I was just reading about Chris Froome and what his 2019 season goals would be when I found myself nodding off. This is often the case with Froome, an amazing, tenacious and ruthless rider, who has crushed his way to four Tour de France titles.
While immensely successful at winning races, I would rate Froome as mediocre when it comes to the personality test — drawing new fans to the sport, creating a wider interest, giving journalists any quotes more interesting than I did my best, the team was great, hopefully, we’ll keep doing well.
Personality is one of the many issues that keep pro cycling from becoming anything other than a niche sport. One could even argue, given cycling’s long history of doping, that the default is riders who keep a low profile — all the better if somewhere down the road, they get popped for something pharmaceutical and illegal.
In the wake of the Lance Armstrong implosion, we’re all a little wary about larger than life personalities. You just never know what can happen at any moment with any athletes, not matter how clean they claim to be. There seems to be a sad correlation between outsized personalities and doping. Drugs seems to accentuate the ego — think Lance and Riccardo Ricco. In some weird way, clean cycling seems to be connected to a more even-tempered, less volatile and yes, less interesting personality.
Or maybe I’m just crazy and misguided.
Still, the sport is dying for promotion, entertainers, showmen, anyone who can draw a global spotlight. It’s my personal opinion that the UCI should be paying Peter Sagan several million euros a year just for being Peter Sagan. He’s the only star with a halo that covers a wide portion of the sport and reaches a wider audience. Froome, for all his skills on the bike, is rather understated off it.
That brings us to a quick personality rating of the other big grand tour riders. Let’s start with Vincenzo Nibali. By nature of his aggressive and attacking style of racing, the Shark of Messina has a higher wattage than most. However, in general, Nibali is not a fascinating subject for quotes. While on occasion, he gets angry and a little more interesting, he does his best work on the bike.
Tour and Giro Runner-up Tom Dumoulin gets high marks from Twisted Spoke in terms of personality. His open-ness, sense of perspective and willingness to reveal personal details about his life make him an endearing character. His quotes, after the mountain stage up to La Rosiere, about this being the place where his uncle taught him to ski were charming. He seems unafraid of voicing his opinion on whatever subject is put in front of him.
The last few years have been difficult and underwhelming for Nairo Quintana. He’s failed to match his two second place finishes in the Tour de France and seems at best to have hit a plateau and at worst, a slow descent. What’s also been missing has been a more vocal and intriguing Quintana.
When he won the Giro d’Italia in a swirl of controversy that surround the sloppy application of the extreme weather protocol, Quintana was bold, even inflammatory. When people suggested he had unfairly taken advantage of bad conditions on the descent of the Stelvio to steal the Giro from countryman Rigoberto Uran, Quintana minced no words. He said it was ridiculous, a joke and to get the fuck out of his face. We miss that Nairo, because the newer one just isn’t getting the job done.
Romain Bardet is a breath of fresh air but we’re wondering if there’s more personality yet to be revealed. He has a true passion for the sport, an attacking style and an appreciation for cycling history. He’s well educated and informed and I wish he might open up even more. As the cycling cliche goes, he “expresses” himself on the bike but come on, Romain, let’s make some more waves.
While we’re still in France, I should also mention Thibaut Pinot. This is a man with his heart on his sleeve. He’s happy, he’s furious he’s disgusted — you can always tell what’s on his mind because it’s on his face. I make the same request I made to Bardet — step it up, monsieur. Bring that personality out to snarl and shout with joy. Be the anti-Froome.
Simon Yates. I have a lot of hopes for this guy based on his willingness to roll the dice and take chances and his relatively unfiltered attitude with the press. He blew spectacularity in the Giro d’Italia but didn’t mince words about his performance. His attacks in the first two weeks were the highlight of the race before Froome stunned everyone with a crazy long solo attack from long distance on dirt roads that won him the Giro.
Yates was just as entertaining in the Vuelta a Espana. While the story for the opening weeks was a constant replay of “lessons learned from Giro,” he still didn’t play it safe. While every pundit covering the race said he should protect his lead and ride conservatively in the final week, Yates ignored the advice and attacked repeatedly. That refreshing way of racing made me a fan. I’m also looking forward to more of his confident relationship with the media — with the Vuelta title under his belt, I expect to see more personality going forward.
There’s no question it’s easier to spot the personalities when you speak the same language. Primoz Roglic might be hilarious but I’d have a tough time knowing because I don’t speak Slovenian. But I do know that Dan Martin is a man we need much much more of in a sport so needy for strong characters.
Martin’s never-say-die style fo racing is always much appreciated. He’s always willing to give it a go with a mountain attack — even if he’s still nursing his wounds from a crash. He races on instinct and who doesn’t love that when the alternative is the gangly Froome staring down at his power meter?
Martin is Irish and so it’s a given he’s got a fine sense of humor. I wish he could crack the podium in a grand tour because that might loosen his tongue even more. Bradley Wiggins was a funny guy in his day and it would be terrific for the sport if Martin could start cracking a few more jokes.
Is Miguel Angel Lopez a crack-up? He calls himself Superman but I’ve yet to hear anything interesting out of his mouth. What’s on Steven Kruijswik’s mind? I love what he and Roglic did in the Tour and Vuelta but what about some verbal spice? I was also hoping that Mikel Landa — so vocal about not every riding for anyone ever again in a grand tour — would continue to inject inflammatory quotes throughout the year. Sadly, he kept crashing and was largely a non-factor on and off the bike.
Gentlemen, Peter Sagan and his mega-star personality cannot carry the entire sport on his back. We need a few high profile GC riders to step up and do their share. This is a sport, it’s fun, it’s entertaining — let’s start acting like it.