Andy Schleck, David Millar, Jens Voigt, Emma Pooley, Cadel Evans, Christophe Le Mével, Sébastien Hinault, Takashi Miyazawa [that’s enough – Ed]. Say it ain’t so. Even though top-name riders retire every year and we say it every season, it really, really is the end of an era with all these heavyweights bowing out.
Besides, how does a professional cyclist suddenly stop being a professional cyclist? It’s something that has defined and consumed their lives for so long. You can’t seamlessly go from gutter-suffering at the Vuelta to a life of pottering round the house.
There must be a yawing identity crisis. One man’s ex-professional cyclist is very quickly the next one’s unemployed loafer, catching up on all the fun, TV and calories missed in the last twenty years. Daily achievements are lessened: ‘Joe Bloggs, Tour de France stage winner’ becomes ‘Joe Bloggs, watcher of a whole series of The Sopranos’.
Fatigue is no longer an excuse to put off those DIY jobs round the house. On weekend club rides, when stories from the pro once commanded respect from young riders, they are now met by rolling eyes: ‘Oh, here goes the old guy with that story about the time he won the Combativity prize at the Circuit de la Sarthe’.
No wonder so many retirees become directeur sportifs. The rich team owner might be stupid and immoral, the primary team sponsor might be a cement company demanding a pink-and-blue kit to match their logo, but hey, it’s money, the only life they know and it means they don’t have to mend the house.
This thought came to mind seeing David Millar at last weekend’s Dave Rayner Fund Dinner in Leeds. How was he coping, I wondered? If there was a Wotsits dust around his mouth, the lighting hid it well. His articulate words and impeccable suit concealed that gaping identity crisis even better. He has plans for something “cool” and commercial in the future. Somehow I think Mr Millar will be okay.
But there’s one outgoing mainstay of professional cycling who I fear greatly for. He’s German, unstoppable, bouncy, beloved by all… no, not Jens Voigt, it’s Didi “the Devil” Senft. Think of the challenge of reintegrating into society after having been Didi the Devil for 21 years.
His retirement was actually caused by the lack of financial income, but I’d always imagined there’d be other reasons, closer to home – more specifically that his wife had put her foot down. All those years following the peloton would have put an almighty strain on their marriage.
Picture it. Early summer 1993, the first year Didi goes off to the races as a 41-year-old whippersnapper with modest beard and sparkling red lycra. ‘It’s just a midlife crisis,’ her friends will have told Frau Senft as they watched her husband bellow and cavort at knackered riders on the telly. ‘Didi will grow out of it’.
Didi didn’t. In any other scenario or profession, a white-bearded man with such a permanently-deviant facial expression and outfit would probably be placed on some kind of dodgy register. But with every passing year, cycling instead took this bonkers, middle-aged Devil closer to its heart. What a man. What a sport.
All the while, Frau Devil stewed. All those nice summer weddings the two missed because Didi was prancing around in the Alps getting rubbish thrown at him by passing cyclists. All those times she wanted to holiday somewhere sunny, he’d drag her to Futuroscope. Or Liège. Or bloody Lourdes (oh hey Catholic pilgrims, meet Lucifer).
Well, now it’s her turn to decide what they do. He’ll trim his beard, settle into chinos and a polo shirt and quietly watch the Coronation Street omnibus. I just hope that the retired German will get to switch on a WorldTour race every now and then, jump up and down in the living room and have a devil of a time once more.
STAT’S THE WAY, UH HUH UH HUH
3 – Number of former Team Sky directeur sportifs at Tinkoff-Saxo, as Sean Yates and Bobby Julich join Steven de Jongh.
Sky Sports reporter and friend-of-Rouleur Orla Chennaoui meets Didi the Devil. Bonkers.
If you want to be a cycling champion, be born on November 14. Happy birthday in advance to Vincenzo Nibali, Vittorio Adorni and this combative fellow, who turns 60 on Friday. Hope his party is less painful than this.
As the Tour went through London, here’s what David Millar did.