Cycling’s a strange discipline. In what other sport would it be perfectly normal to describe a string of second-places in high profile events as “a problem“. In cycling, while three athletes get to ascend the podium, there’s the winner, and then there’s everybody else.
It’s almost better for everyone if the win is a “no one else in the photo” affair. The victor gets a moment to formulate a fun salute and show off the sponsors, while the rider behind him takes the battle for second, rather than losing the sprint for first.
The reactions for second place are practically scripted. Look away in disgust. Clinch your face in a pained expression. Bang the bars. Flail your arms about one of the swerves or bumps that are as much a part of the final k as the red kite. And under no circumstances look at all pleased with the situation.
Every so often, though, someone’s too excited to remember the rules. Sep Vanmarcke (who’s on Facebook, btw) put in a great ride at Gent-Wevelgem today, hanging tough with a turbocharged group of one-day riders at a pace tough enough to shell an on-form Oscar Freire. The Belgian even threw out an audacious attack 3k to go.
In the final sprint, Vanmarcke caught the wheel of winner Eisel, and held off a hard-charging Philippe Gilbert for second. While it wasn’t exactly a celebration, cameras still caught the Topsport giving a fist-pump of relief as he crossed the line.
I suppose everybody gets to celebrate second once. But I can almost guarantee that Vanmarcke’s next second place will come with a scowl.