The world’s biggest football tournament and the world’s biggest bike race go head-to-head this year. Which will you be watching, asks the Doc

Football’s World Cup is only held every four years. The inescapable logic of this is that it is therefore only a quarter as interesting as the Tour de France.

Technically, of course, they do have a global tournament in the Olympics as well, but, surrounded there as it is by sports like cycling, no one ever notices it’s happening.

Cyclists are unusual among sports fans in that they rarely display any significant interest in sports outside their main interest. Mrs Doyle, from Father Ted, for example, described football as “a load of men, kicking a bit of leather round a field”.

Yet last year at the Irish Championships, she appeared at the roadside to shout “go on, go on, go on, go on…” at me, thus showing a deeply sophisticated understanding of the subtleties of time trialling.

So I thought some sort of rough guide to the difference between cycling and football might be useful.

Onscreen heroes
Football on TV is interspersed with adverts featuring players. This rarely happens in cycling, unless you count the ever-so-slightly homoerotic Sidi advert from last year that featured 
Ivan Basso and Vincenzo Nibali making salad out of a shoe.

Football adverts are also very fond of suggesting that the average fan might get the chance to step into the action and play the national hero. Clearly, though, this is just a fantasy. In cycling, on the other hand, absolutely anyone with a mankini and a flag can get right in there with the riders. Pull on a replica world champion jersey, head for the final climb of the Giro, and you can determine the outcome of the stage with one well-placed shove.

Football is played in a stadium. This has a number of limitations, the main one being that it does not move.

Cycling goes to the people, but the people must go to football. And when they get there they will have to pay hundreds of pounds for tickets that entitle them to see small snippets of the action between the heads of the beer-sozzled mass of humanity in front of them, while keeping one protective hand on their wallet, and using the other to extinguish their trousers, which will have been set on fire by the fan next to them waving a flare.

On Dutch Corner on Alpe d’Huez, you can, of course, enjoy almost precisely the same experience entirely 
free of charge.

Football is played on grass, a surface we’re most familiar with from mountain biking, cyclo-cross, picnicking, and collapsing on after some real sport. You can also grow grass longer, dry it, pack it in to bales, and use it to protect fragile lampposts from the rock-hard craniums of crashing bike riders.

Not so tough
In the 1956 FA Cup Final (think of it as a sort of National Criterium Champs), Bert Trautmann played the last 15 minutes of the game (a couple of laps) with a broken neck. This is unusual for a footballer. Most footballers take several minutes of agonised rolling around to recover from a bruised hairstyle.

On the other hand, when 
you see a cyclist on TV clutching some part of his anatomy, 
you know that it’s almost always a sincere attempt to prevent whatever it is from actually 
falling off.

Finally, in football, no one from the British Isles is going to win anything this summer. In cycling, on the other hand….

“Cycling moves; cycling goes to the people, whereas the people must go to the football”

How to… Achieve work/life/cycling balance

Work. This is the portion of our lives 
we spend paying for all the nice bike kit.
Life. For those with families and domestic responsibilities, this is the portion of our live we spend paying for the time spent using all that nice bike kit.

Cycling. This is the portion of our lives we spend suffering like a dog because we spent too much time on the other two.

Balance is impossible to achieve — it’s an unstable situation. If you try to spend more time on servicing your domestic mojo, you’ll have more time to ride, but won’t be able to buy those lovely new wheels that the Cycling Weekly review pages say you can’t live without so there will be no point. Not in cycling, not in family life, and not really 
in living.

If you work enough to pay for the wheels, you’ll end up feeling obliged to go on a family trip to the seaside while they sit in the garage slowly turning into last year’s model,  necessitating their sale on eBay for a fraction of what they’re worth, followed by another two months of overtime to pay for next year’s wheels, which, once again you’ll never get to use.

If you just ignore all of that and go cycling, you won’t be able to work enough to support your family. They will pack up and leave you, which will mean you’ll be forced to spend everything you earn on bicycles, and all your spare time riding them.

However, there will be no one to tell you that you look stupid in Lycra. And we couldn’t have that.

Dear Doc

Last week you complained about cycling in the rain. I used to avoid this too, until I realised that the thing I really didn’t like was cleaning the bike.

So I pointed out to my wife that if I wasn’t going to ride in the rain, I’d be on the turbo-trainer in the kitchen for four hours instead. I also pointed out that it was a shame there was no one to clean my bike, because if there was I’d be able to go outside instead.

So she made our daughter do it by threatening not to give her a lift to her friend’s. Problem solved.

Stuart Jenkinson, email

Stuart, you and your wife are a passive aggressive inspiration to us all. Chapeau! And to your daughter: don’t forget to pick all the crap out of the brake blocks.

  • David chadderton

    Dear Dr Hutch, I must clarify a common misconception that, unfortunately, you managed to perpetrate in your excellent analysis of Work/Life/Cycling Balance. Have you ever actually seen a dog suffer? A working Kelpie loves herding sheep, jumping up onto the back of sheep in the Australian sheep truck, running rings around a peleton of apparently mindless wooly jumpers-to-be. Greyhounds love to race four laps around a flat velodrome. Foxhounds yelp at the opportunity to chase a furry meal back to its rabbit burrow. A Dingo will hunt for food in the wilderness. Pet dogs will play as long as their master throws their ball. My Whippet is stretched out across my legs in blissfully slumber, bone on bone here, and won’t budge until mealtime after a run in the park. ‘Suffer like a dog’? Let us put that old-fashioned adage away into the archives with the cat-o-nine tails lashing and keel-hauling from the days of a The First Fleet down under please. My Whippet just stretched and snuggled into a more comfortable gap.

  • Peter Marlow

    Football… what went wrong? The biggest sport in the world, with god knows how many millions tuned in to see the World Cup – but what is there to watch? A vacuum, nothing more than a silly game – a “sport” so emasculated that it’s now unwatchable. A game played by halfwits, watched by halfwits, and apparently managed and governed by halfwits.

    We have much to be proud about where cycling is concerned.