For as long as there has been professional cycling we (as cycling fans) have been imbibing the intoxicating notion that certain up and coming cyclists may be the “next somebody.” Directors, managers, fellow cyclists, commentators, and pundits are always peddling certain members of the younger generation to be “as talented as (name your champion).” Why not? It’s easy to project hints of greatness into neverending glory when predictions can be so easily forgotten. It’s fun to seek out the new Eddy Merckx or Bernard Hinault. But very often the riders we saddle with these unrealistic expectations fail under the heavy weight of reality. Being an “expert” in sports predictions is like being a weatherman, noone is going to hold you accountable for being wrong tomorrow. Or if they do, it will be quickly forgotten. Don’t worry, you’re getting paid for trying, not for being right.
The unfair comparisons often follow two paths: nations are looking for young athletes who exhibit the same talent as older champions or certain young riders remind people of an older rider’s appearance and/or physique. Belgium is forever looking for the next Eddy Merckx. France is looking for the next Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault. Italy awaits the next Coppi and Pantani. Spain is constantly crowning a new Indurain. And America is already hunting for the next Lance. None of these side-by-sides are necessary. A rider can and should be able to stand on his own merits. His achievements should be able to speak for themselves. New talent should be able to carve their own legends on the sides of the mountains they conquer.
Often the greatness of the current generation is apparent but is easily overlooked. For years the Spanish press has been seeking a countryman who could measure up to the massive stature of Miguel Indurain. Abraham Olano, Alejandro Valverde, and just about any other Spanish cyclist who ever won a few races at the start of their careers has been labelled “the next Indurain.” Most recently it has been the success of Alberto Contador that has elicited these ridiculous platitudes. Why is this necessary? Why can’t Alberto Contador BE Alberto Contador? His remarkable feats stand for themselves. Perhaps one day when he retires, we will no longer have to justify his wins by comparing them to his successful forebears. When we can finally accept his resume for what it is and not what it could have been, maybe then we can finally say that someone else can be the next “him.”
The best thing we can say about any rider is that he’s not the next anyone.