Words: Guy Andrews
Where have all the heroes gone? I do wonder. In the over-calculated, controlled and predictable racing world, is there any room for panache?
I’d like to suggest that it’s something you ‘have’ rather than ‘show’? Some riders just look classy whatever they do. And sometimes panache is about throwing it all into the race and having a go, after all, is panache all about winning and good luck? I also wonder if it’s a cultural thing too; the Belgians are a class apart when it comes to style and Phillipe Gilbert has it in spades. On the other hand George Hincapie (and most US riders, to be frank) have a lot less. Those British riders that have it, probably without knowing; Robert Millar had it and his compatriot David Millar still does, when he can be bothered. Antipodeans like Stuart O’Grady and Julian Dean look like they really couldn’t care less whether they have it or not, but ironically both do. Time triallists never seem to show any – Bradley Wiggins doesn’t really show any signs of panache, nor did Miguel Indurain, Tony Rominger or Chris Boardman, as their talents lay in their legs alone. As for Eastern Europeans, they have a fair share of panached riders: Andrei Tchmil, Vladimir Karpets and, my current favourite, the frighteningly scary looking Sergueï Ivanov. Italian riders just all think they have it, but few do. And then there’s the French: panache is their word, after all, and they all want it, but perhaps a little too much…
As for panache in racing this year, it’s been thin on the ground. My examples are numerous, but this year’s Paris Roubaix was the most negative race I’ve seen in a long time: no one willing to attack Fabian Cancellara, so an unfancied rider gets the chance to sneak away and wins it. Such is racing sometimes. And more fool the stars of the race. You could suggest that this sort of thing would never have happened before race radios. But it did.
I stake a claim for young British rider Geraint Thomas. My case: Tour of Flanders. He chased everything for his team leader Juan Antonio Flecha (whom he beat in the end), could have won, and he will one day. He said afterwards: “I really enjoyed myself” – as humble as you like. And his rise into the professional ranks continues to raise eyebrows. So far in this year’s Tour he’s been up there most days. He’s got ‘it’ already in my book.
Geraint – he’s got ‘it’
There are no risk takers at the moment, just wheel-suckers – GC contenders that never attack before the final 5kms when the risk of losing seems to be a greater motivator than the risk of possibly winning. Or at least trying to win. For the moment panache is dead. Or so we were starting to believe.
This Tour has started to show an interesting shift: perhaps it’s the lack of long time trials, perhaps the fact that the favourites are all in fine form, but to see Alberto Contador, Cadel Evans and co fighting hard (really hard) for the line on stage 4, isn’t in the script. At this rate they’ll be knackered by the time they get to the mountains… But what I’d like one of them to do is attack, somewhere unexpected, take the race by the horns and have a go. That’s what panache is all about – a blend of daring, cunning and style. It’s all a matter of personal choice and opinion of course, but to illustrate the point, and if it must be about winning, here are a few off my list of winning with panache.
Winning the World championships is never easy, but when your career is in it’s twilight and the sun has all but set, it’s even more incredible. Joop was a brilliant rider on his day but to win from this stellar group of younger hardmen was extraordinary. The commentary is way off the mark here, Joop didn’t ‘steal’ this race – watch how he chased and kept the group together, then perfectly picked his moment to strike for home. Awesome power from a 38-year old-man.
Mario is hardly well known as an attacking baroudeur. Rarely could he show his skills in efforts any longer than 400 metres. The fact is that he won all his races in a bunch gallop, and mostly flat ones, at that. You see, you knew what to expect from Mario. As for his style in skinsuits, well that’s another story. This clip from Ghent Wevelgem is the exception, and a brilliant piece of tactical awareness and no small amount of panache from Super Mario. Can you imagine how the breakaway felt when the fastest finisher in the world nonchalantly slipped onto the back of their group?
This clip only shows a very small part of the epic day that brought Millar his first win at the Tour in 1983. What’s different about Millar is he always looked like he was trying, although I’m sure he did ‘bluff’ in his time, but most of his victories were hard-fought and brutal. ‘Heart on the sleeve’ stuff from a climber who could really ride a bike, especially when you see how he approached the descent to the finish. Full gas.