary, almost all humiliating, to stomp some faces in.

I've always been a fan of ugly, ugly bike riders, those that Phil and Paul used to single out as being "gangly," "fighting his machine," as ugly on a bike as Charles Barkley was on a golf course, ugly enough that if it went to the beach, cats would try to bury it.

To the point...panache has to mean something more than the guy with the elegant trousers in the English sartorial tradition, or (and this is basically the same thing) the guy with chemically enhanced prowess in the Spanish chemical tradition . This may impress the president of Rapha, and he may call it panache, but it's not panache.

I just read Mike Magnuson's Heft on Wheels, in which he, an alcoholic, smoking, obese man quits his vices and dedicates himself to riding his bike. His inspiration: Lance Armstrong. Magnuson talks about how Lance's cancer treatments stripped excess weight from his body, allowed him to fly up mountains, how Lance's greatness came from his overcoming adversity. This is a well and good, but no one believes it anymore. What was thought be panache, well, it was almost certainly EPO and blood bags.

I'll tell you about panache.

Panache is Jeff Travis of Route 1, every week setting up for Greenbelt, getting dropped most races himself, but getting better, slowly.

Panache is Randy Thrasher, for having a name like Randy Thrasher.

Panache is Tim Rugg dancing on his pedals through the West Virginia mountains in the rain in a brown hoodie.

Panache is Nathan Gazzetta throwing up on his top tube every time he throws in an attack.

Panache is Jose Escobar, gliding up the hills and nothing is ever not worth smiling about.

Panache is Chris Schmidt, at 40 mph, unclipping one leg, reaching down and snagging a dropped glove from the rider ahead of him.

Panache is bizarrely paunchy Rez, eating Spaghettios before the big race:

Panache is Larue.

Panache--with blood doping, panache has become extinct in the pro peleton; I can't think of any real examples from professional cycling. This is what Fignon lamented; for him, it wasn't the introduction of blood boosting that mattered, but the loss of panache.

That's fine. Why would we settle for a remote, unsure kind of beauty, when we can find it in our midsts, among us?


Marten said...

From another midwesterner wanting to avoid becoming a mannequin, good post.

Tim Rugg said...

Panache is Kevin Cross.

Chas said...

But their chamois is so heavenly...

Jim said...

Voigt has panache. Huge crash, covered with blood, bike destroyed, team vehicles gone, uses the yellow kid-sized Mavic Neutral Support bike *like an animal* to catch back onto the group. Thor gets pissed at Cav's insults directed at his being a smart rider, attacks off the front, rides a 230km solo break, cleaning up all the intermediate sprint and KOM points for the day on a hilly stage.

Not all of us have it but I think you're onto something that you either have it or not. I don't have it; I can grind like an SOB but I do not have style on the bike. A few folks do. Not many. The pros are losing it because what style they have is being crushed out of their souls by corporate communications managers. Don't risk saying or doing anything that could hurt the brand; don't attack unless you know you can win; watch your step on that fast descent. It's a shame and it's endemic to modern P.C. life.

Panache isn't dead. But I would agree it is on life support.

Calvini said...

Hey, Voigt is a miracle. You're right, Jim. Rugg--don't flatter me. No one who wears nearly transparent Performance brand Century (TM) shorts with construction-type gloves has panache. I have shabbiness, not panache.