Monday, July 18, 2011

The Power of Yellow

No one who follows pro cycling and the Tour de France would have ever predicted Thor Hushovd holding the lead for 7 days. He's a fine sprinter and time trialist, of course, but it's not as though those 7 stages of the tour were tailor-made for Thor. He held onto the lead even when the stage route was decidedly un-Thor-like, such as when the route headed for the mountains.

It was almost as if he was endowed with some sudden superpower, at least for a while. And truly, he was: he was riding in the yellow jersey.

Something about riders wearing that thing seems to give them a surge of invincibility. There's a definite mind-over-matter effect to the bearer of the highest daily honor in the Tour de France.

The yellow jersey is the Ring of Power. It's Samson's hair, it's the Ark of the Covenant, it's Elmer Fudd's magic helmet in What's Opera, Doc.

That's a tall order for nothing more than about a yard of fabric.

I like to think that, if such a humble article of clothing could impart so much confidence and strength and courage, certainly other seemingly insignificant things can do the same.

Here's my question: Is it all in what the thing itself represents (like, does the world have to know or care that this object is to be awed and admired?), or is it only about what it means to the bearer?  Does the One Ring get its power from the mythology built around it, or from the mythology that resides in Frodo Baggins's head?

I think that both are right, but the latter is more significant. And so I decided to test my theory.

For the Tour of the Valley race, I did up my nails in Snakebite colors*, as a way of showing my team loyalty,  and to keep my race hopes and dreams right there at my fingertips, as it were.
*I don't 'do my nails', ever. I can't be bothered, and besides, I use my hands, so it's such a waste of time. 

Zoom in to check out the crazy manicure-of-power
Did this subtle but power-attracting act deliver me to the podium? No, but every time I glanced down and saw my garish black/orange/blue fingers curling around my aero bars, my TT-induced suffering seemed to diminish. Just a little.

I honestly think that there's something to all of this, and that the whole notion simply begs for experimentation. After all, it can't hurt, right?

So, I'm gonna consider bearing my own cycling talisman with me on my next ambitious ride or race. And I'm gonna bet that some of you are already carrying your own 'power sources' around with you,  either on the bike or in everyday life.

What's your yellow jersey?


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  2. Nice blog Pam. I was equally surprised by your painted nails. I guess if mentally it helps, do it. Its all a mental game when it comes down to how good your performance is. Too bad Hushvod didn't keep the yellow but seeing Voeckler wear it again has been nice.

  3. There's nothing that I always carry on a ride or race, other than the usual stuff that you should have to be prepared for any mechanical mishaps. I try not to be superstitious, but sometimes human nature takes over no matter how rational we try to be. When I crashed and broke my collar bone during my cross-country trip a few years back, the jersey and shorts I was was wearing survived, but it took me a while before I could make myself wear them again. A few weeks later in the trip, I wore the shorts with a different jersey, and vice-versa, and finally, near the end of the trip, I wore them both together again and broke the bad juju.

    Of course, I would consider it bad luck to ride a stolen bike, not that I'd ever consider it anyway. I think no matter how rational a cyclist thinks they are, I think we all hope this superstition holds true!

  4. Jackie - it is, indeed, a mental game! And so anything that gives you better mental focus, even some small token to bring you back to the present moment, might be all that is needed to turn a bad day into a great day. Who knows? Are you going to try it?

  5. Kevin,
    I'm a little superstitious about my tool bag. If I don't carry it, for sure I'm going to need it.

    I'm glad you found a way to de-criminalize your 'survival kit'!

    But I wouldn't discount the entire mental/subconsious connection to objects. Maybe the association created by the jersey and shorts - fear, pain, etc. - creates over-cautious behavior, which in turn leads to more bad stuff. The 'bad luck charm' then lives up to its reputation.

    Even though it's the exact opposite effect that the yellow jersey has on the rider wearing it, I think it's the same principle.