I'm the cycling version of Matt Damon, but without the enormous teeth



Matt Damon shows off his physique, but hides his teeth.

It's a preposterous fantasy, and I know that. Still, it seems to run in the back of my mind constantly. Based on how often the same fantasy comes up in third and fourth rate Hollywood movies, it seems as though I'm not the only one having such thoughts. The movie Good Will Hunting explains it best. Remember that movie? The one where Matt Damon first mystified audiences with his gigantic white chompers? In that movie, Damon plays a janitor who works at MIT, and despite his lack of training in mathematics, manages to solve complex problems taken from the algebraic graph theory. He has no training, no preparation and no credentials...but his natural talent makes him a better mathematician than the field's brightest minds. If the general idea of the movie sounds familiar, it's probably because:

a.) You've seen the movie before


b.) Because this general plot comes up in movies more often than Menchov falls off his bike.

Think about it, movies like The Natural, Rookie Of The Year, The Soloist, and Rudy all rely heavily on this notion. To some extent, even masterpieces of cinema like Legally Blonde and Teen Wolf rely on this fantasy a bit as well. They tell us about individuals who lacked the physical or mental requirements to achieve a certain task. The homeless man with unbelievable musical talent, the 5'7" kid who goes on to play football in Notre Dame. Some are based on factual events, but the message is the same. They tell us how someone just like us, someone with no training could perform miraculous tasks like playing Major League Baseball at thirteen, or get into Harvard Law while barely even trying...and yes, they tell us about a teenage wolf who can somehow dunk a basketball. Even the cycling movie Breaking Away features some components of this general idea. Sure Dave Stoller trains and he motorpaces behind that truck, but could he really beat those evil Italian pros (if it weren't for their unethical tactics)? Sure, we all cheer for the underdog, but the intoxicating allure of these stories runs deeper. I suspect that their appeal has something to do with our desire to cut corners, and our desire to be better than those who've worked very hard at something...be it mathematics, football, or music. We want to be like Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. We want his skills, but few of us want his gigantic teeth.

(Update: Readers object to me lumping Rudy and The Soloist in this list. If you care about this controversy, look through the comments of this post for my shocking response to these scathing allegations)

"How do you say 'I want to cut corners' in Italian?"

It's a beautiful dream, the thought that unbelievable talent lies dormant inside of us. But life is not that beautiful. In actuality, life is cruel, and so is the amount of work it takes to get into Harvard Law. Another thing that is cruel is the amount of training it would take to beat the evil Italian professionals. Life is cruel because doing high level mathematics is extremely hard, and because very few people in the world have the ability to reach that level of performance in any field...be it mathematics or sports. And yes, life is also cruel because a teen wolf could never dunk a basketball...particularly one who is as short as Michael J Fox.

By the way, you guys all know about the extra who flashes his wang at the end of Teen Wolf right? If you don't, you can watch it here. It's safe-ish for work-ish. I mean, it's on YouTube, but maybe you can just wait and watch it at home.

The fantasy is fundamentally opposed to the reason why many of us like to ride our bikes. We don't necessarily want to skip the hard work, because for us the simple act of riding our bikes is the goal. We know that we'll never reach the equivalent of getting into Harvard Law. We'll never be professionals, some of us may never even race. We enjoy the process, and we prepare only to perform better at further preparing for a test that may never come. This ongoing process may seem like a fruitless pursuit to many. One person at work who knows that I ride a bike asked me if I wanted to race the Tour de France one day. I replied that it couldn't happen, but that it wasn't the point. I asked if he ever wanted to play in the Super Bowl since he liked football, or the World Series for baseball, but he got mad at me. He said I'd never make it to the Tour, and that it was my negative outlook that was holding me back, and that I had to think positively about these things.* A similar event happened this spring when my in-laws mistakenly understood that I was going to France not just to ride the Paris Roubaix course, but to do the race. They seemed mystified when I told them I wouldn't be able to do the race with professionals.

(Update number two: A reader now tells me via the comments section that the Bike Snob book features almost this exact story. I should know that, since I read and reviewed the book. Still, it did happen to me. I 'm not stealing material from the guy. But wait, do you think anyone else in the world has ever been called "Lance" while they ride their bike as I have? That would be like impossible right? I think so.)

Right, right. It's my attitude that's holding me back. Nothing else. But how could I explain to this person that I'm willingly performing a task that may never "pay off" in the sense that he understands? How can you explain that the pay off is the activity itself? Do people ask runners if they will be winning the NYC Marathon or going to the Olympics anytime soon? If the secretary at your job tells you she finished a marathon, do you ask her if she won? No, you don't, because you're not a dick. As it turns out, we enjoy the process and the work. We enjoy the small victories, the ones no one even notices. Having said that, the silly fantasy of having a hidden talent or physical ability within still lurks inside my mind. It bounces around my head gently as I ride my bike alone. In the end, I'm no different from anyone else who paid to see Legally Blonde on opening night. I dream of having a genetic trait that will finally be unleashed, thus surprising everyone including myself. We want to surprise those around us when the sleeping giant within us awakens. As I stated before, it's a preposterous fantasy, but it's one that seems to take hold every Monday as I ride to work. Over the course of the week, the fantasy is fueled by delusions of grandeur during my commute. By Friday, I'm in a delusional frenzy, but by Sunday, it all comes crashing down. Reality sets in. I'm a teenage wolf, I'm short, and I can't dunk. It's over. And this is how it plays out in mind:

I ride to work. Because I'm riding alone and at my own pace, I feel strong. I notice that my pace seems to be a bit faster than it's ever been before. I think back to how I felt during this month the year prior, and I realize how I've progressed over time.

My pace is good, I'm climbing well. Is the wind on my back?

My climbing has definitely improved recently, I'm sure of it. I can't believe I'm riding this effortlessly on my heavy commuter bike. I guess that if a janitor can be smarter than grad students at MIT, anything is possible. To think of all those guys who spend hours training and doing intervals. What a waste. My amazing physiology knows no bounds. I'm a natural.

Okay, this is getting ridiculous. I remember when this climb seemed tough, now it's a joke. I think I may be cutting my time in half, or something close to that. If anyone were riding with me right now, they'd be suffering. I would hear them screaming in pain...begging for mercy. I would slow down, and I would wait for them. When you're this strong, it's the right thing to do. You have to be humble. The teenage kid in Rookie Of The Year was humble, I should be too. It's a gift that my genetic make up allows me to be this good. I should be thankful, and I should treat others who are slower than me with respect.

I should really race this summer. Why am I letting this kind of talent and speed go to waste? I don't think a crit would be sufficiently challenging...I need something with a substantial amount of climbing. I wonder if the muscles in my legs are stretched tighter or differently than everyone else's? How else could you explain this speed and strength? I'm not saying that I could race professionally, but I think I'm up there.

I'm taking the day off. The speed I unleashed yesterday was almost scary. Do I seriously need to ride everyday? I don't think so. I'm a natural. Teen wolf never practiced dunking, and he still managed.

Sunday ( The stages of grief present themselves: denial, pain, anger, depression, acceptance)
Sweet mother of jesus and baby jesus, I'm in trouble. How the fuck do these guys expect me to keep up this pace? Damn it, how can this guy climb like that? Look at the size of him. Christ. I should never ride again. This is embarrassing. The ride should've ended twenty miles ago, this is ridiculous. God, I hope this light turns red so I can stop for a second. What? No, no...don't run the light. Fuck, they're running the light. Shit. Why are they running the light? Why run this light? They weren't running lights six hours ago. When I get home, I'm going to shower and get under the covers. Once under the covers, I'm gonna' lay in the fetal position for the rest of the day.

And thus it ends. Reality sets in. I quickly realize how others are stronger than me. I have no secret talent. I have no genetic gift that has magically allowed me to improve substantially without doing any work. I'm humbled. But as I lay in the fetal position, I start to forget. Memories of that day's pain get cloudy. By Monday morning, I start to believe again. I'm having delusions of grandeur, and I'm dreaming about the hidden talents that quietly lay within. It's all ridiculous, and completely unlikely. But it's also alluring and terribly entertaining, so the cycle starts again. By Monday morning, I have huge white teeth and I'm doing high-level mathematics, I'm Teen Wolf, and I'm dunking all over the place.

Extra credit

I know that perhaps I sound like a broken record, since I write about Pablo Escobar and Colombia during the 1980s often. Still, I felt that I had to share these two videos since they are trailers for a documentary that will be airing tomorrow (Tuesday) on ESPN here in the United States. As such, I felt that posting them any later would be of no use. The documentary is about Pablo Escobar's involvement with Colombian soccer, as well as the murder of a Colombian player due to a mishap during a game. This is something that I wrote about only weeks ago, so it seemed fitting. Sadly, I doubt that anyone will ever make a similar documentary about Escobar's connections to cycling. Too bad.