Last week I wrote an article titled “Cycling For The Football Fan – Part I” comparing professional football players and professional cyclists. But more important than any player, any team, or any record is the fan. The 12th man, the “tifosi,” Fireman Fred, and the side-seat coaches yelling at the TV. What would sport be without an audience?
The pursuit of achievement can be a quiet, solo, internal struggle to improve, go faster, and climb higher, but the stage upon which we attempt to validate our work is a public one. In front of thousands on the turf or on the pavement fans cheer, chug beer, chant, dress up, heckle, and well…drink more beer.
From tailgating to foam fingers and rowdy shirtless men, again cycling and football are not that dissimilar…
With a seating and standing room capacity of 105,000, AT&T Stadium, home to the Dallas Cowboys, is the largest stadium by a landslide. America’s team plays on artificial turf in a temperature controlled environment.
Cycling offers unique venue experiences that also draw massive crowds. Though I have never competed in the Tour de France, I have attended two editions; while working for Gripped Films on Chasing Legends in 2009 and again for NBC in 2011. The race is more than a race. It’s an adventure, a national heritage, a parade, an excuse to party for a month, and oh yeah… a bike race. With more than 12 million people in attendance, and reach of 3.5 BILLION worldwide, the Tour dwarfs our Super Bowl. Some sections of the race, like the famous Alpe d’Huez climb draws more than 1 million spectators alone!
Back stateside, while we don’t have a 100 year-old, month-long sporting event that captures the entire world, we still have many huge events of our own. Criteriums, or short downtown circuit races, less than a mile in length, dominate the calendar for many elite and professional riders. Races like Athens Twilight, held in Athens Georgia, draw more than 30,000 spectators! Stages of major US stage races draw upwards of 200,000.
Burgers, corn hole, and light beer are the norm in parking lots around the nation on game day. Content to battle for ladder ball top honors, some fans don’t even go in to the stadium. Sitting in camping chairs in the beds of their F150s, fans argue about who’s the best quarterback of all time. It’s obviously Mark Sanchez. Just kidding…sorry Jets fans.
But cycling fans take the tailgating to whole new level. With road closures to accommodate racers, it can be tricky to get on course as a fan. Some actually ride the course themselves and wait. Many drive campers, vans or wagons filled with overnight gear and park in a prime location, often waiting more than 12 hours to get a glimpse of their favorite riders speeding up the climb in front of them. Twelve hours to party, play the same games football fans enjoy, paint the road with stars’ names, and….drink beer! On a mountain pass, with tens of thousands of other fans, instant friends are met and made.
By now you should have noticed a common theme: beer. While I have met few cyclists who prefer Lime-a-Ritas (you know who you are) and Bud Light , you’re more likely to find a cyclist or cycling fan seeking out local brews, craft brews, and the $8 six pack over the $8 24 pack. Cycling inspired Fat Tire Ale made by new Belgium Brewery, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and anything from the microbrewery on course. For me, I lean local – 3 Brothers Brewery Rum Barrel Aged Dubbel (sponsors a bike race), Blue Mountain Brewery Rockfish Wheat, and Devils Backbone Vienna Lager (sponsors multiple races and a club team.)
And Finally….The Fan Himself (and Herself)
Football fans and cycling fans differ the most in their interactions with the athletes. The closest most football fans will ever get to meeting their favorites is from the 40th row. The average Joe, lifting at the gym wouldn’t work-in with an All-Pro linebacker either.
Cycling offers interaction in both racing and training. Pro riders can spend upwards of 25hrs a week on training rides. It’s not uncommon for pros and amateurs to ride together one-on-one or on the local group rides. At events like Gran Fondos, where a challenging route is laid out with specific timed sections, amateurs can even race against pros. During races fans cheer, bang on the boards, and slap boom sticks. The deafening roar of our “12th man” motivates us to ride faster, corner harder and distracts us from the pain in our legs.
Fans can even change the race dynamic. And no, not with some supposed lucky ritual. Event announcers often ask crowd members to contribute to the “Gamblers Prime.” Over the course of a 90 minute downtown circuit race, thousands of dollars are collected and at the announcers discretion the bell is rung – the winner of the next lap will take home the “Gamblers Prime.” In the charge for the line, the race is reset and a new outcome could be the result.
In road races, especially those with mountaintop finishes, costume clad super fans make the race memorable. Without barricades, fans are free to line the streets, run alongside and crowd the riders as they climb. Like the Chief at the Washington Redskins games, Fireman Fred of the Jets, and the Packers Cheeseheads, cycling has its famous fans. Most notable is El Diablo – Didi Senft, a german fan who dresses as the devil and appears at the biggest races in the world. National pride costumes, the Borat thong (could do without), Elvis, and Sumo wrester suits among many others are regular costumes donned at a bike race.
In my 10 years racing, I have been lucky enough to experience the sport from every aspect – as a promoter, as a coach, as part of the media, as a racer and of course as a fan. If there is anything I have learned, it’s that neither can exist without the other. The athletes may provide the entertainment, but the fans give the performances meaning and help hold up the stage on which we perform.
About Curtis Winsor
Living in Crozet, VA, at the base of Afton Mountain, Curtis Winsor is a second year professional cyclist riding for Team Smart Stop. Though he has been racing and training for over 10 years, it wasn’t until Curtis moved to the Shenandoah Valley that he actually learned to love riding. When his best friend introduced him to the beautiful mountain views and hidden fire roads the Blue Ridge had to offer, it was easier to turn a two-hour training ride into a six hour adventure.
While working his way up to the professional level, Curtis also graduated from JMU, helped produce and promote an award winning cycling documentary, Chasing Legends, began Winsor Creative – a full service design and identity solution for small businesses and began coaching junior and senior cyclists. Curtis also has a passion for junior development and hopes to help grow the Virginia High School MTB League.
When not riding, Curtis and his wife Alexa love to cook, hike, play board games (I will crush you in Settlers of Catan) and find eclectic restaurants.