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At The Races

At the Races #4: Pro-Not-Pro

Casual observers of the race day mise-en-scene have oft commented on the smattering of professional riders who appear to be taking the day off. What are they doing on the sidelines? Why aren’t they racing? Not only are they missing out on all the action, but they’ve gone through the trouble to show up in their race day finest only to sit around and observe. Their kit is immaculate, their socks tall and pristine, their shoes preternaturally clean—shoes so white you can’t help but believe that your visual experience of them has been touched-up by some sort of real-world/real-time post-processing; we’re talking about a gleaming white on par with Gosling’s teeth—and their bicycles sparkle with the value of their scarcity and glint of regular driveway washings. And their hair, their wonderful hair! When released from the confines of their silly plastic helmet, their hair is perfectly perfectly imperfectly coiffed, mussed only by the weight of life as a professional.


Who are these racers? What is their story? MFS took it upon ourselves to investigate this phenomena, and we’ve spent years in the field researching and observing these riders. Who are they? What team do they ride for? Why do their Director Sportifs allow them to just casually lounge amongst us mere mortal spectators?


Our conclusion: these are not professional riders at all! Rather just fans and enthusiasts like you and me who utilize a sophisticated—but attainable—costuming technique to mimic the appearance of professional riders. What we have are examples of Pro-Not-Pros, fans who ascribe to the idea that imitation is the highest form of flattery. What’s more, some may believe that co-opting the mien and costuming of a Pro brings them closer to being a Pro themselves, a form of archetypal vampirism—you have to act the part in order to play the part in order to be the part.


This imitation is an essential form of Fandom and plays a critical part in elevating the road racing spectacle: what would the the crowds on the Alp d’Heuz be without a smattering of these cycling mimes? MFS applauds the efforts of the Pro-Not-Pro and we value the essential role you play in the Professional Road Racing ecosystem; your work elevates the mystique of the Pros while at the same time breaking down the barriers between those Pros and their fans.

The Pro-Not-Pro is the Elvis Impersonator who continues to stoke the fame and flame of the King.”– MFSHowever, we must issue a warning to all current and would-be Pro-Not-Pros. MFS has observed that Pro-Not-Pros can get a bit carried away with the act of playing the part. It is not uncommon for Pro-Not-Pros to wear a demeanor of haughty aloofness, gleaned from the Pros just like a pair of gleaming, perfectly mid-calf socks. This is a mistake and error in observation; professionals constantly field demands from fans (and journalists and race officials and team staff, etc.), and this can foster an austere and distant disposition simply in order to get through the day, sanity intact. It is another rigor of the job, being touched by the curse of fame. But Pro-Not-Pros should be warned that assuming this same demeanor—without necessity—is an easy way to draw the scorn of photographers, journalists, and your fellow fans. Pro-Not-Pro, what will your path be?

Field Study: Pro-Not-Pro

AT THE RACES is a study of the more ubiquitous or “prevalent” types of chillers found spectating PRRs on any given day, at any given race. To help us properly identify and catalog chillers, Manual for Speed commissioned world renowned interpretive illustrator and dog walker Thomas Slater. Thomas holds a Ph.D. in Contemporary Human Taxonomy from Oxford and has been supporting his family as a commercial illustrator since the age of 7. His recent work titled Gran Fondo’ler (Confessions of a Cycling Enthusiast) is currently being considered for a solo show at the Tate.


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