Like most of my friends, i’m glued to the Tour this year. FACT. This year is uniquely captivating because of the unprecedented British level of interest in the race. It feels a little bit like cycling in general is creeping into the wider consciousness of the British public. My boss and various colleagues are aware of both Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish and would probably be able to pick them out of a identity parade, as long as they are wearing lycra.
A few years back it was a very different story, i was one of three colleagues in the workplace who were seen as freakish exponents of a niche sport, up there with curling and possibly welly-wanging.
Things began to change with a couple of timely occurrences; British Olympic success, the staggering rise of Mark Cavendish, the beginnings of the current bike boom, and the Tour’s visit to London a few years back. When colleagues who previously had shunned me as a lycra-clad leper instead chose to ask questions about Cavendish, i knew that strange things were afoot at the Circle-K.
The current tour has the potential to push the sport far further into the mainstream than it has ever been. I’m on tenterhooks, anxious not to jeopardise the serene progress of Wiggo. Each day i studiously avoid all spoilers, which in effect means avoiding any outside communication, and then watch the stage in the evening in a state of enraptured tension. I then plan the next day’s cycling, simultaneously excited vicariously by the Tour, and suddenly painfully aware of how a big day (or even two days) for me pales into insignificance behind the herculean feats of the peloton.
I like the mountain stages, it’s impossible not to. They possess grandeur, romanticism and physical suffering on an epic scale. They are one of the few instances where cycling generally deserves its typically hyperbolic metaphor. I also recognise some of the Cols through my experiences over the years – heading to the Alps to ride the Cols is a ‘must-do’ for all keen cyclists. There are few sports that present such an involving, astounding and wholly photogenic spectacle as the Queen stage in the Tour.
However, i have an unsurprising soft spot for the time trial stages. it’s fantastic to see the race of truth play a central role in the best bike race in the world ever. Tuesday’s stage was quite lumpy, not unlike a slightly warmer, classier hardrider event. The winners averaged around 29mph, which is where any tenuous connection between the WTTA and the UCI ends. As an aside, Matt Clinton made this observation on his facebook page: “People say Cav can’t climb. They also say I can. Thats why he finished 1hr20min quicker on today’s stage than I did in the Etape”.
It’s interesting to note that Wiggins started with a visor and finished without one. I rode the Gillingham hilly course yesterday in the steaming rain, with gravel and grit making it treacherous under tyre. I had to take my visor off halfway round after it steamed up the extent that i couldn’t see an awful lot. For a brief moment i felt a kinship with the great man. I managed to force the spiky visor down the front of my skinsuit where it sat awkwardly. I suspect Bradders had some Skyflunky to grab it from him.
It’s great to see the elevation of time trials to an artform; when Wiggins is turning over the o-symetric rings in full flow it’s a balletic sight, remorseless and utterly smooth. It’s inspirational. I mentioned to my boss the other day that cycling is an odd one, everyone can ride a bike and sometimes it’s easy to think that there isn’t that much of a gap between the pros and the amateurs. The action and process is the same. I think Ned Boulting touches on it in his recent book (which i recommend by the way, it’s insightful and engaging, and i’ve reassessed my vague ambivalence towards him). It allows us to dream. When i ride to work the morning after a stage, or take part in a time trial during the Tour (concurrently, not the Tour time trial), i dream lazily, or allow my mind to drift and feel as though somehow i’m at least metaphysically not that far away from the tour – i’m racing on my bike and enjoying (!) the same sensations as those experienced by Froome, Wiggins, Rolland and the others. It’s a child-like fantasy, but an endearing one.
Christian (of HW fame) put it more succinctly than me in a text message recently, although he might have forgotten this. It read simply:
“FUCKING YES BIKE RACING”.
Incidentally i won at Gillingham by over two minutes, was 30 seconds off my PB despite the terrible conditions and sitting up round the corners, not to mention thinking i had a puncture at one point and pretty much stopping. I was pleased.