What aging champion do you want offering critiques of the sport?
While we love the way Breton tough guy Bernard Hinault throws drunken podium crashers off the stage, his one-note critiques of the sport are predictable and often self serving. The basic story is always that he was the last real man on a race bike and everyone post-Badger is a lazy, overpaid rider with half his talent.
It’s the same story with old man Moreno Argentin, who recently launched his own broadside, claiming riders were spineless robots lacking fire and originality. He also said they were overpaid and lacking hunger — the money and hunger thing is a constant theme of old guys from the Cyclists Retirement Home.
Apparently riders don’t get enough to eat despite the abundance of foodstuffs and team chefs. And damn those paychecks for being so big. Have Hinault and Argentin been to the grocery store lately? Things cost more these days, fellas and there’s this thing called inflation. Look it up in wikipedia if you have a computer — you know what a computer is, right?
If you want a champion taking shots at you, the best you can hope for is Eddie Merckx. He will call a spade a spade but do it with some restraint. Turns out the Cannibal has something that Hinault and Moreno are short on: class and perspective.
For example, Merckx’s latest comments on the Contador affair. It would have been easy to knock back a few Trappist Ales, then dump on Alberto and along the way pump more air into his own legend. That’s not the way Merckx rolls.
“I’m not passing any judgements on the man or on the consequences,” Merckx told Le Soir. “Frankly I don’t know what is going to happen but the explanations given by Contador seem lightweight and not very credible to me.” That’s an even-handed statement, direct and honest. There’s no bile, ego or dismissive judgements.
Merckx also offered a thoughtful summation of the impact of Contador’s meat-gate on the sport of cycling. “2010 would have been a great vintage without the Contador affair,” Merckx said. “The biggest event of the season was decapitated by this happening. You’ll tell me that there is a scandal practically every year, but here it involves the head of the world rankings, the triple winner of the Tour, it’s not small.”
Merckx never claimed to be much of a reader or intellectual but decapitation is a well chosen image to describe the terrible consequences of the Spaniard’s doping investigation. Spot on, Mr. Merckx.
So once again, we must pay our respects to a truly great champion. Eddy Merckx is always class.