Blogging, Tactics and Terpstra

Anyone remember iGoogle? It was a personalised homepage which allowed you to select certain widgets which would show news, weather, your inbox, that type of thing. One of the widgets I always had was Google Reader which was a collection of all of the blogs I had subscribed to via RSS. This wasn’t that long ago but it all sounds rather quaint now.

I was reminded of it given that there appears to be a mini-revival of the art of ‘blogging’ in cycling circles these days. Lionel Birnie has been prolific recently and William Fotheringham has also provided us with a couple of interesting reads. It’s a throwback to when I first joined Twitter nearly 10 years ago when Lance Armstrong appeared to preside over the entire platform and blogs seemed to proliferate much more freely.

Examples of blogs that I would look forward to were The Cycling Blog – stories from the owner of a bike shop in Clonmel who would regularly go out on spins with Sean Kelly. Cycling Revealed – a treasure trove of cycling history. Le Grimpeur – stories about famous climbs and famous climbers. Cycling Inquisition – reportage of Colombian cycling and Colombia in general.

All of these blogs are gone now or have morphed into something different. I quite like the return by some writers to the traditional blog format. It reminds me of a time before clickbait and listicles and before everyone realised that writing on the internet for free was folly. Now it seems that writing on the internet for free is no longer folly. It has a purpose. It’s not an end in itself but it’s a means to get you to ‘go look at something else I’ve written for which you might have to pay money’, which is fine. I’m no different. GO AND SUBSCRIBE TO THE VELOCAST!

Thinking back to 2009 when I joined Twitter and started this blog, also brought to mind how social media has changed. Most people would say it is not for the better. Trolling didn’t exist 10 years ago, nor did pornbots, fake news or President Trump. It’s a completely understandable viewpoint that social media has gone to shite since back then.

However, I do often laugh when I see people moan about Twitter and announce that they have had enough of it. As if ‘Twitter’ is a website which has lost its editorial values and you no longer enjoy the articles. Twitter is what you make it. Complaining about it is like staring into your own fridge, not seeing anything you like, and declaring publicly that you will now be boycotting all food.

If you think Twitter is bollocks, you’re following the wrong people.

As an illustration of how illuminating it can be, allow me to present a massively informative thread which sparked into life out of last week’s Tour of Flanders. More specifically, it was because of the identity of the winner. I tweeted this:

The responses included the likes of…

“Shut up Cillian, seriously just shut up”

“You don’t know anything about cycling”

“You’re a dick”

The insults are inevitable. But that’s what the mute button is for. In general, the responses were engaging and interesting. I had added a caveat to my comment on Terpstra that I was unsure why I felt this way. Having just watched Paris-Roubaix today, it was quite a similar win by Peter Sagan to the one Terpstra had crafted the week before. Both attacked solo from relatively far out while all the other favourites thought it was too soon and decided to mark each other instead. A bridge was made to the early breakaway and they both just kept on motoring. Terpstra dropped all of his companions, Sagan dropped all but one. But the outcome was the same.

So why was I cheering on Sagan but was left utterly unsatisfied with Terpstra? With the help of intelligent replies on Twitter, I think I figured it out.

Terpstra’s wins tend to be as a result of races which have been nullified by big favourites staring at each other. That’s not Terpstra’s fault, he does brilliantly to take advantage of those situations. But he is allowed to take advantage of them because he is not one of those big favourites (at least, that was true before this year’s Tour of Flanders). A win in this manner is still to be applauded, but added to that, there is the fact that he is often playing second or third fiddle in his own team too, which again means he gets to take advantage of hierarchical happenstance and weasel through under the radar. Sagan is always the most marked man in the race. He has to win à la pedale, whereas Terpstra gets a free ride due to a stalemate.

So it is often that the race that Terpstra wins is a boring one, due to the circumstances which have allowed him up the road, not simply because it is Terpstra up the road. Whereas the race that Sagan wins is exciting simply because it is Sagan up the road.

What also emerged from this online conversation was several people informing me both publicly and privately that Terpstra is disliked in the peloton due to various incidents over the years and his attitude when riding in the peloton. L’Equipe even posed the question to him in today’s paper ‘why are you so unpopular?’

Ultimately, it’s all subjective. Some riders you like, some riders you don’t. A good reason doesn’t necessarily need to be present although it probably helps. It led to me asking this question:

…which I followed up with this one…

If you’re not inclined to wade through all the response, here is a list of all of the answers (in the order in which I received them) to who is your favourite cyclist:

Sean Kelly, Tom Dumoulin, Wout Poels. Andre Greipel, Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali, Alejandro Valverde, Lance Armstrong, Alberto Contador, Peter Sagan, Luke Rowe, Oliver Naesen, Thomas de Gendt, Steve Cummings, Greg LeMond, Esteban Chaves, Sylvain Chavanel, Zdenek Stybar, Niki Terpstra, Nairo Quintana, Romain Bardet, Philippe Gilbert, Fabio Aru, Federico Bahamontes, Sep Vanmarcke, Greg van Avermaet, Michal Kwiatkowski, Annemiek van Vleuten, Jens Keukeleire, Lars Boom, Wout van Aert, Julian Alaphilippe, Audrey Cordon Ragot, Joe Dombrowski, Dan Martin, Simon Yeats, Adam Yates, Giles Delion, Carlee Taylor, Fabian Cancellara, Ilnur Zakarin, Tim Wellens, Kasia Niewiadoma, Marcel Kittel, Pierre Rolland, Svein Tuft, Sebastien Langeveld, Marianne Vos, Adam Hansen, Mark Cavendish, Taylor Phinney, Bernard Hinault.

And on the flip side, here are all of the least favourite cyclists:

Nacer Bouhanni, Riccardo Ricco, Ryan Mullen, Gianni Moscon, Chris Froome, Raul Alcala, Lance Armstrong, Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan, Alejandro Valverde, Niki Terpstra, Jurgen van den Broeck, Robbie McEwen, Greg van Avermaet, Alexandre Vinokourov, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Bradley Wiggins, Laurent Brochard, Simon Gerrans, Vincenzo Nibali, Oscar Sevilla, Sep Vanmarcke, Laura Trott, Pete Kennaugh, Nairo Quintana, Marcel Kittel, Warren Barguil, Fabian Cancellara, Domenico Pozzovivo, Wout van Aert, Miguel Indurain, Mario Cipollini

The riders in bold are ones that appear in both lists. Some of them are polarising characters and would seem obvious as ‘love them or hate them’ types. But others I personally struggle to see how they would end up on both lists. But this is illustrative of the subjectivity of the debate at hand. There are no right answers, just as there are no wrong answers.

It was a great example of genuine engaged discussion on a platform which (despite my fridge analogy) is certainly not the same as it was when I joined it. But goes to show that with a liberal use of the mute button, we can still party on there like it’s 2009.

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  1. Rory - April 19, 2018 @ 3:45 pm

    Here’s an enjoyable current blog to add to your list Cillian –

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