Sunday, April 10, 2011

A lesson in French: Souplesse

This post is dedicated to Chris Lutz who has been a devout follower and whose interest in my writing inspired me to get back to doing it.

While reading a number of different books on cycling a word I have stumbled across (different then stumbleupon) a number of times is the word Souplesse. It's a word that almost inspires a sort of holy reverence in the writing of the authors. Before I make my attempt at explaining souplesse let us look at the origin of the word:


Etymology: souple + -esse

From Latin word supplex meaning supple or yielding

Now as we can infer from this souplesse in its literal meaning is to exude the qualities of suppleness, however, as it relates to cycling that isn't exactly what it means. In cycling it refers to the smoothness and gracefulness of an athletes pedal stroke. We all have that image of someone mashing the pedals as they try to get to the top of a hill, it's rough, painful and usually involves them making movements like they are suffering from extreme constipation. Now to say a cyclist moves with souplesse is to say that when they are in the extreme pain trying to get to the top of the hill rather then making the jerky constipated-esq movements they move their feet in smooth graceful arcs that turn in perfect circles around the center of the crank axle and if you looked at their upper body you could almost mistake them for sitting at a bar or piano enjoying sometime to themselves because of the total relaxation they are able to maintain over the upperbody while suffering in their legs so immensely.

This I think is one of the most beautiful things about sport: The higher level the competition, the more seasoned the athlete and the closer they are to perfecting their stroke the sport almost takes on all the grace, delicacy, poise and beauty to it like that of a ballet. So I suppose in theory you could apply the use of souplesse in cycling to other sports, because, like in rowing when 8 seasoned rowers at what is their peak in a training cycle the art, balance, and rhythm which they move the boat together if slowed down is almost more art then sport. However, as is the differentiator is when it comes down to it these athletes may perform with the grace and beauty of a ballerina but they are also racing with the aggression and power of a raging bull. I think thats what makes someone who can race with souplesse so revered, the beauty and the aggression hang in a wonderful balance, like ying and yang or day and night, and, as rowers know all to well, all it takes is for one to slightly out balance the other and the souplesse is gone.

Keep your SWAG on.