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  • 02.06.11


    Matt Seaton avoids superstition until it comes to racing his bike

    Matt Seaton

I walk under ladders. I cross the paths of black cats. I pay no heed to Friday 13ths. I've broken plenty of mirrors. I have no "knock on wood" fear that speaking of ill-fortune will bring it to pass.

I am not only not superstitious, but philosophically I don't believe in superstition. I believe in reason, and superstition is a symptom of contagion by the enemy, unreason. If religion, as Marx said, is the opium of the masses, then superstition, with its inchoate, pre-deist phantasmagoria of fears and omens, is the cheapest, most adulterated form of street-corner smack.

But when I'm packing my kit to go to a bike race, do I have to have my pair of lucky socks? Of course, I do. Who doesn't? You can't ask a racing cyclist to ride without his lucky socks. You might as well take away his bidon and forbid him from changing gear. And are my lucky socks lucky, you ask; how do you know they're lucky?

Well, it's true that I don't have any scientific proof positive. But I have such a strong feeling about them that it's simply unthinkable to test whether not wearing my lucky socks would bring me bad luck.

So I am superstitious, after all. It's true: in this one discrete corner of my life, I am. I believe devoutly that a pair of black and white polyester Assos socks, with a slim red line of trim, and a hole in one toe, bring me luck when I race.

What kind of luck I couldn't tell you. Do they help me get results? Do they help me make a break? Or do they just keep me rubber-side down and out of trouble? Do my lucky socks have a positive or a negative capability: promotion of good fortune or protection from bad luck? Can't say. But what I'll do when they finally wear out, I do not know. I will probably have to find another favourite pair, keep them next to each other in the drawer and hope that the lucky power transmigrates.

I am not alone in this matter of cyclists' superstition. In the professional peloton, it is rife. In Catholic countries, the overlap with genuine religious observance is commonplace, as riders ritually make the sign of the cross over their chests before clipping in and starting a stage.

Many riders hate to wear a dossard numbered 13. If they must, it is customary to wear it upside down, to fool the evil spirits who monitor these things - a practice apparently tolerated by race commissaires.

In a few cases, a rider's aversion to 13 is more entrenched. Viatcheslav Ekimov, erstwhile super-domestique for Lance Armstrong, simply refused to wear the number, or even stay in a hotel room numbered 13.

In 1993, Belgian Lotto rider Peter De Clercq would not board a plane for a transfer on Friday 13th.

Such sentiments are not just allowed, but are so normal in the pro peloton and even respected that the race director gave him special dispensation to travel by car instead.

Extract from the upcoming Rouleur issue 24. Matt Seaton is Editor of the Guardian's Comment is Free America

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