Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Viewers of the 2009 Giro d’Italia who followed the race in its entirety can be forgiven for thinking the final outcome was a foregone conclusion following the Cinque Terre time trial.
Let me rephrase: I’m giving myself permission to say that I believed the race would end with an unsurprising Menchov Grand Tour win. He’d stand on the dais, get his trophy, smile, wave, yadda, yadda, yadda.
His forceful show of emotion at the finish—triumph after snatching possible defeat from the slick road left me slackjawed. In earlier stages, his ability to sit impassively on Di Luca’s wheel despite the firebrand’s attacks conjured Miguel Indurain’s uninspiring performances at the Giro and Tour more than 15 years ago.
It reminded me of the race it most logically evokes: the 1989 Tour de France, which, as you well know, ended with a Greg LeMond victory on the final time trial. Menchov’s 21-second gap over Di Luca gave him a 41-second margin of victory, and though that may be larger than LeMond’s was, the Russian’s jubilation was no less dramatic.
It’s hard, if not impossible to be excited for Menchov in the face of such jubilation. My previous assertion that Di Luca was the race’s moral victor was based in part on the utter granite-faced presence that Menchov cast. To see him yell and throw his arms was a fitting substitute for the traditional winner’s victory salute thrown at the line of a Classic.
I’ll spare you the anthropologic deconstruction that accompanied Michael Phelps’ whoop following his team’s victory in the relay at the Beijing Olympics. We get it: that dude is a badass.
I’d ask the question, ‘How can you not like a guy who shows such emotion in the face of victory?’ but it’s a big, weird world and someone will dislike him precisely because of his show of emotion. Instead, I’ll offer this: The surge of emotion that accompanies an uncertain victory can surprise even the victor and in surprise the revelation is what winning is all about.