Aug 02, 2018

FANS — HEROES AND NO-NOS

  • Fausto Coppi, style king
  • The dandies of Boulogne
  • A dapper roadside cheers on Charly gaul
  • Don't look back at panda
  • Panda-ing to his fans
  • Cheeky little wave
  • Some American toilet humo(u)r
  • Dore Holte, Antler man
  • Dutch Corner in full swing
  • Roof top parties
  • A fan takes a trip
  • Eddy Merckx nursing a blow
  • Alberto dishes some out
  • Mankini Madness
  • Keep Britain tiny

Sartorial elegance and cycling go hand in hand, right back to Fausto Coppi’s brylcreemed hair and Persol sunglasses the effort into looking good has been equal to that of going fast. We all have our preferred sock length, our own beliefs in how a casquette should be worn and a myriad other written and unwritten rules that add up one thing. Cycling is cool.

In 2012 a group of us left a drizzly and grey London to take in stage 3 of the Tour de France in, what turned out to be, a warm and sunny Boulogne. My travelling companions changed into their shorts, leaving me sweating in jeans and jumper. My only option was to hastily buy my own terrible pair from budget emporium Gémo. They were too small, grey like school trousers and incredibly cheap. “It doesn’t matter” one of our group implored, “who will see you anyway?”. Before too long we were roadside waving our heroes along to a soundtrack of cheering fans and whirling helicopters, filming in full HD glory my unfortunate outfit for the benefit of the ITV highlights package.

Cheap Carrefour hats, oversized fleeces and the kind of t-shirt your mum forced you to wear

I needn’t have worried, I didn’t stand out too much on telly. That roadside was lined with people in terrible shorts, perhaps caught out like myself in Gémo’s best weekend sales in history, but more likely just painfully unstylish. Cheap Carrefour hats, oversized fleeces, the kind of t-shirt your mum forced you to wear — this crowd was as far from cycling’s finest dressed as you could get. What is it with cycling fans, how can there be so much disparity between on bike perfection and off bike rejection of cool?

Of course the roadsides of cycling’s biggest events have more to explain than some unfortunate polo shirt choices, recent history has seen a huge change in the appearance and behaviour of the cycling fan. Look back at the 1920s and through the decades to the 1970s and you’ll see photographs of dapper fans in the style of day, politely cheering on the brave cyclists in restrained manner – keeping their cool and self control as the peloton wheel by. Cycling allows unprecedented access to the fans, the stadium is a public road and we can get as close as we like. Some of us make the most of that, some of us just can't be trusted. We’ve had a look at the heroes and the no-nos of cycling fans — the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good


Dan’s Panda Fan

In 2013 Dan Martin won the most prestigious race of his career, beating Purito Rodriguez in a sprint finish at Liege-Bastogne-Liege to take his first monument. For a good portion of that finale he was chased by a man in a panda suit, the significance of which was not lost on the Irishman; “Its a landmark moment in my career and the panda was part of that.” After that moment the panda became intwined with Martin’s identity with WWF partnering Garmin-Sharp and his helmet and bike taking on matching branding. Martin had t-shirts printed with his panda friend on to raise money for the Cycle for Life charity he’s involved with.

Rowe’s on the Ropes

There’s some cycling pedigree to the tale of the boxer who sparred with Gediminias Bagdonas on Caerphilly Mountain in 2012’s Tour of Britain. Matt Rowe is a former road and track cyclist, a product of the famous Maindy Flyers and one time junior scratch race European Champion. He is also the brother of Team Sky’s Luke Rowe and husband to multi-medal winning Dani Rowe (nee King). His hilltop antics were well received by the racers, which made for a great spectacle but bike races have seen punches thrown in anger, more about that later.

TUEs Life

This year’s Giro stage 19 was the scene of an incredible piece of cycling history, a real ‘wish you were there’ moment of breath taking awe. As Chris Froome attacked with 80km out to wrestle control of the pink jersey, two men dressed as doctors stood waiting on a snow covered mountain brandishing a huge inhaler. Possibly the funniest and most topical roadside satire a grand tour had ever seen, the two medics chased Froome up the road offering a puff as Dave Brailsford planned his post-stage speech about the wonders of marginal nutritional gains. Chapeau boys.

Less successful was The Yellow Syringe man of Lance Armstrong’s comeback year. Running alongside the now disgraced ‘champion’ on Palomar Mountain he got too close for comfort, earning a straight arm from the Texan and a face full of snow. Not all satire is born equal.

Didi or Didn’t He

Didi Senft must be the only example of a fan with equal fame to the riders. As Didi the Devil he has adorned the sidelines of the Tour de France since 1993, becoming a welcome fixture greeted as warmly by the peloton as the TV cameras. People are often not as crazy as they look but Didi is an inventor who has created over 100 bikes and a huge mobile guitar in the shape of a bicycle. This interview with him on InCycle gives a glimpse into his madcap world:

Stag Winner

Over in America the road racing scene is maturing nicely, with multi-stage tours regularly finding their way onto the UK / Europe TV channels and setting their own place in the annual road calendar. Along with it one man is establishing himself as the US Diablo – dubbed Antler Man, The Raging Stag or Moose-Man, Dore Holte has raised the game in roadside uniform. Donning a different American Football helmet and animal antler combo every year, Holte has earned fame for running alongside the gruppetto offering words of encouragement and water. "I'm just a fan to witness these guys who are my heroes, who aspire to climb mountains," he said. "I don't know if I spark them, but it's been a good ride for me."

The Bad


Pass the Dutchies

There’s a section of Alpe d’Huez with as much fame as any grand tour champion, thanks to it’s annexation by the people of the Netherlands. Dutch Corner was colonised after eight of the first 14 finishes were won by a rider from Holland and it has since become party central for beer drinking, techno dancing, pyro wielding fans.

Often talked about in glowing terms for it’s sea of orange passion, for the riders it must be like riding through a beer garden of football fans, picking lines through drunken bodies whilst inhaling smoke and the odour of a thousand nightclubs. Ned Boulting once wrote that Dutch Corner was completely rubbish; “an uphill televised stag-do” made up of “semi-naked halfwits in a tent, living off tepid sausages from a tin and warm supermarket lager”.

There’s definitely nothing cool about it, certainly nobody there making any attempt to be stylish and rarely anyone being funny. Hannah Troop recently wrote about the day the organisers killed Dutch Corner by extending the barriers to hold fans back and banning alcohol. The fans weren’t too happy but the race didn’t suffer. Granted some riders, usually those without a stage win or jersey to fight for, revel in Dutch Corner – taking beer hand ups and joining in with the party but we’re not convinced. We’ll pass on the Dutchies.

Too Close for Comfort

The narrow corridor created on Dutch Corner makes it very tricky for riders to pass one another but at least it’s a fairly permanent fixture, funnelling the riders into space. Marginally safer than when a spectator runs alongside, flag or banner waving in the breeze dangerously close to the rear mech with camera phone aloft staring into the screen with absolutely no sense of direction or purpose in life outside of Facebook.

The most annoying example of this is when the idiot fan has absolutely no interest in the race at all. Lolloping up the mountainside in flip flops and Speedos, Carlsberg in hand, weaving around the road like a goat with concussion, eyes fixed on the camera moto for his few seconds of infamy. The race to him is a vehicle to get on the telly, as he zig zags alongside a rider with ever decreasing pace before offering a friendly shove in the back to a tired grimpeur.

Gendarmes and well intentioned fans are often on hand to hoik one of these idiots out of the way, sometimes, we have to admit, hilariously.:

The Ugly


Punchy Puncheurs

The Puy de Dome was the scene of one of the most infamous instances of fans overstepping the mark when Frenchman Nello Breton reached out from the crowd to land a significant blow to Eddy Merckx’s face and chances of winning the Tour. Merckx completed that stage before heading back down the mountain with the police in tow to identify his assailant. Dressed benignly in white shirt and beige jacket this middle aged and mild mannered hooligan was charged, trialled and found guilty of assault.

On occasion the punching goes the other way when riders, wound up by the antics of the roadside, lash out at those causing them grief only inches away. Froome, Contador and Armstrong have all aimed punches at fans who have got too close for comfort, with Bernard Hinault aiming haymakers at protestors who disrupted stage 5 of Paris-Nice in 1984. Fans aren’t the only ones in the firing line, in 1985 Jan Raas sent a well aimed fist into the mouth of a photographer in his path on the Koppenberg. Don’t make them angry, you won’t like them when they’re angry.

Mankini Madness

Unless you’re an olympic diver or underwear model our days pass by with very little motivation for sharing the unedited detail of our naked bodies with the world. There are, however, a few conditions that provoke men to disrobe; in Newcastle it’s the terraces of St James’s Park as the temperature plummets, on building sites it’s the weakest of rays from the sun in June and on a Pyrenean mountain it’s a combination of ale, TV cameras and the imminent arrival of 200 professional bike riders.

Whether in tiny shorts, grotty little y-fronts or the biggest sin – a mankini, male cycling fans can be found on roadsides from Ilkley to the Angliru subjecting the world to their wobbling bellies, pasty moobs and scrawny cyclist’s arms. It’s not clear for who’s entertainment or benefit this is, but it’s unwelcome and unwarranted and it needs to stop. If you’re one of these men then we are giving you this opportunity to come to your senses. We hereby declare an amnesty on the half naked half wit of the roadside, lay down your mankini (in private) and take up our offer.

By all means cheer on your heroes, knock yourself out if you want to risk being tackled, drink copious amounts of beer (with our blessing) — but please, please dress proudly. We’ll even give you a helping hand with a huge sale on t-shirts, polos and cafe jerseys. With up to 50% off you have no excuse but to dress sharply in cycling inspired gear. For our sake and yours, do the right thing.