Thursday, 10 July 2014

Why I Love le Tour de France

It’s a funny one this. I don’t have any particular interest in cycling for almost 11 months of the year. I don’t follow the Giro d’Italia, or the Tour of Britain. I don’t mind going for a short cycle ride in the sun, but anything more than 10 miles is pushing it a bit for me, and you can say goodbye if there’s a breath of wind in the air. Yet every summer Tour fever hits, and it hits me hard.

I’ve been an avid fan for the last 5 years or so, so much so that I’m finally contemplating getting the ringtone. Like any sports fan, I’ve got my favourites. Andy Schleck has been my baby ever since he came second to the cheating rat that is Alberto Contador in 2010. I’ve got buckets of time for both Jens Voigt and Tommy Voeckler. Obviously, I’ve got to support the ever charming Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, and Mark Cavendish is so brilliant it’s hard not to be filled with passion for the sport every time Mark Renshaw launches the Manx Missile for the sprint for the line.

However, this year, four days into the three week long slog at the time of writing, I’ve already lost two of my favourites: Cavendish crashed out on stage one with a dislocated shoulder and subsequent ligament detachment, and Schleck didn’t start stage four after ligament damage on his knee following a crash on stage three. This is exactly what makes the sport so thrilling – these are men travelling for upwards of 150km a day, for three weeks straight, frequently travelling at speeds exceeding 30mph (reaching 60mph down the mountains), with only a thin skin of lycra to protect them. If you think about it, when motorcyclists travel at that speed they wear Kevlar and leather. When these boys crash, they feel every bit. In 2011, Johnny Hoogerland was forced off the road into a barbed wire fence, got back on the bike and carried on riding till the end of the stage. He started the next stage with 30 stitches.

These men are hard. They suffer agony every day, forcing their bodies up mountains with 25% gradients after 100’s of kilometres riding. They frequently finish stages with broken collar bones and, a couple of years back, Vinokourov walked on a broken femur after crashing down a hill.

Not only that, but for all the stories of doping, the majority of riders are respectful. In today’s stage (four) one of the lead men encountered a mechanical problem. Rather than racing ahead, Voeckler slowed up and allowed his competitor to catch up before continuing to race. Those team members who are not up for a jersey (yellow (highest placed rider), green (best sprinters), polka-dot (king of the mountains) or white (highest placed young rider)) sacrifice everything for those members of their team who are. It’s been said that Chris Froome could have won the yellow jersey in 2012 had he not been protecting and helping team leader Bradley Wiggins. And when a rider doesn’t respect the conventions of courtesy, they are looked down upon (for further reference, listen to Phill Liggett and Paul Sherwen’s commentary when Contador took the jump on Schleck when the later encountered a mechanical problem which ultimately cost him the tour (although the victory was awarded to him in 2012 when it came out that Contador had been doping).

If all of this hasn’t made you at least curious about the sport, I don’t know what else I can say. If it has wet your appetite, I recommend you tune in to ITV4 at 7pm for the daily highlights show. I can almost guarantee you’ll see a show you won’t forget in a hurry!

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