Grasping for One’s 15 Minutes

In 1968, the pop artist Andy Warhol uttered his famous words, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.

Frankly, that’s not an achievement that I’ve ever been interested in pursuing, but it’s very clear that the woods are full of those who are consumed by their personal vision of claiming even a momentary level of notoriety.

I was watching Stage 8 of the Tour de France earlier today.  This was the first mountain stage of the race and that got me to thinking how long will it be before I would catch a glimpse of “The Devil“?
If you haven’t been a regular viewer of past Tour’s de France, you might be asking yourself, “Who the devil is the Tour de France Devil“?

Well, I am a regular Tour watcher and I’ll be happy to bring you up to speed on this topic.  Since 1993, Dieter “Didi ” Senft of ReichenwaldeGermany has been attending the Tour de France dressed in a red devil suit and carrying a trident.  He’s an expert at postioning himself along the Tour’s route each day so as to optimize his opportunities off being picked up by the mobile television cameras capturing images of the riders.  He’s typically seen during the mountain stages of the race when the slower speeds of the riders in the peleton ensure him of maximum on-camera time.  A few seconds here – a few seconds there, pretty soon you’ve tallied up your personal15 minutes.

Unfortunately in 2012, poor health kept Didi away from the Tour for the first time since 1993 and so far this year, I haven’t had any Devil sightings.  But there’s still two weeks to go, so I remain cautiously optimistic.

I have absolutely no idea why this gentleman feels compelled to dress up like the devil for three weeks each July. Likewise, I have no idea how he manages to get so much time off from whatever his normal occupation may be to attend the Tour with such regularity, not to mention longevity.  But I do find him to be a leading candidate for becoming the poster child for Warhol’s prediction that fame will ultimately become an entitlement for all who desire it; even if it happens to be fleeting.

Didi is certainly not the only example of sport’s fans engaged in the pursuit of drawing attention to themselves at athletic competitions.

As a sports photographer, I’ve had many opportunities to capture images of other latter-day Didi’s pressing the bounds of fashion and decorum to the breaking point.  I often wonder if these folks truly believe that their efforts inspire higher levels of performance from the athletes and teams that they are supporting or if they would they be honest enough to admit that their real motivation is simply to draw attention to themselves.


Here’s to those valiant sports fanatics who continue to confuse sporting events with the celebration of Halloween.  May their efforts at unbridled and unique self-expression continue unabated; for both events would be less enjoyable without them!


Photo credit: TchmilFan Foter CC BY-NC-SA


Remembering a Lesson in Humility

PeletonFor many years on July evenings after having completed another ordinary workday, I’ve been glued to my television watching the daily replays of that day’s leg of the Tour de France.

Momentarily putting aside all questions related to the use of performance enhancing chemicals, banned or otherwise, the Tour is a test of human endurance unlike any other.  I’ve always admired marathon runners, but imagine running a marathon, getting up the next day, going out running another one, and then repeating this regime for three consecutive weeks with only two or three days off to rest and recover.

Give me a second!  I’ve got to catch my breath.

Back in the 80’s, I used to be an avid recreational cyclist; black spandex and all.  Some friends of mine who happened to catch glimpses of me as I streaked through town, still haven’t recovered.  I got in to cycling after a chronic hip injury made it difficult for me to continue jogging for exercise.

At the time, we were living in the mountains of western North Carolina.  One of my favorite routes to ride was a 20 or so mile loop which took me on a winding road which snaked up a small mountain topped with a precipitous cliff known locally as Jump Off Rock.
Legend has it that Jump Off Rock was so named in remembrance of the young Cherokee Indian maiden who leapt to her demise over the cliff upon learning that her beloved had been killed in battle.

It’s interesting to note that in my travels to other states, I’ve come across several other so named Jump Off Rocks.  Apparently angst-ridden teenaged Indian maidens hurling themselves over the nearest available cliff reached epidemic proportions in pre-Colonial America.

One afternoon after riding to the top of Jump Off Rock, I sat in the shade resting with my bike laying in the grass at my feet.  I noticed that there was a very elderly gentleman taking in the view of the valley from the overlook above the cliff.  He turned slowly and noticing me, he began hobbling with the use of his cane over to where I sat in the grass.  He was 90 years old, if he was a day.  He looked like Methuselah.

After a few moments of closely examining my bike, he began poking at the derailleur on the rear hub with his cane.  With a deep German accent and in broken English the old man excitedly asked, “What’s this?  What’s this? 

Those are the bike’s gears.  Makes it easier to climb hills.”  I replied hoping that the explanation would cause him to stop pummeling my derailleur with his staff.

Huh!  When I was a young man, I rode my bicycle from Heidelberg to Barcelona!  Over the Alps and up the Pyrenees!  One gear!  ONE GEAR! ” he bellowed flailing the air wildly with his cane.

Hoping that my leaving might allow the elderly German to calm himself and thus avoid a coronary, I hopped on my bike and began the glide down the mountain troubled by having just been completely humbled by a 90+ year old Bavarian.
Leading up to this year’s Tour, NBC Sports aired a documentary on the history of the Tour de France.  As old black and white photographs from the inaugural 1903 race scrolled across the screen, the narrator intoned that the bikes used in that era had, you guessed it, only one gear!

Hah! I  thought  to myself.  I could still have taken that guy in a 50 yard dash!

Auf Wiedersehen!


Photo credit: hans905 / / CC BY-NC-SA
Photo credit: D.Clow – Maryland CC BY-NC-ND
Photo credit: bilobicles bag / / CC BY-NC



Seeking Forgiveness, Celebrity Style

I just read that Lance Armstrong, seven time winner of the Tour de France, is considering apologizing for the use of performance enhancing drugs, an act which he has spent the last few years vehemently denying.

I don’t know if it’s the case, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that a bevy of high-powered public relations specialists are holed up somewhere working feverishly at developing a strategy by which Armstrong, or perhaps more importantly his reputation, can be rehabilitated.
It worked for Tiger Woods. Why shouldn’t it work for Lance?

After cheating on his wife with a list of bimbos rivaling the length of the Yellow Pages, all Tiger did was recite a well scripted “apology” to an empty room, lay low for a few months, and then come back to the cheers and adulation to which he had grown so accustomed.

I keep hearing that it’s in the nature of the American people, sports fans in particular, to be very forgiving. Of course the reality is that most of those pronouncements are made by the same PR gurus who are earning their very lucrative livings rehabilitating the characters of one tarnished athlete after another corrupt politician, not to mentioned the occasional befouled celebrity. I’m not sure that’s the type of resource I would select to reliably assess anyone’s true nature.
Anyway, back to Lance. He seems to be following the trail first blazed years ago by Pete Rose. That is – lie, dissemble, deny, and fabricate until the cows come home and then be prepared to apologize as if you’d never contradicted the truth in the first place.

I’m not sure Pete has been completely satisfied with the results he achieved and I don’t expect that Lance’s experience will be any more satisfactory if he chooses to pursue that route.
Maybe the best thing to try would be a “Forgive Lance” campaign complete with a distinctively colored lapel ribbon, or perhaps a wrist band.

Now that’s idea whose time had come!