Dr. Hutch: would you sell your soul?

You may have heard of the Goldman Dilemma. It arose from a 1984 study by sports scientist Bob Goldman, who asked elite athletes whether they’d be willing to take an undetectable drug that would assure them of sporting success, but which would assuredly cause their death within five years. About half of them said they would.

This has been used ever since to promote the suggestion that athletes are fundamentally nuts. (A more recent study failed to repeat Goldman’s results, perhaps suggesting they’re less nuts than they were, but no one will pay much attention to that because it’s not as interesting.)

I mentioned it to my friend Bernard the other day, as we danced up one of South Cambridgeshire’s many fearsome cols. ‘I wish I’d known that deal was available five years ago,’ was his sour reply.

It does make you think, though. Just what sacrifices would you be prepared to make? What sacrifices have you already made? What sacrifices have you made without even noticing? There are all sorts of minor insanities that cycling foists upon you without your even noticing – only last week I commented to a surprised gathering of non-cyclists that spring had been so late this year I hadn’t even shaved my legs yet.

I reminded Bernard of the occasion following a time trial when a local rider stormed up to me, angry at being beaten by something of a margin, and started ranting about how he’d have been able break 20 minutes for 10 miles if only he hadn’t been stupid enough to marry his wife and have three children, each of whom he hated more than the one before.

This speech was delivered well within hearing of his wife and children (I assure you this is absolutely true). This was someone who was clearly willing to sacrifice the warm and caring bosom of his family to become a fair-to-middling time trial rider. His family looked as if they thought this wasn’t an arrangement anyone should dismiss out of hand. “This five-year deal,” said his wife to me quietly afterwards, “who would I talk to about that?”

“What else would people give up?’ I wondered aloud. ‘Rather than dying in five years, would you give up five years?”

“Depends on the years,” said Bernard. “2010 was pretty sucky, I’d give that up like a shot. 2007 wasn’t great either.” I said I wasn’t sure that was the sort of deal the Devil usually offered.
“He’s just never met a negotiator like me,” said Bernard. This is true. Bernard’s robust bargaining once saw him banned from the local bike shop. He was reduced to standing outside using cigarettes to bribe schoolchildren to go in and buy him inner tubes.

“Happiness?” I suggested. This was met with a snort of derision.

“The main thing I’ve given up for cycling is wealth,” said Bernard. “I was at a college reunion last year. Almost everyone I knew arrived in a Merc or a BMW. It struck me that if it hadn’t been for all the time I spent cycling, I could have gone into the software business – I had a BBC Micro when I was at school, I had a real talent for it. I could have built a company that would have been real competition for Microsoft. I’d probably have sold it back in about 2001, when the dotcom thing was at its height. Then I’d have retired, bought a Caribbean island, and had a string of lingerie-model girlfriends.”

“And you gave all that up so that you could take a twice weekly kicking from me?”
“So it would appear.”

“That five years thing looks pretty good, huh?” He gave me a baleful look. “You’ve no idea,” he said.

Cycling Greats James Moore (1849-1935)

Let us commence this ‘Cycling greats’ with the caveat that any or all of the following may be wrong, due to the wildly conflicting historical sources.

James Moore was probably the winner of the world’s first bike race, held over a 1,200-yard course in a Paris park in 1868. Inevitably, given the stranglehold the British have had on cycle racing since its inception, he was from the UK, born in Bury St-Edmunds, though his family had moved to Paris when he was four years old.

Given the threat the historical inconvenience all this posed to the French, they had a choice between claiming he was really a Frenchman, or claiming the bike race he won wasn’t the first. They chose the latter, though they’ve never really been able to prove it.

The first reliable record of a Frenchman winning a race was the ‘slow cycling’ race at the same meeting, described by a contemporary newspaper as ‘very amusing’. ‘Cycling greats’ will not be held responsible for the consequences of pointing this out to a Frenchman.

Moore also, unequivocally, won the first ever road race, the Paris-Rouen in 1869. Just in case you thought barking-mad cycling rules were a new idea, the 1869 rules specified the bicycles were not allowed to use sails. He covered the 130km course in 10 hours 25 minutes, on an early example of a high-bicycle. It was stolen shortly after, presumably by the French.

He also set a very early unofficial Hour record, of just over 14 miles, in Wolverhampton in 1873.

Acts of cycling stupidity

An email arrives at the AoCS offices. Anonymity was requested:
“I’d arranged to go for a ride with a friend. Shortly before he called at my house, I put new Speedplay cleats on my shoes. These are right and left-specific. In my haste I screwed the cleats to the wrong shoes.

“My friend arrived, and we set off. Of course I couldn’t clip in, and couldn’t understand why. I tried and tried, applying more and more force, while being as subtle as I could so he couldn’t see my apparent incompetence.

“Eventually I had to admit to my problem. My friend was sympathetic, and said a mistake like that could have happened to anyone. What was unbelievable was I’d waited till we were 40 miles from home to confess.”

This article was first published in the May 23 issue of Cycling Weekly. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!

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