By Lyndon Ferguson
The human memory is a strange and mysterious thing. Most of life’s experiences and observations pass through our mind with nothing more than a fleeting blip of conscious recognition. Every now and then, life throws something at us that seems to imbed in our memory like dinosaur footprints in Jurassic mud.
In years to come I probably won’t remember who won the 2012 edition of Liege-Bastogne-Liege. I am certain, however, that I will always remember who came second.
The history of cycling is littered with references to glorious failures. I’ve read so many stories over the years about the gallant Raymond Poulidor – The Eternal Second – that any mention of the man and his considerable achievements is reduced almost to the point of cliché. Jacques Anquetil famously envied the adoration that Poulidor received from the French public despite consistently beating him (and pretty much everyone else) on the bike.
The public love an underdog, a fighter who struggles on, even when faced with certain defeat. Cycling is particularly susceptible to such sentiments. For any given race there can only ever be one winner, and well over a hundred losers. So we cycling fans look for the glory in defeat, the good fight fought, and lost.
Watching Liege-Bastogne-Liege today I came to understand why this is the case. The images of Vincenzo Nibali will live with me forever. He went early, blowing the race apart. With 10km to go the Liquigas-Cannondale rider looked to have the race won, when a combination of spent legs and an inspired chase by Maxim Iglinskiy relegated Nibali to second.
The pain on his face, the way his form on the bike literally fell apart, head dropped below his shoulders. Body spent. Spirit broken. Anyone who has ever ridden a bike in anger knows just how he felt at that point. It is this connection, this common reality shared by cycling fans and the elite riders they come to support, that makes this sport so rich.
It is also why Vincenzo Nibali is now, and always will be, one of my heroes.