Perhaps legend Ricky Bobby said it best in Will Ferrell’s hit film Talladega Nights, when he poignantly uttered his life’s mantra passed down to him from his deadbeat dad: “If you ain’t first you’re last!”
And after a full week of Paris-Nice action, seeing Giant-Shimano’s Marcel Kittel spit the dummy after a nasty spill going full tilt through a roundabout in the closing kilometres of Stage 2 at Tirreno-Adriatico perhaps proved the 25-year-old German sprinter, who lists on his personal Twitter bio that he is someone who loves “speed, sprinting and hair”, adheres to the same philosophy set by one Reese Bobby.
Without question it has been the bike toss seen around the world. It was a tantrum that makes Sir Bradley Wiggins’ bike throw during Stage 4 of the 2013 Giro del Trentino look positively paltry in comparison. Kittel’s apparent dysfunctional relationship with his bike went ‘very’ public when the massive 189cm, 86kg Arnstadt native gave his Giant Propel Advanced SL a body slam that would have even made the great Hulk Hogan proud.
This wasn’t the first time that Southern Spin has witnessed Kittel’s volatile relationship with his bike. In fact, following a close Stage 6 finish – and loss – to arch rival and countryman André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) on the sixth and final stage of the 2014 Tour Down Under in January, Kittel was visibly upset, and pimp-slapped his bike at the team support vehicle immediately following the race. It was scary enough to send this journalist scurrying for the safe confines of a more genial Greipel – which says a lot for a man nicknamed the ‘Gorilla’.
But just what makes Kittel so angry? And is he the only one?
Two weeks ago while in Sydney promoting his book Battle Scars, a retired Stuart O’Grady told Southern Spin that in cycling “winning is everything and second is s***. When you finish second you are in the bus throwing your helmet – that’s second.”
Prophetic words from a self-confessed drug cheat perhaps?
But perhaps sourcing a fallen national hero is not quite enough research for a thesis on the pro cyclist’s seemingly fragile psyche.
So who better to gain some insight from than one of Australia’s most competitive and successful cyclists of all time – Robbie McEwen.
McEwen knows all about winning. The man known respectfully as ‘Rocket Robbie’ was once considered the fastest man in the world on a bicycle, and many of his own fiery outbursts are chronicled in his book One Way Road. The palmarés of the former BMX national champion and two-times national road race champion includes 12 stage wins in both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France, with an impressive collection of three green jersey sprinter classification honours.
Not bad, eh? So what does McEwen think about Kittel’s tantrum?
“My initial thought was, ‘yep, that’s a pretty good bike throw’,” said McEwen. “I’ve been there, although I have never thrown a bike like that, I have found plenty of other things to take my frustration out on if the culprit was not there.”
Kittel’s action is actually quite understandable. Imagine suffering for nearly 200 kilometres over Tirreno’s brutal stages of excruciating climbs as a sprinter for what will be a fairly limited opportunity to accelerate madly for the win, only to come up short due to a puncture, mechanical or a careless rider.
“You just get angry and the bike is the most convenient object to release your anger on,” said McEwen. “I think the edge is probably a little bit more on display with the sprinters because everything happens in such a short amount of time and it’s really intense and only one tiny mistake can ruin an entire stage, whereas as a climber you make one little mistake you normally have time on your side to rectify that.”
Perspective would show that Kittel, and anyone other cyclist in the WorldTour, as well as Pro Continental, Continental and National Road Series, would have put in all the training, preparation, sacrifice and suffering to only get to that point where it has to happen and there can be no mistakes by either yourself or your fellow rider. It’s living on a razor’s edge of performance and emotion.
“Everything that has gone into it, not just your own hard work and your own suffering, but also the work of your team, the work of your mechanics, the whole plan of the whole day can be ruined in an instant and that’s enough for anyone to have a bit of tanty,” said McEwen, who says there are too many blow ups in the course of his 17-year career to single out just one.
“I was never known to throw things, I just bottled it up for the next race and used it to enhance my performance,” he said. “As for Kittel, I think he is a great guy and it’s only made him more popular. I think he has handled it really well, and the throw itself probably got him more attention than if he had won the stage.”
Winning may be everything for Ricky Bobby – and professional cyclists – but the “all or nothing” mission statement is something Reese denies altogether.
“That doesn't make any sense at all, you can be second, third, fourth... hell, you can even be fifth,” admitted Ricky’s absentee father in the 2006 Sony Pictures release.
Good on ya, Reese.
As far as Kittel goes, Southern Spin is happy to announce that both he and his bike have reconciled at Tirreno and after a brief break plan to resume their much publicised relationship in Belgium at the ‘Three Days of De Panne’ on April 1, and Southern Spin looks forward to the paparazzi pics and Kittel’s very own Twitter updates.
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- Marcel Kittel
- Ricky Bobby