Lance Armstrong once said ‘Sometimes you’re the hammer, sometimes the nail’. I like this, it’s realistic, but I (and several others) believe there is another class of rider who, despite the fact that on that day they’re ‘The Nail’, they still give it to the hammer and make the wood hurt. These are the riders who are very good at examining the inside of their skulls, they gladly climb aboard the pain train, they have a set of rollers and a TV set up in the pain cave and if they had a choice, they’d only have a big ring on their bikes. So, without further ado, lets take a look at a select few of these legendary hard men.
Jens is so hard, his name should arguably become the new word for the gutsy, turning-yourself-inside-out style of riding he has trademarked. In fact, if you’ll indulge me (although I’m doing it anyway), for the rest of this blog it shall be referred to as Jensian. Jens doesn’t seem able to ride without intense suffering, without absolutely pummelling himself working for his team. ‘Shut Up Legs’ has become his trademark phrase and the covering of many cycling t-shirts.
On his withdrawal from the Tour of California:”I would like to apologize to the fans not only for withdrawing but for the two stages I did manage to do after I broke my hand. I was just operational on those days, and that does not satisfy me. I am never there just to fill up the numbers. So, please dear fans: Don’t be mad at me! Do not start thinking I am getting all soft in my old days. I will make up for everything in Tour of Colorado, or even maybe next year in Tour of California.”
In a classic bit of Jens, he recently rode and finished two stages of the Tour of California with a broken hand. He then had to be convinced to withdraw from the race in order to have surgery. Having done this he apologised to his fans for letting them down. Jensian indeed.
This Tour de France Jens has been no less phenomenal. In stage 14 he crashed twice; the first time seemingly disappearing off the edge of the road, before reappearing to get a new bike; and the second time hitting the tarmac so hard he broke a nearby seisometer. After all this, once he’d climbed up off the patch of tarmac he’d broken, he caught the main field, moved through it, then proceeded to get on the front and do what he does best, make other people suffer.
Jens is one of my favourite, and it’s fair to say cycling’s favourite riders. He rides so hard again and again, pummelling the peloton for his team at the grand age of 39, one of the oldest riders in the peloton. But what I really, really like, is that behind his phenomenal performances he seems a very genuine, very nice family man. Genuinely Jensian.
It would be near impossible to have avoided hearing about Vacansoleil rider Johnny Hoogerland’s Jensian behaviour at this years Tour de France. The Dutch cyclist hit the international press when a convoy car took him and Sky’s Juan Antonio Flecha out on Stage 9 of the Tour, sending him flying in to a barbed wire fence.
When asked about the crash Hoogy said: “It might be a scandal but I don’t think they did it in purpose. Everything’s well taken care off over here but… you can be mad but I don’t think they did it in purpose… I know that I’ll be in a lot of pain during the rest day. I hope I can recover. It’s a pity but I’m a Zeelander. We’re not easy to tear apart. I’m still alive.”
Hoogerland went on to finish inside the time cut off despite the deep lacerations (which required 33 stitches) to his legs. In an emotional scene he was then able to stand on the podium to receive the polka dot jersey. He spent the following rest day in ice baths and cold compression, but has gone on and as we write is still going strong in the tour! What makes it all the more remarkable for us, and what elevates him to the status of Jens is his acceptance that it was an accident. No tantrums, he just got back and carried on working for the team.
I’m afraid I showed my relative lack of age when this name came up in PBK Towers. I’d heard of Ireland’s Stephen Roche but until now I had been unaware of his Jensian exploits in 1987 when he became only the second cyclist to win the Triple Crown (winning the Tour, Giro and World Championships in the same year, the only other person to have done this is Eddy Merckx).
His pivotal Jensian moment occured on the 1987 TdF in a stage crossing the Galibier and Madeleine finishing in La Plagne. Having been on a solo attack for a few hours, Roche was caught on the final climb by Pedro Delgado, who put in a gap of a minute and a half by the mid-way point. Remarkably, Roche pulled this deficit back to 4 seconds. On crossing the finish line Roche collapsed and lost conciousness, once revived when asked if he was ok, he replied: “Yes, but I am not ready for a woman straight away.” A B.I.G Ring Jensian indeed.
Mario ‘The Lion King’ Cipollini.
A strange choice I hear, what’s remotely Jensian about Mario Cipollini? There’s plenty of B.I.G Ring about Cipo. For a start, his idea of a cute, cuddly PR shot involves a lion. Granted, it’s no bear (speaking of which a PBK jersey to the first Big Ringer who releases a PR shot with a bear that isn’t photoshopped), but a lion is pretty hardcore.
In 2002 Cipo was arrested for motorpacing on the Italian Autostrada, when asked why he said it was the only place he could safely get up to top speed for training.
Notorious for being outrageous, his choice of skin suits drew much attention as did his interviews; when famously asked what he’d be if he wasn’t a cyclist he remarked he’d be a porn star. But behind the noise and flamboyance the Italian stallion embodies many B.I.G Ringer attributes; he was one of the greatest sprinters of his time and wore the rainbow jersey. He could also be humble, when he broke Alfredo Binda’s record number of Giro stage wins he said he would have been happy “just to polish Binda’s shoes”. He added (and continues to add) colour to the sport, whilst also being very, very good.
Cipo sticking it to the man with a bottle!
Otherwise known as Le Badger, Hinault is the only cyclist to have ever won all of the Grand Tours more than once. In a glittering career the five times TdF champion is also remembered for being uncompromising and even aggressive.
“I attack when I’m tired. In that way no one knows I’m tired.”
A patron of the peloton, he ruled with an iron fist but he was as hard with himself as he was with others. In the 1980 Liege-Bastogne-Liege he was victorious in a solo victory by nearly ten minutes, in a blizzard which left only 21 riders finishing.
Hinault retired in 1986, at the peak of his career and began a career as a farmer, working for the TdF and also as a technical consultant for Look pedals. But in true B.I.G ring style, he remained uncompromising – when a protester jumped on to the podium of the third stage of the 2008 Tour, it was Hinault who leapt forward and shoved the protester off.
We couldn’t have an index of hard men and not include at least one Belgian. Whether it’s the weather, or a genetic trait, Belgians know how to ride and suffer, especially when the conditions get worse and Eddy Merckx has to be the greatest of them all. Five Tour victories, five Giro victories, he won all of the Cycling Monuments at least twice and he won the World Championships four times, once as an amateur.
Perhaps Merckx’s finest moment (although I concede that choosing one is difficult) and one that ironically illustrated his true nature was the 1975 Tour de France. Aiming for a sixth Tour victory, this was also to be his first defeat in the Tour, and probably signalled the end of his reign ahead of his retirement in 1978. The tour started badly for Merckx when was punched hard in the stomach by a spectator on a climb in the Massif Central.
Merckx’s true quality was shown in Paris after defeat in the TdF when he said: “I tried everything and it didn’t work. It’s always the strongest that wins, and the strongest is Thevenet.”
Then, on stage 17 in the Alps Merckx crashed heavily, breaking his jaw. For the remainder of the Tour he could only drink fluids, yet he fought on, racing for his team mates (without his second place prize money most of their work over the three weeks would have been for very little) and his honour. Merckx was a true warrior on the bike, but magnanimous in victory. One of the greatest B.I.G Ringers of all time.