Riding is Life


The curious case of Chris Froome’s ‘yo mama’ joke

How a fictional exchange between two cyclists blew up on social media.

Iain Treloar
by Iain Treloar 08.09.2023 Photography by
Cor Vos
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At the 2015 Tour de France, Nairo Quintana and Chris Froome spin their legs out on trainers after a stage finish. Quintana, wearing the white jersey of best young rider, turns to Froome, an inquisitive look on his face, before unleashing the following scathing question: “Do you even lift bro?” Froome looks back, a small smile playing across his mouth: “I lifted your mom last night.”

That’s the (probably) fictitious scenario that has, for five months, illustrated the Wikipedia article for the popular juvenile joke, “yo mama”. If you’re not familiar with this schoolyard staple, here’s how Wikipedia describes it: 

A “yo mamajoke is a reference to a person’s mother through the use of phrases such as “your mother” or other regional variants, frequently used to insult the target by way of their mother. Used as an insult, “your mother …” preys on widespread sentiments of parental respect, making the insult particularly and globally offensive.

Up to speed? Great.

As with most of the 55+ million pages on Wikipedia, this page passively attracts traffic from the small number of people searching for it (an average of 20 a day), most of whom presumably have no idea who the two figures portraying the ‘yo mama’ joke are. That was until yesterday, when the wonderful Twitter account @depthsofwiki posted a screenshot, which caught the attention of the cycling community which were suddenly deeply invested in the idea of Froome cutting Quintana down to size with a crude quip. For observers of the form (i.e. me) it’s the most exciting crossover of cycling with internet weirdness since Primož Roglič’s Twitter got hacked by makers of Nazi NFTs for ‘ex-incels’. 

While the illustrated scenario of Chris Froome making bawdy commentary about Nairo Quintana’s mum was itself pretty ridiculous, it also posed some bigger questions. Firstly: the claim in the screenshot that the target of the joke was mothers (which it isn’t, really – the mother is merely a proxy for the recipient of the jibe). Secondly: whether there was actually a ‘yo mama’ joke portrayed in the Froome/Quintana picture (broadly, but it’s far from the classic format, which typically begins ‘yo mama’s so [adjective]). And thirdly: who had put this picture there, and why?

The intrigue was about to deepen even further, because almost as soon as attention was drawn to the image it was gone. Head to Wikipedia now in search of the etymology of ‘yo mama’ and you’ll find an unillustrated slab of text explaining, in dry scholarly detail, the origins and evolution of this cutting remark. You can read about the first recorded yo mama joke (3,500 years old on a Babylonian stone tablet), see an example of a particularly spicy 14th century Egyptian version, and marvel at Shakespeare’s way with words. This text has been steadily honed over 2,380 edits since 2004.

What you will not find: Chris Froome on his way to a second Tour de France title, Nairo Quintana on his way to a second second place, and a clumsily executed yo mama joke that someone put together with Comic Sans font in MS Paint.

Chris Froome leads Nairo Quintana down a descent at the 2015 Tour. A donkey with polka dot ears watches on with disinterest. All very normal.

If it’s not funny enough that this picture was there for months and now isn’t, the backstory of its arrival and deletion is perhaps even funnier. The editing history of the ‘yo mama’ page shows that the Froome/Quintana example was first included on 19 April, submitted by the user ‘Synotia’. Over a frenzied period of almost five hours, this mystery user made eight separate edits to the page: mostly adding historical context to ‘yo mama’, meticulously building out the backstory of a childish one-liner. Then, just before logging off, Synotia deleted the existing picture on the page – an advertisement in German with a clumsily translated joke – on the grounds that ‘Nobody cares about a German advertisement’ (fair). Replacing it: the Quintana/Froome image. 

Was Synotia its creator? That might seem plausible at first glance, but I suspect not. For starters, Synotia’s extensive edit history and talk page shows a person with a strong opinion on the Arab-Israeli conflict, a deep knowledge of Moroccan and Yiddish linguistics, some Feelings about former-Yugoslav dictator Josip Tito … but little evidence of an interest in cycling. 

A clue to its origin lies in a later edit to the image introducing alt-text (“alt text lmao this is one of the funniest images on this site”, the editor wrote) and attributing the image to a Flickr page belonging to Glory Cycles.

Glory Cycles, a Greenville, South Carolina-based bike shop that closed in 2022 after multiple reports of undelivered products and unfulfilled refunds, had either created or uploaded the picture with the caption “Worlds best Yo mama joke #tdf2015” (it isn’t). Somehow Synotia seems to have come across it, uploaded it to Wikipedia, and for months, it sat there, waiting to be discovered by the internet-famous @depthsofwiki. 

And then, just after Froome’s vicious put-down was publicised and blew up on Twitter, it was gone. Not because of anything boring like a copyright complaint or a challenge from Quintana or Froome’s legal teams, but because of the much funnier reason that a Wikipedia admin took offence to it. This admin – we’ll call him Randy, for that is his name – was concerned about the implications for the cyclists: “these are real professional bikers and should not be used as props with words being put into their mouth.”

Thirty minutes later, another user reverted Randy’s decision. “It’s a valid example,” they wrote. An hour later, an increasingly cranky Randy deleted it again. “This … shows two actual real people, professional racers – have they been asked if this joke is fine with them? Is the one’s mother alive and healthy and, if so, does she mind this? Does the implication that the biker in yellow has had an affair with the other fellow’s mother okay with him?”

“Hey Nairo, do you ever get the feeling that in 2023 we’ll be at the centre of a spat between Wikipedia editors about a ‘yo mama’ joke?”

For several reasons – language barriers; inability to explain succinctly why I want to know these things; the fact that it would be real fucking weird – I chose not to contact Known Business Mogul Nairo Quintana to ask if he was concerned about a fictional Chris Froome making a yo mama joke about his mother, or whether she would be upset about him doing so (for what it’s worth, Mama Quintana appears to be alive and healthy).

But, I did delve into Randy a little bit, finding that in addition to contributing 242,000 Wikipedia edits since 2007, he has had a colourful life as a parapsychologist, skilfully dodged the grasps of the Heaven’s Gate death cult, really wants the photographer of Donald Trump’s mugshot to be appropriately credited, and definitely created and then extensively edited a Wikipedia page about himself. Why he has a bug-bear about this particular depiction of a yo mama joke, I can’t say with any great certainty. Some things you’ve just gotta chalk up to Randy being Randy. 

Which leads us to the end of the trail of cycling’s big crossover moment in the yo mama-sphere. I like to think that we’ve learnt some things along the way – not just about the history of a classic line, but about the two protagonists in a picture that was for several months the definitive example of the form.

Most of all, though, it’s been a valuable reminder of the weirdness of the internet – a place where an image clumsily put together in a now-bankrupt South Carolina bike shop eight years ago can suddenly have a moment, even though it doesn’t really illustrate the thing it’s supposed to be illustrating, before being removed because someone else is a bit of a bore. Like the history of the yo mama joke or Wikipedia edits since time immemorial, it’s been a wild ride.

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