For as long as we’ve been sentient we’ve pondered the purpose of existence. Indeed, literature, art, and song all resonate with cries of “What does it all mean, anyway?” Is life merely a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing? Should we be content to cultivate our gardens? Are we destined to boogie oogie oogie until we just can’t boogie anymore?
Nevertheless, the search continues, which is why some of us turn to religion–
Amid the scene, a group of eight riders gather near the lobby bar and exchange hugs, greeting each other like old friends at a reunion. Veteran rider Ben King joins the group, as does Evan Huffman and Greg Daniel. One by one, they slip out of the room, walk down a hall, and into the silent back corner of the hotel’s empty bar. The conversation simmers, and the riders sit in silence.
Then they begin to pray.
Our Fred, who art in Lycra, crabon be thy frame…
The prayer session is another meeting of the cycling-centric ministry of Athletes In Action, the national Christian sports group that was founded nearly half a century ago. AIA’s cycling ministry is just five years old, launched in 2012 by Todd Henriksen, himself a talented racer whose pro career ended just shy of the European peloton. Henriksen and his co-chaplain, Brian Firle, crisscross the country during the season, holding prayer sessions for cyclists on the eves of the country’s largest races.
Frankly it’s surprising it took this long, because if ever there was a sport to make people question their life choices it’s cycling:
Riders in the UCI Continental ranks rarely perform in front of television cameras or huge crowds. How does one define his or her place within the cosmos when success depends on grabbing a water bottle from a team car?
“Everything they do is based on performance, and their value as a person is wrapped up in that,” Henriksen says. “As a Christian, you know that God loves you no matter what you do, no matter if you’re successful or not. That kind of thinking gives them a purpose-based identity. It gives a lot of freedom to live your life.”
Actually, if you think about it, there’s really no sport that’s more Christian than cycling. Consider:
- Guy acts like he can walk on water and heal the sick
- One of his trusted disciples betrays him
- Guy comes back and starts a podcast nobody listens to
Come on, if Jesus came back you’d never know it. The sad truth is that if the beatitudes were a tweet storm nobody would retweet it.
Of course, just like the early Christians who had to meet in secret, the Christians of the peloton are also a misunderstood minority:
“Most people think that if you’re Christian, you’re some crazy Bible thumper.”
Hey, I’m just being honest. And I can assure you my feelings in this regard are by no means limited to Christians. For example, one time we were in a restaurant we didn’t realize was kosher and my wife took out an orange slice to feed to our baby. Now, you can’t bring filthy non-kosher food into a kosher establishment, and for all they know we could have been keeping that orange up a pig’s ass. Anyway, our inadvertent transgression caused a kerfuffle, and presumably they had to then scrub the place down like the candy bar scene in Caddyshack:
All that aside, it is true that life in the peloton is life on earth distilled: a roiling, churning, all-consuming entity that alternately elevates the ego by dangling in front of it the prospect of victory, and then wears it away on the grinding wheel of pain and difficulty. And amid this abject existence of oxygen debt, this stampeding herd of Lycra-clad haunches, this swarm of goo-slurping locusts (and mixed metaphors), it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that if there is indeed a God then it’s an Old Testament one who governs by attrition. It’s also hard not to conclude that the rules to which this God demands adherence are more or less arbitrary, and that the inconsistent manner in which this God punishes transgressions is equally so. But it’s easiest of all to conclude that all of that’s irrelevant and it is what you make of it. So if nothing else I supposed you’ve got to admire these people for seeking what Jesus represents in an environment where any evidence of those qualities is scant at best, though you’ve also got to admit that ultimately it’s a place for the pragmatist–
Froome is allowed to race while the case continues, although many in the cycling community — including UCI president David Lappartient — said he should sit out until a ruling is made. A decision, and any appeals, could take up to one year.
Sitting it out because people think you should just isn’t how survival works.