In professional cycling, one can fortunately choose to root for or against riders, teams or even countries. There may not be historical rivalries on par with the Giants-Dodgers, but there are plenty of opportunities to pick sides. These choices are largely arbitrary and superficial but they can make following sports a bit more exciting. And at the end of the day, they don’t really mean anything. Spontaneous emotion and excitement without consequence. It’s great. Unless you are a Colombian soccer player.
Anyway, I would like to start off by saying that I love France. I really do. It is one of the most beautiful countries in the world and has contributed as much to the higher culture of Western Civilization as any. When it comes to art, wine, architecture and scenery, France is about as good as it gets.
But for various reasons, I don’t like many of the country’s professional cyclists.
It all started with Bernard Hinault in the mid-80’s. Oh, how I disliked The Badger, with his snarling grimace and hairy arms. His cheesy Ray Ban sunglasses even reminded me of Mike Ditka, another sports villain from my early teens. Hinault epitomized everything that I questioned about bike racing and his dethroning symbolized the dawn of a new era in cycling. My era, of cool guys wearing Oakleys and Giro helmets. Not grumpy, old, hairy men in Ray Bans.
I recently watched the DVD of the 1986 Tour again and it confirmed all of my initial feelings about the crotchety and conniving Hinault. The aging Frenchman was at the peak of his Badger-ness during the first Tour that I was able to follow as an 11 year old and I still find myself getting annoyed with his antics at 32. I’ll write more about the ’85 and ’86 Tours soon. That DVD is almost like a comedy at this point. It’s incredible.
In terms of my all-time Bad Guys, I would liken Bernard Hinault to the legendary Billy Zabka. If you recall, Zabka (Czech for “Little Frog”) had a remarkable string of Hall of Fame Bad Guy roles in the mid-to-late ‘80’s and still sets the standard by which all others are measured.
Most recognize Zabka as Johnny Lawrence, the quarterback of the Cobra Kai butt-kicking team in the Karate Kid and ultimate witness to the power of the Crane Technique. But just like Hinault, Zabka had a number of other great Bad Guy performances that are often overlooked. I personally think that his portrayal of “Chas” in Back To School was similar to Hinault in the 1985 Tour and the role of Audrey’s boyfriend “Jack” in European Vacation was kind of like the Frenchman’s Coors Classic rides.
Following Hinault in the growing legacy of unlikable Frenchmen, Laurent Fignon came around to challenge the far cooler LeMond in 1989. The silly ponytail and nerdy glasses put Fignon at an immediate disadvantage but there was just simply no way that I could like the guy when he was going up against the greatest comeback story in the sport.
The other HUGE factor in my disapproval of Larry Fignon was his startling resemblance to Robert Preston, also known as the villainous “Kent Torokvei” from Real Genius. While not quite as popular as some of the other ‘80’s movies, Real Genius provided one of Val Kilmer’s better roles as well as a startling glimpse of a Fignon look-alike playing the evil, laser sabotaging Kent.
Needless to say, a few years later when Larry was flopping on the ground after having lost on the Champs Elysees, I couldn’t help but think that Val Kilmer was smiling somewhere. I sure was.
Solidifying this theme of French guys I could do without was the emergence of Richard Virenque. The Festina scandal was just the beginning but let’s just say that Tricky Ricky was not someone that I was rooting for, whether or not he was wining polka-dot jerseys or lying for a couple years about doping.
Virenque’s success in the mountains of the Tour de France forces the comparison to Roy Stalin, the ski racing Bad Guy from Better Off Dead. Not to mention that Stalin stole John Cusack’s girlfriend and Virenque was always called The French Housewives Favorite.
Ironically, Cusack's character in the movie ends up with Monique, a French girl. I don't recall seeing Aaron Dozier in many future roles but then again, he was really just a Zabka wanna-be. Billy must have been busy when they were casting Better Off Dead because he would have been a lock for the Stalin role.
The most prominent current member of the French cyclists that I don’t particularly care for is Le Chien, Christophe Moreau. More than anything, I have found myself questioning his tactics and generally not liking his style on the bike. He will forever be linked to Festina and getting popped for steroids at the Criterium International and his knee-high socks aren’t helping either.
Actually, one of the main issues I have with Moreau is that he looks exactly like a skinny version of a former employer I had back in the Bay Area. I got along quite well with this person but it’s still weird to see a guy that looks like your boss chasing worthless mountain points and generally wasting energy in the Tour. Off-putting at best.
Anyway, beyond all of these things, Moreau kind of reminds me of Shooter McGavin from Happy Gilmore in that he’s just a guy that is easy to like to dislike. It’s an interesting quality.
Truthfully though, compared to other sports, there are really very few cyclists that I dislike. Overall, I think most professional riders are a pretty agreeable bunch. If Terrell Owens, Jeff Kent and Kobe Bryant were bike racers, I would probably not have any of these Frenchmen very high on my list of Bad Guys.