Ten days ago the vast majority of us were rooting for Mark Cavendish (from the IOM) and Chris Froome (from Kenya). We’d convinced ourselves that “we” were going to win stages, yellow jerseys and the Tour itself. A week on and the ever fickle public happily discuss how they could have done it better than a slightly aggressive fat sprinter and an African. But are the failings of two of my favorite riders a display of exactly how hard the Tour is and why it’s been such a rocky road over the years?
I grew up in the 90’s, watching Bjarne Riis, Jan Ulrich and Pantani destroying their opposition with incredible breakaways, putting five minutes into the rest of the peleton whenever they choose. They never broke, they never faltered, and they never failed. Next up came the Postal Service with a string of unlikely Americans who barely struggled to beat their well established professional European teams with just a camper van and some sass. Tyler Hamilton even managed to race the biggest race in the world with a broken collarbone – unbelievable!
Well, anyone who’s ever had a broken collarbone will quickly realize that you’re not doing much racing (or even dressing yourself), so yes it was literally unbelievable. Thankfully the UCI eventually pulled their heads out of the sand and reviewed the historic blood samples from hundreds of riders and naturally found every banned substance under the sun. This of course didn’t include the richest rider in the world and so Lance was the shining light in our sport. However, greedy old Lance dared to come back and someone at the UCI didn’t like him and so he got done too.
Importantly when he made his come-back, in 2009, Lance had tried (according to him) to race the Tour clean and in doing this had showed everyone that it still wasn’t quite possible, but maybe we weren’t too far away from seeing a clean winner. The Peleton was changing and it wanted desperately to be clean, but still some riders, directors and organizers were scared of speaking out and so the process, which still continues, was a slow one.
As a teenager I was obsessed by the best climbers in the world – I replicated their style, I bought the team kit and I’d spend hours reading about them in the comic, but they all let me down without a care. In my early twenties Lance was doing the same but there was something deep inside that haunted him – he believed his own lies but when he finally confessed he was clearly struggling to admit everything to himself. In the current peleton I can see riders struggling in other ways.
I can finally see riders crashing because of stress, nervousness and tiredness, I can see riders trying to attack but being beaten by the weather, the altitude and the gradient. I can see riders so closely matched that they come across the line six abreast, elbow to elbow. And I can see passion – look back at the end of the 90’s and no one ever showed any emotion at all.
So Stage One and the script was set for Cav to win – People that knew nothing about cycling were telling me how Cav would win in Harrogate. It set me thinking straight away, what if he doesn’t? The fairytale finish wasn’t to be and Cav crashed just a few hundred yards back from the line. He got back up to ride across the line and you could see pain, anger, but most of all frustration. You could see in his eyes, right there, that he was going to go away, train hard and come back to the fight. That wouldn’t have happened years ago – the bunch sprint would have rumbled into town and the winner would have emerged with 200m to go. In fact the only two things I can remember about sprinting in the 90’s was Cipollini and Zabel – excusing one French policeman and Tom Steels throwing bottles no one else was allowed anywhere close.
Stage Five and the same frustrations appeared. I’ve heard opinion after opinion about how Froome gave up and threw the towel in, but I can see something different. I can see the pain on the face of a man who just couldn’t go on, who’d been unlucky with a small crash – a crash that years ago would have been brushed aside, as a hero of the Tour was expected to do. But the reality is that, as a clean athlete weighing 70kg, crashing hurts. Hitting tarmac at 30mph hurts and although leaving the Tour when you’re expected to win hurts, sometimes that’s what happens. Chris could have used a drug to numb the pain, to allow him to carry on, to be the hero, but thankfully (for our sport) he decided to stand up in front of the world and declare that he was broken.
We shouldn’t be turning our backs on this, we should be applauding him and we should be truly thankful and proud that despite his accent, he’s representing England and he rides for an English team – in my book Cav and Froome are the real heroes and I hope I’m never proved wrong like that twelve year old boy was, who made his own Bjarne Riis team kit all those years ago.
Glen was a twelve year old boy who’s heart was broken by supposedly inspiring people, cheating and letting everyone down… Glen rides a Colnago Master and races a Scott Addict at local road races, both available via The Velo House. He races a KTM Aera Pro 27.5 hardtail in the UK National Points Series and the Eastern XC Series. He receives personal sponsorship from Helly Hansen, KTM and THE.ÆIGHT.BICYCLE.CØMPANY. He’s also supported by Lazer helmets.The KTM team is supported by Continental Tyres, Torq Fitness and Four4th Lights.