When the future poet Robert Browning was five years old, his father created a game to explain the siege of Troy. The family pets were assigned roles, the furniture represented the besieged city. Later, his father introduced him to Alexander Pope’s translation of the Iliad. The child’s appetite whetted, he later chose to learn Greek to be able to read the original.
Browning remembered the scene in the poem Asolando, written towards the end of his life in yesterday’s stunningly beautiful finish town, Asolo. Apart from documenting his father’s unorthodox (and rather wonderful) approach to education, the poem asks what use mythology has in modern times.
I, now mature man, you anticipate,
May blame my Father justifiably
For letting me dream out my nonage thus…
Cycling is the sport of dream states. The very peloton has an amorphous quality. and behaves in ways that defy the individual, conscious mind. The racing transitions mostly lack clearly structured punctuation points – except for sudden, and not infrequent, falls.
History is what happened, they say, and myth is what happens, and what happens in cycling is that the very battle to form the long breakaway dooms its riders to failure. Just ask Anton Vorobyev, Liam Bertazzo and Vegard Stake Laengen, who formed yesterday’s long breakaway only after the peloton completed the astonishing distance of 51.5km in the first hour of racing, and lasted until 25 km from the finish.
If cycling has a myth-like structure and a dream-state quality, it’s basic scenario is the elemental nightmare sequence, where the dreamer flees the bogeyman but can never quite escape. Amador yesterday fled Jungels, but the rangy Luxembourger chased him down with all the swagger of the giant replicant Roy Batty hunting down Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) in Blade Runner. Then, just when Jungels seemed about to ride away from Amador, Diego Ulissi swooped.
If cycling has something of the flavour of our fantasy life, it is also true that internal imaginings are fundamental for the riders themselves. Asked if he had ever fantasised about riding the way he did yesterday, Jungels was quite open: “Every young rider does. You watch cycling on TV and imagine yourself in the leader’s jersey, attacking. It’s still hard to believe that I am here, although I’m not trying to walk in anyone’s footsteps. I’m just doing my thing and we’ll see how far we go.”