Cycling is unlike other sports. There is no single vantage point from which it is possible to watch a cycling race. You can see the riders pass from a fixed position at the side of the road, but it is impossible to tell who is closing on whom, and the peloton passes in a flash. Take Andrey Amador’s swashbuckling attack with 11 km of yesterday’s stage to go. From the roadside it would have been impossible to read.
The camera bikes gave us the sense of urgency written in his expression, and the fluid strength of his pedal strokes, but the wider race context is missing. You needed the heli shot to see his position with respect to Jungels and the rest, although, from up there, the telling details – the deepening pain, the waning vitality – are invisible.
The only way to understand the racing, yesterday and every day, is through quick and repeated changes of viewpoint, each one of which giveth and taketh away. The constant shuffling between part and whole, the ceaseless play of insight and blindess, lies at the heart of what Schleiermacher called the ‘Hermeneutic circle.’ At every moment, we form a preliminary understanding of the action, which then has to be modified as each new camera angle or graphic datum appears on screen.
At one point, when Amador’s lead over Jungels was approaching one minute, it seemed certain that the Giro d’Italia would have its first Costa Rican leader. The next thing we knew, Amador was flagging on the final straight as the group of favourites appeared over his shoulder. All that endeavour, all that excitement – and, when the action is digested and the results analysed, we are back, nearly, where we started.
Direct visual access to cycling is an illusion. However close the television seem to take us to the action, it reveals itself to the mind, not the eyes. There is nothing more mediated than a totality.
The one thing that is absolutely unmediated is the joy of youth. Here is yesterday’s 21 year old stage winner Giulio Ciccone: “I’m a first year professional, so I didn’t have huge expectations, but from my first race in this category I have been good, and in every race so far I’ve been up front, so I was already thinking about this first win, although I certainly didn’t think it would come at the Giro. Today the dream I have had all my life has come true.”
And the new Maglia Rosa, Bob Jungels, aged 23: “I’m not that experienced in wearing the Maglia Rosa, so I don’t know how far I can go. I will just try to follow the best as long as possible and keep the jersey as long as I can, because this is one of the biggest moments in my life so far and I want to keep this jersey on my shoulders a few days.”