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  • 09.12.15

    Weekly Wibble: Grotty SPOTY

    When Froome and Armitstead are below a vodka-imbibing cyborg and a homophobic boxer in the SPOTY odds, you know cycling's got a public profile problem

    Words
    Teddy Cutler
    Photographs
    Offside/L'Equipe

If I were ever going to morph into a 21st-century man obsessed in the righteous manner with betting odds and accumulators, this week probably killed all hope.

Combining being a cycling fan or commentator with a gambler is likely to induce a deep sense of weariness. Just looking at the updated odds for BBC Sports Personality of the Year brings up hard-wired feelings of inferiority, dull anger and, above all, confusion.

There appears, by most bookies’ reckoning, to be five main contenders: Andy Murray, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Kevin Sinfield, Tyson Fury and Lewis Hamilton.

Chris Froome – you know, the guy with the drive of several thousand pack horses and the patience to withstand doping questions worthy of Francis of Assisi, the only Briton to win the Tour de France twice – is a best-price 50-1.

Lizzie Armitstead – she of the greatest single season on the road by any British woman cyclist in history – is 300-1 to win on average, and as far out as 500-1 with some. Putting a pound on Lizzie to win makes you the kind of person who expects the grabber at an arcade fair not to drop your toy back into the furry abyss.

OK, so you may scoff – Spoty has never really mattered, no one has ever qualified whether it is about achievement or having the loudest voice (Tyson…) – but clearly, outside of Sir Brad, there remains a problem with the public perception of road cycling.

Perhaps part of the problem lies in the way in which we treat ‘our’ sport. While big Tyson has spent the last few weeks being defended by boxing commentators who argue, rightly but with unspoken caveats, that hammering someone in the face should be separated from collating homosexuality and paedophilia, we have been poring over voluntarily-released data and demanding more, more, more, like petulant children whose candy-floss has been replaced by bitter cynicism and regret.

Given that we spend more time talking about VO2 max than cycling these days, engaged in a self-defeating ever-decreasing cycle of boffinish squabbling, no wonder Froome, let alone Armitstead, doesn’t get a look-in with the wider public.

The public warm to Lewis Hamilton, a vodka-imbibing Americanised cyborg, more than they do to an exceptionally talented, warm Yorkshirewoman because in its continuing angst over the still recent past, cycling has forgotten that new stars need help to create public profiles.

Six years removed from racing, and exposed as a monumental cheat, cycling’s most recognisable face remains Lance Armstrong.

Lance, of course, won the 2003 overseas award, only to be stripped of it after his confession. Why did Linford Christie keep his from 1993? Perhaps cycling will always work by nefarious public rules.

YOUTUBE THROWBACK

About as speechless as we've ever seen Mark Cavendish, the last cyclist to win SPOTY, in 2011.

2008 SPOTY winner Chris Hoy comes a cropper in a celebrity gameshow minibike race. Twice.

And if Armitstead and Froome don't win, no matter. As Seinfield says: "Awards don't mean a goddamn thing."

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