“Cycling is suffering”
– Fausto Coppi
It has always seemed appropriate to me that the great one day cycling races take place in the spring. Cycling has always contained a necessary element of suffering before victory, and what better time for focusing on suffering and redemption than Lent?
It doesn’t surprise me that the countries with the strongest histories of cycling, France, Italy, Spain, and Belgium, were historically Catholic. We Catholics like to focus on the pain and suffering part of the whole passion story. Jesus popping out of the tomb like a Jack in the Box is almost a postscript to the whole Easter season. That’s why we have the Corpus Christi on our crucifixes. Oh sure, after Vatican II we said we’d try to focus on the positive and start putting the Risen Christ on the crosses above the altar, but we didn’t really mean it. Walk into any Catholic Church, or home, and you are much more likely to see the bleeding, bruised body of Jesus nailed onto the wall.
I can even remember our 4th grade teacher, Sister Annette, explaining to us that the crucifixes showing the nails going through Christ’s hands were incorrect. She explained that the hand would not be able to support the weight of a body, so the nails would have had to have been driven between the two bones on his forearm just above the wrist.
I never gave the issue much thought until recently, but I guess it must seem pretty damn morbid to non Catholics to go explaining to 9 year olds the finer point of hanging corpses on a cross. Or for that matter, putting the crucified body of Our Lord and Savior above the bed in your bedroom. Kinda explains why we might want the lights off when we’re knocking boots. Dead bodies tend to kill the mood for most folks I know.
The great and pious Italian cycling legend Gino Bartali even went as far as to have an image of the crucifix attached to his handlebar stem for inspiration. Ask anyone who has ever raced a bike and they can attest that it’s an appropriate image. Even today cyclists will refer to a tough race as a Via Dolorosa, or “Way of the Cross”.
So as we head into the head winds of Holy Week it only seems fitting that I turn my thoughts back to the bike again. I am signing up for a 60 mile ride on May 1st, with a few guys from work. It’s called the “Iron Crotch” and it’s an annual tradition that is put together by County Cycles in Roseville. It’s a great ride through the St. Croix valley of Wisconsin, on rural farm roads. And best of all? There will be cookies. Oh yes, there will be cookies. You just have to go through a sufficient period of fasting and pain to get to them. I like to think they taste better that way.