La Tour De France – 2012

I will let you into a little secret.  I am hooked on the sport of cycling or at least watching it on the telly.  This has not been an overnight conversion because as a kid I used to go down to the Reg Harris Stadium off Old Hall Lane in Rusholme and watch these sweaty old fellahs whizzing round the concrete banking.

Then after years where I did nothing but work, Chris Boardman came along and won a gold in Barcelona in 1992 which rekindled my interest.  His coach Peter Keen was the catalyst that restarted cycling proper in England, with his plan for the future and attracting government sponsoring.  Out of this came Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins and Victoria Pendleton all under the massively capable managership of David Brailsford.  So that now England are probably the top nation in the world at cycling in all its forms.  They have been helped by turning the Velodrome in Manchester, built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, into a centre of excellence for cycling.

However it is the televised Tour de France that has got me really hooked, especially for the camera work of both the race and the geography and history of France, under the commentary of the very same Chris Boardman.  With the rise to fame last year of Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins and the formation of a stronger Sky team under the amazing Dave Brailsford this year, I knew we must be in with a decent chance of winning.  My only problem was that despairing of television quality we gave up watching the set a few months ago and gave it to one of our kids.

I was in a dilemma.  The lure of the race was too much, so I entered into negotiation with a kindly publican in town.  If he would put ITV4 on his television in the afternoon, he could count on me as being a loyal and regular custom.  He entered into the agreement readily, nobody drank in the pubs in Boyle in the afternoons and come to think of it they do not drink there in the evenings or at night.  This much diminished life we lead nowadays in Ireland has put a stop to spending of any sort.  The landlord reckoned that if I came in, I might start attracting others.

So shortly after lunch on most afternoons the careful observer would see me wandering into town and over the next four or more hours sit sipping at three or four pints of my beloved Guinness as I sat enthralled at the machinations of the cyclists.  Around 6.00pm I would swallow down the last drop and toddle off home to a lovely meal cooked by my darling wife of many years.  The landlord was happy, my wife was delirious having an absence of my company for a few hours and I was totally replete.  Ahh! the joys of retirement.

At the end of the first week the Sky team consolidated their promise and Bradley Wiggins put on the yellow jersey as race leader, ably supported by Chris Froome in 2nd place.  The control the Sky team have over the peloton is something to behold and try as they might the other teams cannot overcome them.  Finally yesterday at the end of the 16th Stage, Cadel Evans, the Australian and last years winner and heavily fancied again this year, capitulated, leaving only the Italian, Vincenzo Nibali, with a slight chance of winning.  Unfortunately his team, Liquigas- Cannondale, have not the in-depth talent of the Sky team, with only Peter Sagan, a 22 year old Slovakian and the find of this year’s Tour, with any chance of supporting him.

What really amazes me is the effort these cyclists put into their sport because of the Tour management making every stage more difficult as the years go by.  So difficult in fact that the riders more or less en bloc took to drugs as a way of overcoming the hardships.  However the sport is making massive efforts to sort itself out and although most riders are now clean there will still be a few as in every sport who will try to gain advantage.  The optimum height for the rider appears to be between 5’8″(1.75m) and 6’0″(1.8m) with Bradley Wiggins slightly taller at 6’4″.  The optimum weight between 65kg and 75kg (10st 3lb and 11st 11lb) and a rider normally peaks between the ages of 28 to 32.  Peter Sagan, this year, is the exception, at 22 he can hold his own with the best of them, but is mature build is the key.

What I have loved to watch is the young riders, Sagan and Chris Froome and their ability to challenge and hold off the experienced veterans.  In fact the whole group of riders watch scared as these youngsters take off because they know they have little chance of catching them unless they are let.  The effort Thomas Voeckler put in yesterdfay to win the 16th Stage in Bagneres-de-Luchon in the high Pyrenees was something else.  In a stage of approx 190 kilometres of climbing and steep descents he took the lead with 170 kilometres to go and with pain etched across his face he confirmed he was Still King of the Mountains, an unbelievable solo effort from the 33 year old Frenchman but he paid for it today losing 17 minutes to Bradley Wiggins.

With only four more stages to go and with only one more arduous mountain stage to go today, it looks as though Bradley Wiggins will be the winner in Paris on Sunday.  As I tap out the words I see that Bradley and Chris have come in 2nd and 3rd place adding another 18 seconds to the gap between them and Nibali.  It is almost certain England will have its first Tour winner.

As a final thought let us share a moment for three great riders who are having a quiet time of it this year.  Ireland’s Nicholas Roche, son of the 1987 Tour de France winner, Stephen Roche, who is lying in a very creditable 11th place overall, 12 minutes behind Bradley Wiggins.  His cousin Daniel Martin, 26 years old, is making quiet a name for himself in the mountains and came in about 10th place today and of course Mark Cavendish who won an early stage this year but is using the race as a conditioning exercise for the Olympic road race, a week on Sunday in London.  He is favourite for the Gold Medal.  These three along with Chris Froome and Peter Sagan are the men to watch out for in the years to come.

One thought on “La Tour De France – 2012

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *