It’s that part of the summer again, where cycling takes up time in the public consciousness. Yep, July meant one thing. Le Tour De France, the daddy of the grand tours. Normally, the coverage tends to focus on doping, who has taken something, who is suspected of taking something, who has failed a test or simply that “cyclists are all drug cheats”.
So far, this year has been a bit different. Yes, there was a police raid on the bus of the Belgian Quick Step and the Team Katusha domestique, Alexandre Kolobnev, was removed by his team when he failed a test for a diuretic (not proof of doping in it’s self, but the presence of a potential masking agent raises suspicion), but they have been the exception. Instead, much of the coverage has been for the racing itself, and what a tour it was.
Week one is normally the week for the sprinters, lots of nice simple finishes comprising wide, flat roads where the bunch can be wound up and the fast guys sprung off the front in the last few hundred meters before disappearing from the race when the mountains come into view. To a degree this held true, however some of the finishes did not fit the model, being narrower or having some nasty little climbs in the final kilometres that shake things up. It made for some interesting finishes and the traditional bunch sprint rarely materialised, as teams struggled to get the right level of organisation in their “trains”.
The biggest single talking point of the first week though was surely the number of crashes. I’ve been following Le Tour since the mid 80’s when Channel 4 started coverage, and in more detail over the last 10 to 15 years thanks to Eurosport. I just don’t remember there being so many cyclists hitting the road as there were this year. The carnage began on Stage 1 when a spectator looking the wrong way managed to cause a ripple effect pile up that split the peloton in two and led to some of the favourites losing almost two minutes of time. “Chutes” came thick and fast after that, with a motorbike rider being thrown off the tour for being involved in pulling down a rider (to be fair to him, he had been instructed to pass by the race commissaire, found the peloton beginning to hem him in and nowhere else to go when the incident occurred), numerous occasions where rider’s wheels have touched in the bunch and caused pile ups (one of these taking out Bradley Wiggins with a broken collarbone).
Stage nine was the one where everything seemed to come to a head. The first of the really hilly stages through theMassif Centralsaw roads that were damp, but with a dry line, coupled with high speed descents cause utter chaos. There had already been a couple of minor ‘chutes’ leading to a couple of domestiques being forced to withdraw, as well as other riders hitting the deck before two of the fancied riders for this years Tour were despatched in the same incident. Jurgen van den Broeck laid on the road with a broken collarbone was one thing, but the sight of Alexandre Vinoukorov catapulted into a tree, breaking a leg and his pelvis was altogether another. Poor David Zabriskie was pretty much an afterthought in this one!
That wasn’t to be the end of it though. The five man breakaway were obviously having it too easy 5 minutes up the road as this driver from France TV decided to take matters into his own hands.
The rider side swiped was Juan Antonio Flecha and the guy catapulted into the fence, a barbed wire fence at that, Jonny Hoogerland. Amazingly both men got back on their bikes and completed the stage. Hoogerland some minutes behind the main bunch, but inside the cut off time for elimination, though had he been eliminated on this case I hope there’d have been an outcry from the other cyclists.
The driver was thrown off the Tour, but he’s likely to face any number of law suits from Flecha, Hoogerland, Team Sky and Vacances Soliel as both would’ve been in with a shout of a stage win, and indeed large time gains overall. The belief that cyclists are a different breed is lent further credence by the fact that both men completed the race.
The remainder of the race was thankfully relatively free of these type of incidents and the competition took centre stage. While the main contenders eyed each other warily through the Pyrenees, Thomas Voeckler rode his heart out in the yellow jersey, keeping it through the Pyrenees and much of the Alps, only surrendering it when, in perhaps the most unexpected move of the Tour, Andy Schleck went on the attack! He rode a long solo break, took the stage and the subsequent break up behind meant that the top order overall was shaken up. The time trial set up the final positions as the final stage intoParisis more processional than competitive (at least in terms of General Classification). All that remained for the final stage was finalising the winner of the Points Race. The leader was Mark Cavendish and he was fully expected to be the winner and so it proved, as he won the Champs Elysses sprint for the third straight year. The first man to do so, he thus became the first Briton to win the Green Jersey, and the first Brit since 1984 to win any jersey, Robert Millar having taken the Polka Dot King of the Mountains award being the only previous jersey winner from these Isles.
I hope that this tour continues to be talked about for the excitement of the racing, the unpredictability of each stage and the shear bravery of the men who ride it. This is what the Tour should be about. Not about needles and EPO and haematocrit levels. Man against man, and the elements. .
Music to Pass Your Life To
In a new addition to the blog, as if the intermittent speed of updates wasn’t enough to classify everything as a new addition, I’m going to put up the odd bit of music that’s been significant in my life.
This first selection is a little different to my usual listening. Being the age I am, I was a child of the three channel television era. Not to mention the fact that those three channels were on for only parts of the day.
One of my early memories, and I make no claims to the absolute accuracy of this (I can barely recall what I had for breakfast), is of being in my grandmothers house (maternal side) in the small Borders town I was raised in, during the early/mid 70’s. The TV was on in the front room, but as there was no programming on at the time, music was being played. This track always seemed to be on, and it has stuck with me for whatever reason, I think it may have been the contrast between the slower, quieter set up and the loud crashing guitar section. Hearing it now, I’m back in that warm front room with the smell of homemade vegetable broth coming from the kitchen.