Riding a Line: Competition and Cooperation in the Sport of Bicycle Racing

in Sociology of Sport Journal

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Edward AlbertHofstra University

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The subculture of bicycle racing provides a situation in which the relationship between formal rules and dominant sport ideologies, and the taken-for-granted informal structures produced by athletes during competition, may be observed. Ethnographic and interview data suggest that such structures as pelotons and pacelines create both the opportunity for and the requirement of cooperative efforts between opponents, standing in stark contrast to more conventional conceptions of sport in which only unambiguous conflict between competitors is seen as legitimate. Here the informal norms of cooperation are central to insider definitions of the social order and are accompanied by strong sanctions for noncompliance. This cooperative informal order is seen as especially problematic for novices, as it diverges from widely held beliefs in the independence of competing units and the importance of overcoming opponents through maximum individual effort. Media coverage of the sport, in disregarding cooperative efforts, both creates and perpetuates erroneous stereotypes, making socialization into the sport more difficult.

Edward Albert is with the Department of Sociology at Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY 11550.

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