Why does July always feel like the shortest month of the year? For me it’s partly that despite the longer days and (hopefully) warm weather, there’s an inescapable feeling of speeding back towards the winter like the bus from Speed, on the back of a giant penguin, sliding down the Hahnenkamm downhill run in Kitzbuehl.
But the main reason is Le Tour, the moment you flip that calender on to the month of July, it’s like being ratcheted up the initial big climb of the roller-coaster. The Team presentation kicks in, and then you’re off. 3 weeks of shouting at the telly, ups, downs, moments of joy and times of despair. You come out the other end feeling like you’ve ridden every inch of each climb with the riders, willing your favourites on and covering your eyes if they look like they’re going out the back of the bunch. And then July is almost over and there’s a Tour de France shaped hole in your life again, and you know it’s going to be there for the best part of 10 months, till the build up starts again. You can stretch things out till the end of the month by using repeated highlights and rationing the post race analysis to a couple of articles a day, but eventually July is over and you just have to console yourself that there’s still the Vuelta to come and the classics will be back again before you know it.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s been an incredible tour, not least for the fact that we had a British winner, but it was just a great race. Broadcast in what seemed like HD on steroids (metaphorical ones of course!), the cinematography of the tour seems to get more spectacular every year. This was coupled with a real feeling of hope that Cycling has turned a corner and that the efforts we were seeing were down to the most naturally talented bike riders pouring everything they had down on to the tarmac after all the tactics and team support had run dry, and then trying as best as possible to recover to do it all again the following day.
From the crash on the first day, Le Tour was alive. Disappointment that Cav missed out on a chance to wear Yellow was tempered with realising that Corsica is another place to add to the “places I must ride before I die” list. Then after Simon Gerrans won stage 3 and Orica Greenedge followed it up with a win in the TTT it was a joy to see a team enjoying themselves so much, even after they’d almost caused the tour to go into meltdown with their impromptu session of finish-line limbo by the team bus. They came back swinging however and showed us how great life can be in a Pro-Tour team with some insanely funny videos, there’s an ACDC one somewhere that appears to have been taken down, bring it back guys! (many clips clearly taken during this first week of the tour too):
Cavendish blasted back onto the winners podium with a great sprint on stage 5. As the rest of the peleton exploded behind them like a scene from a die-hard movie, our hero emerged from the fireball wearing the British Champions jersey rather than a grimey vest and after being dropped off at a ridiculous speed by Gert Steegmans, Cav needed to simply carry the speed across the line for a well deserved win.
After letting Slovakia and Germany get a few podium girl kisses in the form of Greipl and Sagan taking stages 6 and 7 respectively, the wins kept coming for GB and Ireland. The Yellow jersey found its rightful place on the shoulders of Chris Froome on Stage 8 on the road up to Ax 3 Domaines as he capitalised on a day where he felt strong and most of his rivals on paper were having a nightmare. Then it was Ireland’s turn as Dan Martin took a great win on a stage where the nails got bitten to the quick as Froome and Team Sky paid for how strong they’d ridden the day before and took a bit of a battering, especially form the Movistar team.
Apologies, I don’t want this to be simply a race-report, we all know what happened by now. But there were some incredible highlights. Reminiscing about my own climb up Mt.Ventoux last year as Quintana and Froome battled up it at twice the speed. Then 2 ascents of the most famous of all the Apls. Mont-St.Michel as it made its’ bid for “Most Scenic Place on the Planet” and Tony Martin showed why he’s World Time Trial Champion. And finally managing to make Paris look even better than it has ever looked by staging the last stage at dusk and routing around the Arc de Triomphe rather than in front of it.
What a race, a great three weeks, and after a year when a lot of people could have been forgiven for losing faith in the professional echelons of our beloved sport, it was exactly what we needed. Obviously we can never be 100% certain, but there was certainly an air of good, clean competition and a feeling of open transparency which allowed the lowly spectator to once again watch in awe at the feats of endurance on display.
One thing that has come out of the aftermath of Le Tour, which has slightly disappointed me I have to admit, is the reaction and politics of armchair critics to the interaction (or lack of it) between Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome. To be honest, it makes me a little wound up (and people who know me know that’s quite difficult). I believe that there has been much more made of any kind of bad feeling between our two great champions. People who have no real knowledge of the two men make sweeping statements about the character of each man, often highlighting some form of imagined personality flaw or fued between them. Professional bike riders are human beings, like the rest of us.
I am going to venture my own conjecture here, so forgive me, but being as everyone else is doing it…. I don’t profess to knowing either of these great men well personally, and so I will endeavour to keep from speculating too much. I honestly just think that relationships have been seriously overcomplicated by the press and all the forum pundits out there.
To my mind, Sir Brad rode an incredible race last year, he was the strongest in the Time Trials and defended his lead where he needed to. At the same time, he was amazingly well supported by Chris and the rest of his team. Chris was riding strong on some of the steeper mountains last year and when you feel that good it’s easy to find yourself a few meters in front before you realise your team leader isn’t there (nb. this doesn’t happen to me often!). The fact that this was then construed into how Chris was upset and wanted to win the stage/tour himself is just nonsense in my eyes, when you look back at how much support he had given Brad and continued to give him all the way to Paris. And then the same people that were calling Chris a ‘rogue’ or ‘not a team player’ are then saying the same thing about Brad a year later. Could it possibly be true that Wiggins had simply poured so much of himself into winning last years Tour and then holding his form to make a nation proud as he took gold in the Olympic TT, that he was simply more open to illness and injury? I can only imagine what it is like to have the pressure and admiration of a nation weighing on your shoulders as you carry the combined honour of Yellow Jersey, Olympic Gold and Sports Personality simultaneously.
To anyone who thinks that Brad has been selfish this year, need only look at the amount of work he did for Chris during the Tour of Oman, or indeed look back last year when he was actually wearing the yellow jersey but took great pride in leading out Cav for the win on the Champs Elysees, I guaruntee you wouldn’t see that from many team leaders. If you need evidence of Wiggins’ character then watch some of the videos of some people in the Sky setup, including the tour of the sky bus and it’s obvious that Brad brings some great banter to the atmosphere. Likewise, this year as well as winning the race, Froome also picked up the award for being the most easy-going rider to interview by the assembled press, not bad for the guy who’s under the most pressure on a daily basis.
So, I guess what I am trying to say is, in a bit of a rambling way, last year we had a great champion in Brad, this year we had a great champion in Chris. They are different people, different riders, different personalities, and I for one wouldn’t have it any other way. I really hope that Sir. Brad has had plenty of time to enjoy with his family and is able to return to the form we know he can reach in time, and I hope Chris continues to make my jaw drop with his ability to climb mountains and he has many more amazing grand tours to come. Let’s all just be proud to be British and to be Cyclists and stop trying to create in-fighting where none exists.
After all, it’s only 337 days till Le Tour comes to Yorkshire, let the countdown begin!!!