At almost every stage of the big North American races this year, someone would bring me cookies. If I recognized the guy or girl, I'd have one (or three). If they contained butterscotch or cranberries, I'd pretend to be happy, even though I hate butterscotch, and cranberries have no place in a cookie. If I thought there was any chance they'd contain cannabis (they never did), I'd give them to our mechanics.
Teammates and friends share the bounty, some combination of jealous and grateful. I do enjoy a cookie, but it's confusing, because as Ben King once pointed out, "Who doesn't like cookies, Phil?" It's a great point.
I don't know how the cookie thing started, but I didn't plan it. Remember in high school, when everyone's searching for an identity, so one day they listen to a band, someone tells them it's cool, so they buy five T-shirts, and now that's their thing? I think that's what happened to me. I noticed that people liked it when I mentioned cookies, so I gave them more chocolate tweets, and it snowballed. Ted King did it with maple syrup. Mike Creed got lots of bourbon. Tayler Wiles also gets cookies, and she'll hear from my lawyer. Someone should make sports cars their thing and see if they get a free Ferrari (I get to drive it, because it was my idea).
I'm certainly not complaining about free cookies. My point is how easy it is to engage with fans, and how eager they are to connect with riders.
Claudio Chiappucci made comments recently that riders today are too boring, robots, that only Peter Sagan has personality. I think he mostly meant on the bike, and his comments were about a sport that's gotten less fun to watch than in his day, because guys aren't attacking each other at full sprint on steep climbs anymore, nor are they going solo with 200km to go.
Has cycling lost its personality? People always think fondly about the good old days. Saturday Night Live was funnier when you were 14 years old, and bike racing was cooler for Chiappucci when he was in it. But if you go back to the Chevy Chase years, there were plenty of bad jokes, and the 1990s certainly saw its share of boring Tour stages.
One argument is that as technology and teams advanced, the guy who saves the most energy is the guy who wins. Racing is fun, and hiding in the pack is boring. Chris Froome would probably love to show more panache, to attack every five minutes. I agree that Sagan is fun to watch, but even he's not firing off bullets until a few kilometers to go. If you want to show personality in a race in 2015, you can finish 20 minutes down, but do a wheelie across the line and all is forgiven. But if you show it by attacking solo from the gun, expect the boss to get pissed. You don't win bike races that way anymore.
Out there for our sponsors, and entertain the fans. With no drugs
The elephant in the room here is that if bike racing is in fact less fun to watch, it's because we don't have the same doctors they had back then, if you know what I mean. Sponsors didn't like doping, so riders knocked it off. When your hematocrit is in the forties, and you attack 10 times, you feel it the next day (or week). Should we feel guilty about that?
If you want to connect to fans and really appeal to the mainstream, of course the best way is to win a world championship, get cancer, beat cancer, win the Tour, host SNL, and then lose it all on Oprah. But lets not go there.
I had to google "Chiappucci" when I read his comments. I don't mean that as an insult, and I don't think he knows who I am, either. I don't think he knows very many professionals today, because there are a lot of great personalities if he looked a little harder. We just have to put in more effort, to show our personalities off the bike.
Cycling is a sport that's particularly attractive to folks who want to go out and be by themselves for six hours at a time (or as some might call us, "loner weirdos" or "robots"), which means that many cyclists aren't comfortable in front of a crowd, or sharing their lives with the public.
But we're trying. Orica-GreenEdge put out a Youtube video where the riders lip-synced "Call Me Maybe." When Tejay van Garderen dropped out of the Tour de France this year, I bet all he wanted to do was punch pillows in the bus with his puny arms, but he went out in front of the cameras and microphones instead, to tell the world how bummed he was.
There are still a few pros who complain when they have to do a sponsor event or talk to the media. "I just want to do my job, to train and win races," I've heard them say. But most us have learned that's not our job. Our job is to be out there for our sponsors, and entertain the fans. With no drugs.
So keep the cookies coming next year, folks. I'll be practicing my wheelies.