The sprinter is all thighs. Whether he is small and powerful like Cavendish, or big and powerful like Cipollini, he is always powerful. His job comes down to the last five hundred metres of the race, but it is a big job. The sprinter is respected, first and foremost, as a virtuoso.
The sprinter is the best manager of the strength of others. He nests in the peloton throughout the day, leaving his team to impose law and order at the front. He spoils himself, riding small gears and so turning his precious legs in velvet.
Then, when the finish approaches, he hides behind the train of his team-mates, who are charged with taking him close to the finish line in a good position. Only a little slower than him, they link five or six sprints together in a row, preventing the opportunists from jumping away, and launching the sprinter like a rocket into orbit.
Let us be clear, though: the sprinter is not a shirker. He is not a man of the shadows. He belongs to the world of light, though primarily light in the form of camera flashes.
In the last five hundred metres, he has his head down on his job. He is putting the tools of his trade to the test. Torsion on the handlebars, squashing of the tyres and rims, torture of the bottom bracket, efforts to drop the chain, destruction of the pedals. Going off at a patently unreasonable speed, he knows that he is guilty of a folly but he has confidence.
Confidence in himself and confidence in the privileged few who still fight it out with him and who barge him with their shoulder, brushing against his spokes with their pedals, zigzagging on the road in front of him.
When he is finally sure of his victory and when the finish line is his, he lifts his head and then his arms in a beautiful unfurling which resembles taking flight. At that moment of glory, he smiles at his strength and the logos inscribed on his jersey are perfectly readable. He’s a good salesman, the sprinter.