Friday, July 9, 2021

The Tour 2021


Every year it rolls around, the highlight of the calendar – tension drama, tears, colour, bromance, blood and violence. The Oscars? No. The European championships? No. The Eurovision song competition? Nearly.

It is of course the Tour De France. And it has been very odd this year.

Mostly because of the action of one lady on the first day, standing with a cardboard sign that extended into the road. She was holding it out for the cameras which were in front of her (the sign said something like “hello gran and grandad in Germany”) and she had no idea how fast the race was approaching her, behind her.  It was the worst crash in tour history. It brought down a mass of riders and destroyed the plans of teams that had been trained for over the previous year.



Later in that stage there was another crash where Geraint Thomas had his dislocated shoulder joint  repositioned while he was lying on the road. It’s not as painless as Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon makes out. One chap finished that stage with both his arms broken, considering the  weight a cyclist  takes on  the handlebars, I presume he was either mad, or very brave indeed. Probably both.

At this time of year in the UK we have golf, football, Wimbledon, rugby and somewhere if you look for it, you can find the tour in the back pages of the newspaper or on some remote TV station.  The other sports make headlines … this week we’ve had pointing laser in eyes, racism, feigning illness,  accusing folk of feigning illness, and all kinds of bad behaviour.

If we ignore the long history of doping in the tour, it is a  whirlpool of respect and talent, because they need each other to get through it – even if they are not in the same team,  even if they  are going to battle it out over the next 240 kilometres, then again the next day and the next day for three weeks, they need to respect each other, or else… well they wouldn’t get to the finish at all. I can’t think of an another sport where the world champion drives himself to the point of exhaustion,  to help somebody else win...

Two riders are starring this year. The super talented Tadej Pogecar; a talent so special that there are a lot of rumours already that he’s doping. He really is in a race of his own, he’s almost too good. But having looked at his bio passport, he has a history over his 22 years of being ‘that good’ at cycling. His watt/weight ratio is at the high end of normal consistently, but still the world is watching the birth of a superstar  and it’s a shame we do so with the tinge of suspicion.

Mark Cavendish ‘Cav’ at the other end of his career. He’s 36, probably one of the greatest sprinters the world has seen. He was only drafted into his team when they lost their usual sprinter. Cav was thought to be past his best but with the right team around him, protecting him all the way for 200 ks,  he still wins stages. Putting that in perspective, imagine 6 Mo Farahs running a marathon with Usain Bolt behind them, dragging him along, them flinging him forward at the last 15 metres where he sprints and takes the race, you’ll get the picture.


This year the race went up Ben Ventoux, sorry Mont Ventoux.  Tom Simpson, one of GB’s most successful cyclists, collapsed and died during the ascent of this mountain in 1967. He fell off his bike near the summit, was told not to get on, but he did and collapsed and died a short distance later. He was 29.

There’s a monument that the race passes, Cav took off his helmet as a mark of respect when they passed the point on Wednesday.


It is a very dangerous sport. Chris Froome is riding as a domestic this year as he is still not quite recovered from a terrible fall that nearly resulted in having his right leg amputated..

 Today I am witnessing lots of Scottish nationalism, anti English rhetoric about the football team etc etc.  How much nicer to watch a sport which crosses international boundaries – in every sense of the word, the tour very often starts ‘not in France’. They cycle along on the peloton, deadly enemies chatting away as they speak the same language,  those who do not speak the same language translating through  the  team selection on the race radio. They tell jokes, they talk about the weather.

It takes a long time- 21 days and 5 or 6 hours a day.

One day this week, the race was going up a mountain, then coming down it, then going back up in again. The tour only does this about twice a decade. The race organiser say its because they don’t want to overuse it, I suspect its because any cyclist who would do that once, wouldn’t  do it again no matter how much they were paid.

 The big issue is hypothermia. These guys are so fit, they have such low body fat that they cannot get cold so as soon as the climb starts, the team cars drive up and  to give out jumpers and hot drinks, pasties. Yes they eat normal food as well as the hyper glucose  laden gels, as eating those gels for three weeks would drive you insane. They scoff bagels and baguettes as they go. But with the  narrow roads, the strung out race, the six hours of almost vertical grind through the rain and the freezing fog, it was unsafe for a car to get up alongside the various sections of the race, so  wet jackets were being given to the cameraman on motorbikes, cyclists were wearing jumpers that weren’t theirs,  they had on other team jerseys, blank jackets, the sponsor logos were all wrong. This is all  against the rules. They could have been fined, but nobody bothered as their safety was paramount. The commentators were just guessing what was going on as nobody could recognise anybody.

 It’s still a very working class sport, the British riders all from the north, Wales or west Scotland, the Spanish riders tend to be Basque, the French tend to be Britons.

A great sport, but no good at all when it’s on the telly and there is a book waiting to be written,



  1. Chris Froome and I went to the same high school in Johannesburg. That's all we have in common.

  2. Oh, come on, Stan. I've never seen anyone as focused, as determined, as quick at closing the distance between your lips and a wine glass...

  3. So, doctor, what is the difference between championship-level competitive cycling, and psychotic determination?