A kernel of truth. A prisoner really was arrested in 1669 or 1670 and held for 34 years until his death in 1703. He really was held for some of that time in a specially-designed cell in the fortress at Pignerol, modern Pinerolo, an outlying prison for men considered an embarrassment to the state. And the mask? A total myth? A black velvet scarf? Who knows? The legend of the iron mask was first enshrined in writing by Voltaire, seven decades after the event. So that is all it is: a legend.
No iron masks for cyclists. No protective clothing at all, accepting helmets designed to fragment on impact. And the face. Remember Nairo: dead pan, unimpressed, with the man behind it, taking everything in. And his compatriot, Esteban Chaves, radiant, smiling, observing everything.
On the climbs, at the limit, the sponsors demand visibility and the riders want the opposite. We saw their race faces on Pramartino yesterday, at 17%, or at the top of the cobbled San Maurizio, with 2 km to go. Everyone was on the limit, and everyone was trying to hide it from the moto cameras. Valverde bares his upper teeth, Nibali purses his lips, Chaves’s clenches his teeth and Kruiswijk’s grimacing face resembles a smile.
And it is not just the faces; every physical gesture – each breath, each turn of the pedals – is both a moving part in the process of locomotion and a mask deployed in a game of kidology. Professional cycling is not a return to the physical self or a celebration of the animal body. Every rider is his own body double in a complex play of masks behind masks behind masks.
And so far the winner is Kruijswijk.