Thursday, July 8, 2010

Victory Salutes

NOTE: This post is rated PG-13 for a crude gesture.


Check it out:

Is this a little man trapped in my smartphone, trying to bust his way out? No, it’s a large man, the Norwegian sprinting ace Thor Hushovd, who has just won Stage 3 of this year’s Tour de France. Alas, his exuberant—and I must say, macho—victory salute got a little too close to the screen there.

In this post I’ll discuss bike race victory salutes, including my own (albeit limited) history with them, and catalog some of the more interesting ones. I’m well aware I’m not the first person to have blogged about this, but I think I can apply a fairly unique spin. And if you don’t like it, you can just leave.

Why victory salutes?

The victory salute actually serves a very humdrum purpose: it makes a bike racer’s sponsor highly visible in photos. A racer is usually bent pretty far over the bars and if he didn’t sit up and show the logos, his sponsors would feel cheated. Some clothing makers are even clever enough to put their logo on the palms of cycling gloves so they show up in these photos.

Of course that’s not the only reason for victory salutes. It’s also a show of exuberance, like a football player spiking the football on the ground after a touchdown (though I’m led to believe this has for some reason been outlawed). For ages the victory salute was a pretty simple, rote thing, but in the last couple of decades racers have evidently felt the need to constantly innovate with their salutes. They bring in new elements all the time: pointing at the heavens with a reverent look; stabbing their chests with their fingers as if to say, “See? Me! Me! Me!”; or even, in the case of a Tour de France stage win by Carlos Sastre in 2003, crossing the line with a pacifier in his mouth as a way to dedicate the win to his two-year-old daughter. (There’s a much better way to honor a baby, as you shall see later.)

First-hand experience

Alas, most of my own victory salutes have been done in practice. After my brothers and I signed up for our first race, the 1981 Red Zinger Mini Classic, we spent the weeks leading up to the race practicing our victory salutes, just in case. Up and down our street we’d ride, a finish line imagined in front of the house, and we’d throw our arms up in various ways, critiquing one another’s efforts. Occasionally we’d stage a sprint, taking turns “winning” so we could better approximate the feeling of doing a real salute. It didn’t occur to us to actually train for the race, nor did we realize that our chances of needing a victory salute were way down there with winning Lotto.

My brothers and I were forbidden to ride no-handed, of course. Max got chewed out at the dinner table because my dad had seen him riding down a nearby street, Howard Place, with his arms folded across his chest. My dad tried out sarcasm: “Oh, here’s the big … macho stud riding with his arms folded!” Bryan, Geoff, and I laughed and laughed. I think our dad’s awkward phrase was as funny to us as Max being bawled out. (We were also forbidden to race: “You boys are too stupid to race bicycles. You’ll get yourselves killed.” Lack of supervision was a real blessing in that household.)

The first race I can remember winning was the citizen’s edition of the Buckeye Road Race in Colorado in 1985. There wasn’t much of a field there, and I’ll confess that my victory salute—after all those years of dreaming!—was just a bit sheepish. I’d debated about even doing one, and finally decided I’d better, as there were several categories on the road at once, I’d dropped the second-place rider by a huge margin, and I wanted to make sure the referees saw me go by and registered that I was a winner. (This strategy served me well in my 1990 world championship victory as well.)

In the 1985 Red Zinger Mini Classic, I was second in most of the stages. There was one guy I couldn’t beat, Peter Stubenrauch, who won every single stage leading up to the final one, a criterium. I managed to beat him in a couple of primes during that last stage, almost certainly because he threw them (not being a particularly greedy guy). I didn’t realize this at the time; I just figured I was having a great day. On bell lap, I really psyched myself up, told myself I could beat Pete, just like I'd beaten my own brother on this course earlier in the year. I launched my sprint early, and—amazingly enough—managed to hold Pete off all the way to the line. I threw my arms up, shook my fists, and roared with satisfaction—“YEEAAAH! YEAAAAH! YEAAAH!” As victory salutes go, it was way, way over the top. Finally I looked back at Pete, whose reaction was simply, “Dude, we have another lap.” Which we did—I’d sprinted a lap early and hadn’t won after all! I was completely mortified. In fact, I just about died of embarrassment. (The race director evidently didn’t know you’re not supposed to have a prime on the penultimate lap.) To assuage my humiliation afterward, a friend said disingenuously, “I just figured you really, really liked primes!” If there’s a moral to this story (besides “Check the lap counter!”) it’s “Don’t overdo the victory salute!”

Among my handful of victories in mass-start races, the most satisfying was the 1986 Boulder Cup criterium, around the Pearl Street mall in downtown Boulder. It was a pretty big race, though the junior category I was in was missing the top local team, Dale Stetina’s 7-Eleven junior team (who were doing a big race elsewhere in the country). The problem was, the finish line was too close to the first corner of the course, and I really felt like I didn’t have enough road for a victory salute. (It was a close sprint so this would have been an after-the-line deal.) Also, I couldn’t believe I’d actually won. In fact, it wasn’t until the end of the fifteen minute period during which riders could register protests that I really believed I had. Not that I’d done anything worth protesting; it’s just that a) racers in those days always seemed to be protesting every finish, and b) as I said, it seemed too good to be true. Later in the day my friend Bill won his category of the race, did throw his arms up, and just about stacked in that first corner.

Once I joined the collegiate racing circuit, I never won another race, except team time trials. It would be the height of conceited absurdity to throw your arms up at the end of a TTT, of course. The only time I’ve seen a victory salute work for a time trial is with the modern Tour de France, where the overall race leader starts last and knows, from his director yelling in his earphone, that he’s done well enough in the TT to defend his yellow jersey going into the last day’s race (which is little more than a parade and a last chance for the sprinters to have stage-winning glory). A couple of racers I can think of (Lance Armstrong and Carlos Sastre) have finished the last Tour time trial with modest one-armed fist-pumps that were, I think, tasteful.

A brief catalog of victory salutes

Of course I can’t categorize every type of victory salute, as new ones are being created all the time, but there are some classics worth describing. I also won’t position myself as an arbiter of taste as far as these are concerned; that’s what the teeming masses of fans are for. Another disclaimer is that I had to use amateur models for my photos, as I can’t afford professionals and don’t dare post copyrighted photos from race coverage websites. Thus, these won’t be perfect examples of the various salutes, but they should get the point across.

The Classic

The most basic victory salute, of course, is just throwing your arms up. The palms can face forward, or you can make fists, whatever. This was Davis Phinney’s standard victory salute; no matter how much he won, he kept it pretty simple. Nothing wrong with that!

Note that if your eyes are closed and/or your chin in way up, this becomes the “fireballs to heaven” salute most famously used by Alexi Grewal when he won the Olympic road race in 1984.

The Fist-Pump

The simple fist-pump victory salute is useful in a variety of situations. If you’ve sealed your Tour de France general classification victory with a solid ride in the final time trial, this is appropriate (whereas anything else wouldn’t be). The fist-pump is also good if you don’t have much maneuvering room after the finish line, or if conditions are otherwise sketchy. It can also, oddly enough, be the opposite of modest: Sean Kelly won so many races, sometimes he just couldn’t be bothered with a more extravagant gesture.

The fist-pump is often used in conjunction with other victory salutes. When a rider manages a solo breakaway, you’ll often see a combination platter of salutes as he approaches the line, and this is a very common one in such cases.

The Awkward

I don’t think anybody ever does this one intentionally. Sometimes a rider is so wasted at the end that his victory salute is just kind of off. Maybe one arm is higher than the other, or neither is raised high enough. Most often the awkward salute comes from somebody who doesn’t win a lot of mass-start events, so the victory salute is anything but old hat. I’m reminded of Christian Vande Velde’s victory salute when he won a stage of last year’s Paris-Nice. It wasn’t a bad victory salute, but his legs were kind of going one direction and the rest of him another.

Really, I kind of like the awkward victory salute; it’s sort of sweet, like the guy never expected to win and didn’t spend a lot of time practicing how to throw his arms up. (The exception is the guy who forgets to zip up his jersey. That’s just downright unprofessional, and generally unsightly.)

The “I can’t believe it”

This is another charming victory salute. Sometimes it comes right on the heels of a standard or awkward victory salute; the racer suddenly can’t believe it’s really true he won, and clasps his head (or these days his helmet) with his hands. The expression of joy that accompanies this particular salute can bring a tear to the eye. It’s hard to simulate in a photo shoot but I think young Lindsay has done a pretty good job here.

The Rock-the-baby

I first saw this one from Alexandre Vinokourov, though several riders have done it. It’s a tribute to the racer’s infant offspring, though I suspect it’s really more of a peace offering to the spouse left behind at home changing diapers and cleaning spit-up while the pro racer is off pursuing glory. I don’t think you’ll ever see this one after a bunch-sprint, where the guy is going like forty miles per hour and has to worry about being run into from behind. It’s perfect for solo victories, so long as you have an infant child at home. For a non-parent to do this salute would be just plain weird.

Joy from the heart

I’d be surprised if anybody recognized this one; its heyday was in the eighties when cyclists were still very Euro and hadn’t adopted the brutish American no-neck aura of NHL and NFL players. I can’t remember the last cyclist I saw do this one—it’s been a while—but I remember practicing it. I think any racer would earn extra style points for bringing it back.

The Second Place

My friend John used this once. He’d been finishing second to our friend Nico a lot, and though I don’t think John invented this salute, he managed to put it to use. It’s not likely to ever become popular because it takes real presence of mind to remember it, and has to be done just right or the crowd won’t understand it. I once got second in a collegiate criterium and it never occurred to me to pull this one out; I was too busy sprinting and frankly hadn’t really counted on losing. Good for a guy who is dropped from a two-man break just before the line, I guess.

(By the way, my model, Alexa, had no idea that this was a pantomime of a guy shooting himself in the head. She just followed my instructions and chalked the oddity up to another inexplicable cycling behavior.)

The Tyson

Obviously this one is a bit dated. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it used, but I practiced it plenty and did get to use it once, in a collegiate team selection race. (We had a series of intra-club races to determine who rode in what categories.) I well remember the joyous cackling of Trevor, our coach, team president, and star rider, watching me from the sidelines.

For years I tried to get my friends Bill and Pete to use this one in competition, but as often as they won they couldn’t be bothered to do the Tyson. It’s a pity. Lindsay does a wonderful job here; her missing teeth lend an extra air of verisimilitude.

The Contador

Alberto Contador wins all the time, and invariably does the pistol-shot victory salute. He’s even taken to doing it while up on the podium, and I once saw him pause beforehand to make sure all the photographers were ready. It has a scripted quality to it, almost like he’s a careful custodian of the Contador brand, but it’s not a bad salute. I wonder if somebody besides Contador will ever dare try it. Surely someone out there has the chutzpah to bite Contador’s style, just to make it fresher….

The Cav

No catalog of victory salutes would be complete without the outrageous victory salute that got the brash road sprinter Mark Cavendish ejected from the Tour de Romandie this year. It ranks up there (down there?) with Alexi Grewal throwing his bike over the finish line at the Morgul Bismark stage of the Coors Classic, or Grewal ripping his 7-Eleven jersey down the middle before a victory salute at the Garden of the Gods in Colorado springs (which antic got him thrown off the team). As irresponsible acts go, this salute beats doping, anyway. (Speaking of responsibility, rest assured that although Lindsay does a great job with this one, she has no idea what the gesture means. Heck, not being Italian, I don’t know exactly what means either. I do have a strong sense that this photo wouldn’t’ be a good one to post in Lindsay’s“My Book About Me” for school.)

And there you have it: a brief catalog of victory salutes. It's never too early to start practicing these, though for many of us it may be too late.

dana albert blog


  1. Check it out, just yesterday Andy Schleck did a victory salute very much like the Tyson!

    You can see Schleck's full salute the end of this last-km video:

  2. I loved the pictures and the video--I'd say, just like you, these kids here have a future in bike racking--in the victory salute department, anyway!

    Dana, you'll be happy to know that on the STP this year, I did victory salutes crossing into Oregon (at the top of the Lewis and Clark bridge over the Columbia river,, taking the sprint into Portland *and* crossing the finish line! I wish I had a picture of it...