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David L. Stanley

2023 Giro d'Italia: Rest Day Two

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David Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo,, Road, Peloton, and the late, lamented Bicycle Guide (my favorite all-time cycling magazine). Here's his Facebook page. He is also a highly regarded voice artist with many audiobooks to his credit, including McGann Publishing's The Story of the Tour de France and Cycling Heroes.

David L. Stanley

Melanoma: It Started with a Freckle

David L. Stanley's masterful telling of his bout with skin cancer Melanoma: It Started with a Freckle is available in print, Kindle eBook and audiobook versions, just click on the Amazon link on the right.

David L. Stanley writes:

This year’s Giro has been a shitshow. Not the fault of the riders, eh, they’ve been working their collective keisters off in some of the most consistently miserable weather I’ve seen in a grand tour for a long time.

You can’t do anything about the weather or covid. Well, you can do stuff about Covid, but most of us, we’re thinking the dangers are past. We’d be wrong, but that doesn’t help Soudal Quick-Step, Rigoberto Uran, Filippo Ganna, I could go on.

But the weather? We can’t change the weather. But we can change our response to it. Just because helicopters are able to fly, it doesn’t mean it’s safe to race. Last time I checked, helicopters don’t need to have a couple square centimeters of rubber on the water which sits on top of the road to fly safely.

The peloton riding in stage ten's downpour. Movistar photo

Let’s back up for a moment. One of the worst phrases in the world is “We’ve always done it like that.” When you hear someone say that, or words that sound like that, you have my permission to throat-punch them. Gently, please.

Believe it or not, there was a battle in Detroit over seatbelts. “Why do we need to put seat belts in cars?” “I’m not wearing a goddamn seatbelt. It’s better to be thrown clear.” Yeah, right, if you want to be a human projectile who comes to rest, shattered skull first, against the curb.

True story, I had a riding companion years ago who refused to wear a helmet on group rides. We had to ban him from the rides. He died, when his van was T-boned on his way to work and he was launched, no seatbelt of course, through the driver’s side window and headfirst into the street.

Here in the US, we have had a concussion problem with our football players since at least the 1950s. Over 90% of brains donated by NFL players for examination showed chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). That’s a horrible disorder. They used to call it “Punch-drunk.” It means sections of your brain are dead because of contact with the inside of your skull.

Players were encouraged, No, FORCED back out onto the field with concussions. WHY? WE’VE ALWAYS DONE IT THAT WAY. THAT’S HOW REAL MEN PLAY FOOTBALL. It’s asinine, it’s criminal. It’s unnecessary. But I digress.

Do you remember the hoopla that surrounded the introduction of hardshell helmets into the peloton? No? The Blazers long ago decided that leather hairnets were adequate. REAL MEN wear leather hairnets. Yes, some of the racers pitched fits over being told they would be wearing hard-shells, too. I am willing to put that down to years and years of the “hardman” conditioning that surrounds the peloton. WHY? WE’VE ALWAYS DONE IT THAT WAY. THAT’S HOW REAL MEN RACE!”

1972: Eddy Merckx (wearing a leather hairnet) in Mexico City settng a new World Hour Record. The Bell Bike harshell helmet wold not come out until 1975. James Lockwood photo.

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Let’s talk weather. That’s why we’re here. The UCI/RCS/ASO – all the organizing and sanctifying bodies made up of Blazers-for-life have rules about the weather and how to handle it. Those rules are wrong. They represent a mindset that needs to go away.

Look, we can race our bikes in the rain. I’ve done it. Sometimes, I stayed up, more often I crashed. Paint stripes on the roads in the rain are more slippery than two ice cubes rubbing together, I swear. Here’s the funny thing about crashing in the rain. You may not get a lot of road rash, the coefficient of friction between skin, lycra, and water being what it is, but the bruising from impact is every bit as painful. You slam into the tarmac at 50 km/hr and Newton’s Force = Mass X Acceleration is still in play. You cannot defeat the basic laws of physics. You may look “better,” whatever the hell that means, after the crash, but you still got beat up by an angry mob with 2x4s.

The cumulative effects of crashing repeatedly in the rain are significant. You crash once, you’ve essentially been assaulted, you are tired, you are damaged, you are far more likely to crash again that day, and if the rain keeps up, again and again the days after. 6 hours on a bike, in 10C degree weather, in the torrents? It grinds you down.

The weather I’m talking about is the deluge; the cataracts of waters crashing down mountain sides. Rain that would make every man named Noah go looking for gopher wood. Rain that shuts down entire towns. Like Cesena, Italy, Marco Pantani’s hometown the day after this year’s Giro visited there. Boats, literally, being rowed through city streets. Why would you try and run a race the day before?

Andy Hampsten rode one incredible stage in the Giro of 1988, over the Gavia pass, in a horrific snowstorm. It was, to use the classic phrase, “AN EPIC DAY.” He was caked in ice, quite literally, at the finish. We’ve all seen the photos. If you haven’t, google it right now, I’ll wait.

We'll save you the trouble. Here is Andy Hampsten on that epic day.

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Okay, we’re back. I’ll say it out loud. There was no need to ride that full stage under those conditions. And there is no need to do that today. Riders are not prisonniers de la route. They are not clowns, here for our amusement. They are not gladiators, fighting to the death to satisfy our need to see blood and guts spilled on the road to make us feel somehow connected to their sacrifice.

These are humans with families who depend on them. Remember Johnny Hoogerland, the rider who was careened off the road and into a barbed wire fence in the Tour a few years ago? In a post-race presser, he said, “This sort of thing should not be allowed, should not be happening, we all have little ones at home, wives, we cannot be forced to risk our lives just for the Tour.”

Look, I understand that Hoogerland didn’t crash in the rain. It was a lovely summer’s day, if I recall correctly. Which I do. That’s not the point in this instance. What is the point is Johnny’s simple plea for the public to understand the humanity and frailty of the racers.

Johnny Hoogerland in the 2014 Giro d'Italia. Sirotti photo.

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The riders are not disposable. They are the sport. Protect them and honor their lives and effort by treating their livelihood with respect. When there is a deluge, when there is snow, freezing rain, sleet? Take action. Shorten the stage. Put the riders on the team bus and move them 100 km down the road. Neutralize the stage.

Hey, get ready to clutch your pearls. You can cancel stages. Or postpone it until tomorrow and the race ends up in Rome or Milan or wherever on a Monday. Economics be damned. The riders should matter more than the money. Oh, wait, now I’m just being stupid.

As stupid as “We’ve always done it that way. That’s how real men race.”

David Stanley, like nearly all of us, has spent his life working and playing outdoors. He got a case of Melanoma as a result. Here's his telling of his beating that disease. And when you go out, please put on sunscreen.


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