Some very well-oiled musical act was performing on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and all I wanted to do was watch a bike race. It should be impossible to turn away from the Macy's Parade. It is America itself. The recording the act was lip-syncing to showcased their virtuosic voices in flawless time. Their movements were choreographed to the 16th note. Their appearance epitomized the style of their chosen demographic. They were very nearly perfect. I felt like I was being force-fed a Twinkie.
The announcer called them artists. Performers, maybe, but artists, never. To a boy, they were selected in auditions. They'd been taught how to sing just right, taught the choreography step-by-shimmying-step. They'd been assigned a wardrobe. The last thing any of them had written was an e-mail.
There was a time when what you heard on the radio began with a spark of inspiration in the performer. It meant an interview with the band would give you insight into the song's creation, rather than the blow-by-blow of the producer bringing them the song in the studio.
I still prefer music performed by its creator; there's an authenticity that comes when the performer is also the writer. It's a little like eating organic foods; we know it's healthy, but more naturally produced foods usually taste better, too.
I don't mind the education; we all have our teachers. And I don't mind the idea of production; imagine The Beatles without George Martin. What I object to is the foregone conclusion, which is why I'll never be at a post-Tour criterium. If the riders are there to put on a show, how about a team-time trial with some hand-slings? Give us some polish, a little Cirque du Soleil on 700c wheels.
Which is why the Classics are so great. With 40k to go, there's no saving something for tomorrow. The team directors can scream in the riders' ears all they want, but at the moment of the attack, the move is nothing short of a creation, a force of will destined to leave a mark on the race. Whether it results in the win or not is beside the point; each attack is an important, necessary part of the race, the same way a Pink Floyd song needs a David Gilmour guitar solo. The solo isn't the point of the song, but it would be incomplete without it.
Those final kilometers of the race are a crazy, improvisational progression with each attacking rider trading eights in a jazz riff: first the guitarist, then the drummer, then the pianist, the drummer again, then sax, drummer, bass, drummer and head out. When you see a rider spring from his saddle and gun it, we cheer because he has just shown his hand, it's everything he's got, who he is.
Those late-K attacks are the real deal; it's no time for a probing move. And the final, race-winning move is the grandfather of all attacks, the piece de resistance in the classic sense—the move that defines the race precisely because it results in the win. The riders themselves understand this, which is why when they describe a race as beautiful, we know it to be true: That final attack is a masterpiece.
Image courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International