Every sport has its own language. I have spent the past three trying to master the language of cycling, which, with its French origins, is beautiful.
The corps of riders is called the peloton. The cyclists laboring to put their teammate on the podium are called domestiques. At feed stations, the riders are quickly given little bags called musettes.
In French, soigneur means one who takes care of others. In cycling, soigneurs see that the riders are fed and clothed. They also haul luggage, wash clothes, clean wounds and hand out the musette bags. As the riders sort themselves out in a race, the peloton may divide into echelons.
Last Sunday, my favorite team, RadioShack Nissan Trek rode in the Amstel Gold in the Netherlands. For the first time since Paris-Nice in early March, Frank and Andy Schleck would be riding in the same race. I wanted to see it, but it wasn’t going to be televised.
At 8 a.m., early for me on a Sunday, I went online and found the live streaming sites. The English sites were not up and the race was on, so I chose a French station, hoping my college French would be of some benefit. Ha!
Instead of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, the British commentators for NBC Sports, I got two French gentlemen who spoke so rapidly I was able to catch only a word or two here and there. It became comical.
“Jamais, jamais, jamais!,” one commentator said excitedly. What one should “never, never, never” do escaped me completely. The word “maintenant” was sprinkled liberally throughout the commentary, though what specifically they were referring to “now” also raced by me.
Something or someone was “jolie.” Certainly some of the riders are pretty, but I’d be willing to bet they were talking about the countryside.
Though I sometimes want to reach through the screen and strangle Liggett, I realized his value as the race continued. I had little idea what was actually happening because I couldn’t follow the commentary.
RadioShack was riding near the front of the peloton. I understood when the commentators referred to “les Schlecks.” Too often the references were followed by hearty chuckles. It is unsettling when one misses the punch line. Punch line? Heck, I missed the whole joke.
As the race neared its end, a long and lanky rider for RadioShack attacked.
“Un Schleck,” one of the commentators said. At that distance it was difficult to tell Frank from Andy, but the rider looked back over his shoulder as he made his move, and both commentators said in unison, “Ahn-dee!”
I started laughing because I said it as they did. During last year’s Tour de France, the French called him “Andy stiff neck” because he spent too much time looking around to see what the other riders were doing.
A few seconds later, I lost the feed and my Frenchmen.
After much maneuvering, I managed to catch the sprint to the finish in English (Italian Enrico Gasparotto won) with what sounded like Irish or Scottish commentators.
I finally understood what was going on, but it wasn’t half as amusing.
Jan Hearne is the Press Tempo editor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.