Marianne Vos: Woman Cycling Champ at La Course

There’s a short cycling video out that really grabs me. It’s taken on a video camera attached to the bicycle of Marianne Vos, a Dutch cyclist, who was competing in a race called La Course, a one-day, 13-circuit around the finishing loop for the Tour de France in Paris. The action happened on July 27, the same day that the Tour finished there. The women raced earlier in the afternoon.

Vos with medal

Marianne Vos with her 2012 Road Champion gold medal

Vos isn’t just any racer. Born and raised in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands (also the home town of that enigmatically powerful Renaissance painter Hieronymus Bosch), at age 27 she is one of the very best, if not the best, woman racing cyclist. She’s held both the World and Dutch National titles in both cyclo-cross and road racing multiple times, has won three of the last 4 Giro d’Italia Femminile GC titles (along with the points classification all 4 years), and is defending Olympic Gold Medalist in the women’s road race, as well as defending champion of the World Road Race and World Road Cup titles. No wonder they say her nickname is “The Cannibal,” in honor of a dominance similar to that of Belgian Eddie “The Cannibal” Merckx in his heyday.

You can tell that Vos is a confident racer just because she let them put the camera on her bike in an important race. In an age of cycling when every gram is weighed and analyzed, this was no small concession. What the camera shows is the last couple of kilometers of the race. From the viewpoint of the bike’s head tube, where the camera is attached well below eye level, the somewhat fish-eye lens gives a less-than flattering view of the rear end of the rider whom Vos is following most of the time, but it’s interesting to see how close the riders are. You can hear the rumble of the cobble-paved streets, and the sudden hush when they hit the asphalt sections. You can sense very clearly the incredible speeds at which they are traveling, the precise closeness in which they group themselves, the clear reality that one second of hesitation, one wrong “read,” one bad move, and you’re out of it. There’s a pretty big bunch that resolves itself in the last few hundred meters to four. This happens primarily when Vos finds a space right next to the barriers and goes to the front; you could swear she’s going to hit the stanchions a la Dave Zabriskie a few Tours ago.

In the finishing straight there are three bikes ahead of Vos, then as she really starts her sprint the image sways rhythmically from side to side, faster and faster. Then there are only two ahead of her, then one, then none as the finishing line looms up. You hear an off-camera scream of joy, the swaying stops, the shot fades to black, “The Cannibal” wins again. Well worth the two minutes of viewing.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2014.

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