Here is a question: which rider do you want to win? I bet you’ve got an answer, even before I tell you what race I’m thinking of. (Though at this time of year it’s not unreasonable that most will be assuming it’s the Tour de France.)
Why do you want them to win? How did you choose? What, if anything, would make you change your mind? If they don’t win, do you have a second choice?
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I imagine there are many different answers. We are not like football supporters, for whom fandom is a communal experience. We are individualists. I’ve supported all sorts of preposterous riders just so I could have them to myself.
My friends remember with mirth my Vladimir Karpets years. I get mocked today over my enthusiasm for Orica-Scott’s Ruben Plaza.
I’ll tell you how I pick. I pick the oldest rider in the event who’s in with a chance and who hasn’t served a doping ban.
I bend the age rule for riders I know personally and like, but since most such riders are pretty old anyway it’s not a derogation I often have to apply. (Ruben Plaza is 37 — though he was born on February 29, so in some respects he’s only nine and his best years are still ahead of him.)
Why do I do it this way? Because I’m over 40, and I like to cheer on anyone who can give me hope. And that’s it. That’s the whole algorithm.
It tells you everything you need to know about my personality — namely that I’m a massive egotist who’s in pathetic denial of the ageing process and looking for any evidence he can find to prove he’s still basically 25. My main motive is vanity.
Others have even less generosity of spirit. Youngsters, for example, once they get past the stage of picking the most garish kit, often just support the rider they think will win the most, because this maximises the chances of them being proved right and having something to crow about.
In this respect, if in no other, I can point to some personal growth — I may be vain, but I used to be a carpetbagger.
The most common means of picking is also the most complicated: patriotism.
Assuming you’re from the UK, if you want a British rider to win you have a number of issues, quantity of choice being the uppermost.
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That means you have to pick ‘the most British’ — but, in a divided land, just what the hell does that mean? Ian Stannard, and his ‘get on with it’ attitude? Brad Wiggins and his excellent grasp of swearing? Is the Isle of Man British? What about Wales?
How did everyone vote in that referendum? Is Chris Froome British enough, given he’s never lived in the UK? What about a foreign rider riding for a British team against a British rider riding for a foreign team?
Trying to support the British quickly becomes a constitutional crisis. That’s why most experienced fans switch to something that has no objective definitions to worry about, like ‘style’ (Peter Sagan) or ‘outstanding use of hair products’ (Marcel Kittel) or ‘best appearance in an TV advert’ (your choice of Kittel or Sagan).
Weirdly, I once, briefly, had a French fan club. It was at a time trial in Brittany, where a family had a hastily made banner with my name on it.
After the race I went to say hello, and casually asked why, out of the 40 riders, they’d picked me. What had their criteria been? Style, obviously, but what exactly?
“We liked you because…” they talked among themselves for a moment, “… you are so… pale, and…” more earnest discussions, “… so… frightened looking.”