A few weeks ago , an image from the 1990 Vuelta a Espana of Danish cyclist Alte Petersen bleeding from the head while having his hair cut from the team car made the rounds on Twitter. The image is violent, Petersen gritting his teeth, the picture of anguish as he continues to ride his bicycle, visibly and gravely wounded.
The tweet’s caption on this picture was a flippant joke: “I’d have probably just asked for the rest of the day off.”
Posts consisting of cyclists wounded and maimed—yet continuing to ride their bikes—circulate quite often on Twitter with similar quips: these are real hardmen not like you or me or athletes in other sports like soccer, which are full of pampered weaklings. These images—Petersen in the Vuelta, Jani Brajkovič bleeding from a similar gaping wound in his head in Stage 5 of the 2011 Tour de France, Eddy Merckx getting back on the bike with a broken jaw—are celebrated as a macho ideal, a visual testament to the toughness of cycling. In reality, all they do is fetishize human pain.
Cycling is a difficult sport. Within its pages are great stories of human resilience in the face of struggle and defeat. In our contemporary era, take, for example, Primož Roglič winning the Olympic Time trial after crashing out of the 2021 Tour de France, or Thibaut Pinot coming back from what seemed like a permanent back injury to win a stage of the 2022 Tour de Suisse. These are admirable feats that […]