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Death of the Superfan

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Flagstaff USAPCC 2012The USA Pro Cycling Challenge starts today and my excitement for Colorado’s own Pro-Tour stage race is tempered by a sense of dread over the way race fans conduct themselves along the course. I worked on media crews for the first two USA Pro Challenge races and witnessed a disturbing trend that seems to be getting out of hand; the rise of the selfie-superfan.

I got talking to UHC rider Ben Day last week and we eventually landed on this topic. While he agreed that the excitement and intensity of racing in cycling’s biggest events was intoxicating there has been a steady and very noticeable increase in the danger of riding through unruly packs of screaming spectators.

Traditionally superfans are just that. Passionate and motivated only by the desire to cheer on their favourite rider and enjoy the sport, they are the ultimate supporters. They ride and trek up mountains and wait for hours in searing heat and pouring rain just for a fleeting glimpse of their heroes and the chance to cheer on the icons of the sport, if only for a couple of seconds. In cycling spectators can actually reach out and touch their heroes, run along side them and scream their accolades at close range. This is good; in fact it’s great. This proximity brings a vibrancy and excitement to cycling that’s virtually unknown in other sports. The fans are on the road, in the race, part of the event.

It’s different now. There’s a new slant. Some superfans aren’t fans at all, they are in it for themselves. Sure they love the sport, brave the terrain and elements like fans of old and even yell for their chosen favorites but the game has become idiotic and dangerous.

You know where I’m going with this: Stage 18, Tour de France. Nibali is storming up the Hautecam when a woman, facing the wrong way and talking on the phone, steps out in front of the yellow jersey to wave at the TV camera. Nibali shoulder checks her and knocks the phone out of her hand as she reels in confusion.

Then there’s antler-man. You know, that guy with the enormous deer antlers/bull horns attached to some kind of helmet, variously seen running beside the peloton, full gas, waving a U.S.A. flag. He doesn’t scream encouragement at the riders or even seem to care that there’s a bike race going on. He’s almost taken out riders and support vehicles.

So my question is this: What the hell are these people doing? Cell-phone lady didn’t want to cheer for Nibali, she wanted to get on TV. The best part now is that she will be immortalized on youtube as the dingbat who almost took out the leader of the Tour de France. And why does Antler Man go to all the trouble to get dressed up in that ridiculous outfit and prance around essentially photobombing elite cycling events? He doesn’t apparently seem interested in the bike race, he just wants to be on TV too.

There’s a disturbing trend here and it probably won’t stop until one of the world’s top cyclists gets crashed out of one of the world’s premier cycling events not by a true cycling fan but by one of these narcissistic lunatics who are looking for their moment in the spotlight. To bring attention to this issue FirstBank, one of the USPCC’s top sponsors, has announced a ‘Most Respectful Superfan’ contest. Although a gallant step in the right direction it’s truly sad that it is necessary.

There is no code of ethics for being a superfan, but there should be. Actually it should be obvious, but obviously to some it’s not.

Try this: Enjoy the moment and the sport, get dressed up in a hilarious costume, wave flags and banners, rage at the top of your lungs for your pick to win and, if you must, run along side to prolong the moment. Just keep it safe. If you are in front of, or anywhere near a rider, you are a danger to them and yourself. Leave your dog at home, bike races are no place for your pooch. Camp out on the course, make a day of it, have fun, party your ass off, be safe and remember why you’re there: to witness the battle, to be part of the race, to immerse yourself in the excitement and atmosphere, to be a superfan.

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