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A View from the Cube by Locutus
 
By Janna Trevisanut
Date: 7/3/2002
A View from the Cube by Locutus
 

By Locutus

ham-gaze verb: 1) in cycling, the practice of watching other riders make the race; to sit on while other riders take off down the road. 2) the act of staying in the peloton and watching the "hams" of other riders in front of you. 3) the visual aspect of going off the back when other riders increase the tempo. noun: ham-gazer. synonyms: ass-watch, rear-view. antonyms: attack, hammer.

There are a lot of reasons for ham-gazing in a bike race. First and foremost, ham-gazing occurs when riders quite sensibly sit on and wait for the right moment to attack. In a big race like the Tour de France, most of the big riders like Armstrong, Moreau, and Beloki will sit on and wait for the time trials and mountain stages to ride hard; if their positions are threatened, they will leave it to their teammates to do most of the work in eliminating the threat. So while these big riders are anything but ham-gazers, they do a lot of ham-gazing as an important part of their strategy in the race. The same is true of sprinters: they will sit on in the mountain stages, hanging out in the grupetto and gazing at the hams of the climbers flying up the mountain while they save their energies for another day. Even on the flat stages, most sprinters will sit on and wait until the intermediate sprints and the finish line before coming out from behind the hams of the other riders. In this sense, great sprinters like Mario Cipollini are extraordinarily good ham-gazers, as they only stick their nose into the wind during the last few hundred meters of the race.

There are other reasons for ham-gazing as well. Sometimes riders have poor form, and it's all they can do to make it to the finish line without expending extra energy on attacking. Sometimes riders aren't as talented as their fellows in some aspect of racing (e.g. the sprinters in the mountains), and so their talents force them to ham-gaze through the race on a particular day. There is also sickness, accident, and injury, all of which contribute to quite understandable ham-gazing on the part of the affected riders. Sometimes the riders are just tired, worn down by the rigors of a long day in the saddle or the long trek of the season. Then there are the more odious causes of ham-gazing, such as lack of morale, loss of confidence, and apathy--what the Church would call the sins of Sloth--which lead the riders to be lazy for no particularly good tactical or physical reason, though they may have justifiable psychological reasons for just sitting on.

In short, there are a host of reasons for ham-gazing, and many of them are perfectly valid and understandable. Keeping track of the ham-gazing is often an important aspect of understanding what is going on in a race. If a rider ham-gazes for too long or at the wrong moment, we can assume that the rider is suffering from a loss of form, is making a tactical blunder, or is cracking under the psychological pressures of the race. This is the interesting aspect of ham-gazing. However, very often, ham-gazing is extremely boring for a fan of cycling who is watching the race. While the riders ass-watch their way through the countryside, we fans sit and wait for the attacks to come and for the interesting racing to commence.

During the upcoming Tour de France, I will be writing for the Daily Peloton some periodic analyses that include two different types of awards. The first award will be clearly a positive award: The Golden Hams award will go to the riders who do the most to make the race, whether it be those brave souls who go on long solo breakaways, the domestiques who bury themselves to advance the cause of their teammates, or the big leaders who blow the field away at a crucial moment. Then I will give a more dubious award throughout the race: The Ham-Gazer award will go to those riders or teams who are conspicuous in doing nothing to make the race. On occasion this award will also go to those racers who show bad form or to those who make a mistake that negatively affects their position in the race. Some days, riders will receive both awards; for example, last year's stage that ended at L'Alpe d'Huez would have looked something like this:

Ham-Gazers of the Day:

Lance Armstrong, U. S. Postal. He looked to be having a bad day, and by his creative ass-watching at the back of the lead group, he conned Telekom into working at the front up the crucial climbs while his team, suffering from illness and injury, saved their energies for another day. A brilliant bit of tactics that, while controversial, definitely served his team well today.

Stuart O'Grady, Credit Agricole. While riding nobly so far in the Tour, O'Grady finally conceded his Yellow Jersey today in the first major mountain stage. But O'Grady still has a grip on the Green Jersey, so all is certainly not lost for the "Red Thunder from Down Under." While he takes a back seat on the big climbs, he looks poised to fight it out with Erik Zabel all the way to the Champs Elysées.

Bobby Julich, Credit Agricole. It looks as though the likable American once again doesn't have it to challenge the leaders in the mountains, as he finished 23 min. 10 sec. down on Armstrong. It may be that his energy was affected by his team's defense of the yellow jersey over the last couple of days. Hopefully he can rebound to challenge for a stage win later in the race.

Lampre and BigMat. Respectively, their best-placed riders were Marco Pinotti in 42nd at 17 min. 27 sec., and Stéphane Heulot in 53rd at 23 min. 33 sec. Ouch.

Golden Hams of the Day:

Team Telekom, especially Kevin Livingston, Andreas Klöden, and Alexandre Vinokourov. They made the race today, hammering at the front, putting the pressure on Postal, and dominating the field. Unfortunately, Armstrong was too strong at the finish.

Lance Armstrong, U.S. Postal. After a relaxing day of ass-watching, he showed everyone else his hams as he flew up L'Alpe d'Huez in a ride that is sure to become legendary.

François Simon, Bonjour. He was the best of the breakaways who gained that huge chunk of time on the way to Pontarlier, and rode his way into the Yellow Jersey in what must be the highlight of his career.

 

The purpose of these awards is to provide a different (and, I hope, an occasionally amusing) perspective on what is transpiring in the world's greatest cycling race. Perhaps the awards will also provide fodder for the message boards, as who deserves these awards on a given day is certainly debatable (though resistance to my opinion is ultimately futile). So I look forward to seeing you again in Luxembourg, when the racing begins in earnest and the hams fly down the road.

--Locutus
Los Angeles, California


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