Skip to content

Soup of This Day #29: I Get By With A Little Antiperspirant From My Friends

July 4, 2011

ConstantPuyo - Montmartre, 1906
Charles Émile Joachim Constant Puyo’s 1906 Montmartre. Probably not the kind of domestique you need in a cycling race – Photo: Public domain, 1906.

The other day I ran out of antiperspirant. Inconveniently, after spraying it for just 1s, as per manufacturers instructions, under only the 1 arm. I have 2 arms. No big deal though, I just carried on with my morning ablutions before driving into work where I keep a spare can handy for emergencies. Thus the other arm received a dose of antiperspirant under it and my colleagues were then safe from me smelling bad. Sure they were different flavours of antiperspirant but hey, they did the job. That’s how Longworth72 rolls, pragmatic to the core.

Don’t go getting any weird ideas here – This is a sports blog but I don’t really care what flavor of scent sports stars spray on themselves. It’s their business and unless they plan on hugging me after the game then it’s cool that they go au naturale. Since Longsworth72 once attended one of those ‘personal development’ seminars as part of work and it identified that Longsworth72 was not the kind of guy who wants to be hugged, let’s just say I’m cool with whatever.

Seriously, if you’re ever in that position where you have an opportunity to hug me, do not hug me.

This post is not about hugging (don’t) or antiperspirant (whatever) – It’s about pragmatism. Which I have defined as an acceptance of shit via an intelligent understanding of what is what. There’s a conventional definition here. Mine’s better.

Pragmatism has a significant role in sport. Sports fans tend to be some of history’s great pragmatists.

‘Yeah we (Manchester United) lost, but they were the better team (Anyone else).’

‘It’s raining horizontal and this poncho is a dud but I’m just happy to sit here and watch Fulham Football Club pants the Perth Glory 5-0 because it’s the closest I’ve ever got to a Premier League team and it cost $150.’

‘Yeah, we’re gonna lose Game 4 of this 2004 ALCS but hey, at least we made it this far and no team in history has come back from 3-0 in a MLB playoff.’

Sports stars can be equally pragmatic. Although since they are often paid ridiculous sums to do something we would love to do, their pragmatism is a little less about a balanced sacrifice. Still, there are some professional sports men or women who are kind of in that middle ground. They retain the fan’s desire to be there no matter what, yet don’t always get the big paychecks or the glory. In most sports they are known as ‘utilities’.

Utilities in football or baseball are roughly the same beast. They are able to fill in at a number of positions, adequately performing the duties of that role. They are usually jacks of all trades, without being the master of any. Got an injury crisis? The utility is your stopgap solution. They give you flexibility and the good ones give you piece of mind that they can hold down things while you focus on other areas. Utilities are team folk, happy to play in any position, bat anywhere in the order and generally just contribute. They know that they aren’t going to compete with the out and out superstars. They just figure on doing their bit the best way they know how.

In the Tour de France and indeed pretty much all road race cycling the utility is called a ‘domestique’. This translates to domestic and refers to a type of servant. The kind of person who cleans up and does the little things that need doing. Typically a road race team will have 9 riders. 1 or sometimes 2 of the riders are your big hopes. They might be contenders for the General Classification (GC) or for the sprint title or the climber’s jersey or even the young rider award. These guys are the team’s principle focus. In the Tour de France they tend to be given the number 1 in the team. So for team 5 (Rabobank in the current Tour) their leader and great hope for the GC, Robert Gesink, will wear #51. Sometimes a team will have a 2nd great hope and in rare circumstances a 3rd. In such circumstances the team’s attitude towards these stars will change as the race evolves. It’s very Darwinistic – If Person X, the great hope for the green sprinter’s jersey, is having a shocker then the team focus might shift to Person Y, who is exceeding expectations. The Domestiques are very pragmatic about their role – They are there to strive for glory for their principal and if they get it then the glory will reflect upon them too.

Domestiques can be called upon to drop back to the team car for food and water, loading themselves up, stuffing water bottles in jerseys like a lumpy misshapen camel, before charging back to the principal and other teammates to distribute the booty. They also do the lion’s share of the ‘pulling’. This is critical as the person at the front of a group of cyclists does far more work than those behind because they are the arrowhead, punching a hole through the air. This is called ‘pulling’ because the lead guy is the engine pulling the train along the track. Domestiques also protect their principals, shielding them from other riders who might get too close, shepherding them away from accidents. They may also be sent off to negate attacks – If a principal’s rival jumps off the front of the peloton a domestique might be sent to harass and slow down the breakaway, thus aiding the principal. In extreme cases a domestique might be called upon to give up his bike for a principal if a replacement following a mechanical incident is not close to hand and the bike is similar enough. In short, if you want to win something in any of the Grand Tours or other road races, you need as many domestiques as you can muster.

Domestiques came to mind at the completion of the 1st stage of the 2011 Tour de France the other night. It was a bunch finish with many riders seeking an advantage in the critical lead-up to the line. Teams were attempting to setup for their guy, driving in trains from which the chief hope could be slung at the critical moment for the dash to the line. In this high speed game of strategy, the Omega Pharma-Lotto team got it spot on for their guy, Belgian road race champion Philipe Gilbert. They catapulted him clear at just the right time, allowing him to run unmatched to the line, well ahead of the 2nd placed Australian, Cadel Evans.

What was cool about the finish was that as the camera caught the group of Alberto Contador surging for the line 80s after Gilbert it also caught 2 Omega Pharma-Lotto riders, still yet to finish and being swamped by those around them. They didn’t seem to care. They were sitting up, high-fiving, patting each other on the back and grinning like idiots. They had what they came for. They had got their guy across the line 1st.

Bet they couldn’t tell you what antiperspirant they used either.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: