Every sport claims to have its so-called hardmen; even football, even a sport populated mainly by middle-aged men with shaved legs and clad in Lycra.
Rugby has the chiropractors who hit so hard they move sinew and bone out of place with one hard hit, then put it back again with a second attempt; in cricket the hardmen used to be the pace bowlers who sprinted in over after over with no help from the pitch or the weather; in athletics they are defined as the old school road runners pounding out the miles no matter what the weather; and there are the swimmers who break the ice on Christmas morning to get some wild-water miles in.
Even football has its legendary hardmen (not the ones without self-tanning moisturiser or an eponymous perfume range but the men who take no prisoners in the battle for the ball, defy authority and tend to take man and ball in one over-zealous challenge). They, by the way, are becoming more rare in the modern non-contact version of the sport.
But cycling is a class apart when it comes to hard. This is a sport, remember, where many of its top-level protagonists weigh about the same as your average commuter bike.
For one, it is a sport where learning to suffer is actually a technique. And two, riders at all levels take pride in their medical-defying methods.
The photo here was posted on Twitter by @taylorphinney It tells tales of hardship and heroism.
There are fabled riders throughout the sport who leave us mere mortals gasping at their sheer toughness and determination.
Broken collarbone? Crack on, even if it means grinding teeth down to the stubs, just so long as you finish today. Then see how it goes tomorrow. And for the next three weeks.
Broken vertebrae? Find a position on the bike where you can alleviate the pain, stay there for five hours or so today. And tomorrow. And the next day. By then you’ll be used to the new position so you can crack on again.
Broken nose? Breath through your mouth, get to the finish today, see how it goes tomorrow, and the next day, and so on.
Vicious boil on the backside? Cut a hole in the saddle to rest it in, then get to the finish today, see how it goes tomorrow, then crack on.
Broken wrist and hand? You’ll probably have to skip today and tomorrow, but get back on the turbo trainer so you don’t lose condition, then back to racing as soon as the plaster comes off.
One of the sport’s famous tragedies brought us the words “Get me back on the bike”.
Cyclists resemble those Central American lightweight boxers who just cannot be put down, no matter how hard they are hit, no matter the odds against them or the hype surrounding their challenge. They go toe to toe and they stay there.
It is exactly how cyclists, and not just the elite ones, face the opposition, whether that comes from other riders, the weather or the road. Heroes.
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