‘Field People’ – 2008 Circuit des Ardennes

When you reside for a good long period of time within the bubble that is a race convoy you learn to talk lightly so as to catch all that could be vital from race radio and you speak in sync with the squawking voice emanating from it. I was with the Rapha Condor Team at the 2008 Circuit des Ardennes and as the Belgian Ardennes slipped past with team manager John Herety at the wheel of the team car he exclaimed; ‘field people’ and the race mechanic knowingly chuckled from the back seat.

‘Field people?’ I enquired.  John explained that in the many years of travelling in race convoys he has noticed very often that away from the race there are people standing in the middle of a field watching the spectacle. Despite the semi-myopia of living the bubble life you are able to spot things not immediately associated with the race, and now made aware by John, I began to notice more and more ‘field people’.

The ‘field person’ stands alone in the middle of a field sans farming tools, farm clothing or even a dog and away from any noticeably path; the lone ‘field person’  creates suspicion especially when so often many others are hugging the road side to enjoy a shared experience of watching or making themselves part of the action.

Psychologist Gustave Le Bon argued that individuals in the crowd lose their sense of individual self and personal responsibility, drawn by the anonymity of the crowd. Thus they can let go social shackles, throw away restraint and act in a manner that is often deeply scolded by Eurosport commentators especially on the Tour de France.

Much of what concerns psychologist’s and sociologist’s is how a crowd turns ugly (or is an ugly mob from the outset) for instance ‘convergence theory’ says a crowd is a product of the coming together of like-minded individuals and thus reflects its behaviour. Whereas ‘social identity theory’ argues that if the crowd is primarily related to some identifiable group then the crowd’s attitude will reflect that. And don’t get me get started on Sigmund Freud’s theory of the crowd and the ‘super ego’.

The psychological perspective might be important but as with everything each theory is in itself likely to create another knot to further undo. Maybe it’s very simple; ‘field people’ just don’t like crowds, but they do like cycle racing. To add a little bit more theory a ‘field person’ may be a proto-‘Situationist’ as outlined in their 1960’s political pamphlet; ‘The Society of the Spectacle’, which makes the point that society has surrendered activity to passivity – we love spectacle but only to watch it. But our lone ‘field person’ can’t quite commit either way.

Thus the ‘field person’ stands aloof and may not have the courage of their convictions to completely disconnect with other fans by the side of the road, so there he (they are mostly male) stands alone in the centre of a ploughed field or a crop of cabbages watching at a distance.

To this day ever since my journey with John I look for ‘field people’ as I travel by car, train and even aeroplane – and there they stand even if there is no cycle race to behold.

Circuit des Ardennes
The Circuit des Ardennes is a semi-classic stage race held since 1951 in the hilly border area of France and Belgium.

As a race it’s hard, very hard with plenty of tough roads and climbs, but probably more fundamental is that it helps to assert the Ardennes as a region. A region that straddles two nations and when the race crosses the border you really can’t tell the difference between France and Belgium.

Apart from the ‘field people’ it was interesting to see how continental fans love these races as they can get up close with the riders and team staff. Fans come prepared with folders containing pictures of the riders contesting the event and ask for autographs. They are always disappointed if a team doesn’t have a postcard of individual riders to give them.

More pictures here: https://cyclephotos.smugmug.com/CycleSportLondon/Field-People/i-t5CVKhd