It is not the race radio that has forced cycling into a disinteresting lull. It is the lack of panache, writes Anthony Tan.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

"Anyone can find out the commonsense things and my role is not to teach the common sense. My message has always been to break through what is common sense and common knowledge and make the impossible possible." – Nobutoshi Kihara, 1926-2011

I just happened to be reading an inspiring obituary of the man who invented Japan's first tape recorder, its first transistor radio, and the first Betamax videocassette recorder (okay, I'm showing my age here...) in the New York Times when I came across this wonderful quote from Kihara, coined the "Wizard of Sony", who passed away on 13 February this year.

But how would I use it in a blog? I thought to myself.

The next day, on Saturday, I then saw my cycling colleague Wade Wallace's blogpost entitled "Panache: An Open Letter To Professional Cycling", originally an internal email from the CEO of cycling apparel company Rapha, Simon Mottram, to his employees.

Mottram was lamenting the lack of panache in today's rigid, rules-of-the-road-based approach to professional cycling, where caution has largely taken precedence over daring. But the same can be said of the wider world, though an increasing number of Generation Y members are showing us different.

You can read what he said on Cycling Tips, but the quoted lines from Mottram's favourite advertising commercial from Apple in 1999, part of the celebrated "Think Different" campaign, bear a remarkable similarity to the no-holds-barred mentality expressed by Kihara.

Called "Crazy Ones", the 60-second TV commercial showed 17 iconic personalities from last century including Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King, Jr., Richard Branson, John Lennon, Thomas Edison, Muhammad Ali, Mahatma Gandhi, Alfred Hitchcock, Frank Lloyd Wright and Pablo Picasso, with the copy as follows:

"Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do."

Mottram calls on today's racers to think for themselves: "Assert your own personality on a race or a moment. Surprise us and give us something to cheer. Stand up for yourself and stand out from the crowd. Honour yourself and honour the sport. Ultimately you'll gain more from chancing your arm this season than from grinding out yet another respectable result. And we will love you all the more for it."

Wade goes on to say that, "Inspiration is a totally different beast. It comes from within."
And what picture did he lead with? One of Philippe Gilbert's trademarks surges, this one in the closing stages of last year's Giro di Lombardia, where single-handedly and in apocalyptic conditions, he whittled down the lead group till just he and his grit-splattered machine remained, soloing into Lake Como a champion for a second consecutive occasion.

On Saturday in Italy, he claimed his first scalp on yet another hard-man's course at the Montepaschi-Strade Bianche classic in Tuscany, a trademark final-kilometre move on the uphill finish to Siena's Piazza del Campo ensuring another victory on his already enviable palmarès.

To think that six years ago, on the eve of his first Tour de France Рand my first as a reporter Рand on the cusp of his 23rd birthday, Gilbert lamented about the prevalence of performance-enhancing drugs in cycling, telling a Belgian journalist after his arse-kicking at the Dauphin̩ Lib̩r̩ warm-up race: "I can tell you now, that I will never reach the level I saw at the Dauphin̩. It doesn't matter how hard I train; I'm never going to get there."
Continued Gilbert: "I also know, given the appetiser I've just had at the Dauphiné, that I'm going to really suffer as well. Mentally, I'm preparing myself for a very hard time. I'll just do what I can, when I can."

Gilbert finished twelfth-last at the 2005 Dauphiné and 70th out of 155 finishers at the Tour, Lance Armstrong's seventh and final victory, and perhaps in hindsight where he should have left things. But on the final stage to Paris, although he did not win, Gilbert was judged to be the most combative rider.

As far as I'm concerned, he still is the most combative. And by some margin, the one with the most panache.

Thank God he turned lassitude into anger on the bike and never gave up, for the world needs more people like Kihara and Gilbert.

No radios won't change cycling's lack of spontaneity. People who show panache will do that – only if they dare.
(And chapeau to Wade for picking a winner-in-waiting. But that was luck, mate, not panache!)