In praise of hair gel


Colombian cyclist Ramon Hoyos, as the spokesman for Lechuga hair gel/pomade. For those of you who took spanish in high school, yes, the name brand of this product translates to "lettuce".

Schubert, Mahler, Tchaikovsky, and Beethoven all left unfinished symphonies behind. Since critics have unanimously agreed that my work on this blog is on par with that of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky (their blogs were awesome), I started to wonder a few days ago if I too could possibly leave behind an unfinished symphony of sorts. I thought long and hard about this, and quickly came to a conclusion, I couldn't do such a thing to my fans. My greatest masterpiece, my life's work, which I call The Colombian Trinity, was sitting before me...unfinished. I had to get to work, and quickly. Not because I'm dying, but because I needed a post for today, and it was already Sunday night.

The Colombian Trinity?
In case you don't know (and there's no way you can, because I just made this up) The Colombian Trinity is how I lovingly refer to the three primary components that best explain my Colombian childhood. I have spoken before about the first two ingredients in this holy Trinity: gold chains, and Brut cologne. But what about the third? Without telling the masses about this third key ingredient, my masterpiece would be left unfinished. It's with that mindset that I set out to explain the last component in the Colombian Trinity, which oddly enough could also be referred to as the Cycling Trinity. This is because most modern-day professional cyclists seem to have very similar taste in accessories to me when I was 5-8 years old. They love gold chains, they love cologne, and they love that third ingredient in the Colombian gel.

Perhaps some of you will question my assessment regarding professional's love for cologne, but believe me, they love the stuff. I've stood next to a couple of professionals in my day, and I detected more than a whiff of cologne. Even on race day. At the start of this year's Roubaix, I walked by the Quick Step bus, and the whole thing smelled like an Axe Body Spray factory. For those of you who don't know, body spray is cologne's retarded cousin...and that's saying a lot, because cologne is already a bit retarded. So please, trust me when I tell you that professional cyclists love cologne. It's a fact.

Do you seriously think that a guy with hair like this, one who is known to wear head-to-toe Ed Hardy, is is not going to wear excessive amounts of cologne? Come on now.

1984 was a landmark year for me, because it was in that year that I discovered both cycling and hair gel. As such, 1984 was as much of a breakthrough year for me, as 1905 was for Albert Einstein. Clearly, my discoveries would go down in history as being far more important than Einstein's, so let's focus on mine, shall we? During the summer months of 1984, I started listening to the Tour de France on the radio with my brother. He introduced me to cycling, and I admit that during flat stages, I would often doze off, while he stayed awake listening. The stages started at about 6am, if I remember correctly, and we'd both lay in our beds, listening to his small alarm clock radio for the duration of each stage. The entire country was in a cycling frenzy, and we were too. Soon enough, I'd also be in the midst of a hair gel frenzy.

Hair gel and fist pumping. Who knew that Belgium and New Jersey were so closely related.

In 1984, I was largely unaware of the nascent connection between cycling and hair gel. Races were never on TV, only on the radio, so I never saw what most riders
(European or otherwise) looked like. As far as hair, my only obsession back then was having a mullet. This was because every soccer player I admired sported one. Had I known how common the use of hair gel was/would be in the peloton, I would have gladly taken to using it sooner. But that was not the case. My introduction to the amazing hair product came via my mother. Yes, I was a young kid, and I suddenly started using massive amounts of crunchy hair gel because my mother insisted on it. Why you ask? Because at the time, my mother would often beg my brother and me to gel back our hair, in the style of Carlos Gardel. Gardel was the biggest, and most well known Tango singer (yes, Tango is a musical style, not just a dance), and he had long ago been officially deemed "dreamy" by every mother in Colombia. Because of this, all of us Colombian kids (ranging in age from 5 to 12) were asked by our mothers to slick back our hair so we could look like the long-defunct Carlos Gardel. In retrospect, this could now be seen as child abuse...but those were different times.

The mere mention of the name Carlos Gardel, will make any 50 to 90-something South American woman swoon. Try it sometime. If you're going to ask me why Colombian mothers at the time were asking their male children to model themselves after an adult man that died in the 1930s...I'm afraid I can't answer that.

So while my mom introduced me to hair gel (and bought me my first gigantic tub of the stuff) so that I would look like her beloved Carlos Gardel, I—because of my age and fashion sense—ended up looking a bit more like this:

Yup, that was me. Do away with the cycling shorts, the helmet, and the sunglasses...add a gold chain with a crucifix, some cologne, and you have a pretty good idea as to what I looked like at the time. To be fair, I should also point out that my hair was not as big as the one shown on this picture. My state issued ID card (from 1984) shows that I favored parting my hair straight down the middle, and poofing up both sides of the part (with the help of hair gel) to the point where my head looked exactly the head of a penis. To that great look, I simply added my charming personality, and I quickly had every girl in northern Bogota dry-heaving in horror. So while my mom wanted her son to be handsome and mysterious (like Carlos Gardel), I came out looking like the smelly, hair-gelled, pre-pubescent turd that I was. Still, I thought I looked pretty bad ass back then, so I spent every afternoon doing endless laps around my neighborhood while riding the purple BMX bike that my brother and I shared. I proudly let my gold chain and crucifix dangle as I would climb the neighborhood's steepest hills, just as I had seen riders at the Tour and the Dauphine do in the short clips that were played in the evening news. I spent that and following summer vacations pretending to be in the Tour de France, while sporting my penis haircut proudly. Through those years, I endlessly begged my mom for a road bike that never came, but at least I had my hair gel, my cologne, my crucifix, and my penis hair cut. So while the new bike never came my way, the endless supply of hair gel did. And thank god for that, because my mullet was only years away, and the spiked part on top was not going to make itself stay up.

For this race, a young Frank Schleck put on the minimum amount of hair gel required by the UCI for European-born riders, and then asked Flava Flav to borrow his glasses. Luckily Flava Flav abided.

Looking back
When I tell my American wife stories about the fashion decisions I made during my youth, she always stops me mid-story and asks "wait, how old were you at the time?" I don't know why she asks this every time. I guess American kids in the 80s weren't awesome, and didn't wear gold chains and cologne when they were only like five years old. I guess American kids weren't fashion-aware when they were ten, and never went to the hardware store to buy chains and assorted steel hardware that they could put all over their jean jackets along with Slayer patches. Boy, did they miss out.

Contador and Schleck wearing their UCI-issued gold chains.

It's for this reason that when I look back upon my youth, I realize that I was lucky. I was lucky because I had a healthy upbringing. One that included (at different times) a mullet, a fashionably bleached rat tail, the penis haircut, as well as a steady supply of cologne and hair gel courtesy of my lovely and caring parents. Sure, other bloggers may know lots about cycling history. Some are experts on cycling equipment, and many race, or have ridden around the world six times. Me? I've done none of those things...but at least I had a head start on being awesome. I didn't embrocate as a child. I didn't shave my legs as a young man...but damn it, I was there rocking the gold chain and hair gel, from he start. I was out there on the front lines, fighting the good fight. I fought for the freedoms that are now afforded to every cyclist. Now we can all safely sport a gold chain, use substantial amounts of hair products, and even wear cologne if we wish. Freedoms aren't given, they're earned. And I helped earn them for you.

You're welcome.

Extra credit

Putting the stupidity of this post aside, I just want to say that I'm saddened to hear about Armando Borrajo's passing. Borrajo was a talented Argentine rider, and he committed suicide only days after he was released by kidnappers. Perhaps the saddest aspect to all this is that similar things have happened to other cyclists in South America before (see here and here).

May he rest in peace.