Archive for the 'cycling' Category
I’m writing this post as the Tour sweeps onto the Rue de Rivoli for the first time, and I’m in a very good mood about this year’s Tour de France.
I’ve loved the Tour for twenty years now. It flickered on my radar screen in 1987, with the gripping duel between Stephen Roche and Pedro Delgado, and then again in 1989, when I watched Greg Lemond pipping Laurent Fignon to the post in that final time trial, but the race permanently captured my imagination in 1992, specifically on the occasion of Claudio Chiappucci’s epic solo ride into Sestrières.
Those twenty years, of course, were mostly very heavily doped up indeed. For a long time I wasn’t really bothered by the doping, and treated it as part of the soap opera. That attitude more or less survived the 2007 Tour–one I particularly enjoyed, being in Hyde Park for the Prologue and on the Champs-Elysées for the finale–when Michael Rasmussen was thrown off the race while wearing the maillot jaune. But it took a big knock the following year, when Riccardo Riccò was kicked out, shortly after winning a stage in tremendous fashion. That was, I think, when it was brought home to me just how intimate the connection was between the doping, on the one hand, and the kind of riding that make for the most exciting television, on the other.
So while Bradley Wiggins hasn’t won the Tour in the most exciting fashion this year–he’s copied the Indurain method of dominating the time trials and defending in the mountains–I find that this doesn’t really get in the way of my appreciation of his achievement. There doesn’t seem to be terribly good reason to think that he’s doped (and there seems to be quite good circumstantial evidence to suggest that the race isn’t as doped as it once was), and I find myself warming to the man himself. He comes across (to me, at least) as a very civilised champion, and it’s gratifying to read that the French public are learning to appreciate him. I’m almost feeling patriotic.
Allez Wiggo! Vive le Tour!
Here’s Severine Dupelloux singing the French national anthem to open the Winter Olympics at Albertville in 1992:
The link popped up in my twitterstream this morning, and I was very pleased to see it, not only because of the (sort of) appropriate Bastille Day / Olympics mash-up effect, but also because this was the legendary performance–a sweet ten-year old French girl from the Savoie singing unaccompanied before the TV cameras of the world–that inspired Danielle Mitterrand and others to embark on their ludicrous campaign (le Comité pour une Marseillaise de la Fraternité, no less) to rewrite the words of the Marseillaise to make them a little less bloodthirsty. Happily, nothing came of it, and the French continue to enjoy the finest national anthem in the world.
Other Stoa Marseillaise links, some possibly still functional, over here.
[It was somewhat appropriate to have a British cyclist win--David Millar--win yesterday's stage of the Tour de France, on the 45th anniversary of Tom Simpson's death on Mont Ventoux. (If you haven't read it already, William Fotheringham's book about Simpson's death, Put Me Back on my Bike, is marvellous.) But today, it should be turn of a Frenchman.]
I’ve been enjoying the track cycling events at the Olympics (and ignoring most of the rest of the Games). Hitherto, I’ve only watched road-racing in general and the Tour de France in particular. Well done, the British team, etc. (Actually, they’ve been remarkably good, and it looks as if they’ll all be winning at least one medal — assuming Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins can pulls something off in the Madison. I hope they get to sit next to the Judo team on the plane on the way home.)
But what I was going to say was this: aren’t all the track events basically very silly? I was watching the team pursuit earlier today, and thinking what a silly event that was, before reflecting that there were at least four sillier events (the sprint, the points race, the Madison and the Keirin — and, arguably, a fifth, the team sprint, which is, let’s face it, pretty silly). Has velodrome cycling always been silly, or has it become progressively sillier over time?
Emma Pooley, who made a thrilling attack at the start of the final lap of the women’s road race and today won the silver medal in the women’s time trial, isn’t just a terrific cyclist. She is also the co-author of a scientific paper on “centrifuge modelling of the behaviour of double porosity soils”. More champion cyclists like this, please.
(Or, indeed, like the indomitable Gaul, Jeannie Longo, the 49-year old French rider, who missed out on the bronze medal in the time trial by two seconds, and who incidentally also seems to be racking up the academic qualifications.)
David Millar (just signed for Slipstream) ought to be absolutely furious with Iban Mayo.
On the first day in the Pyrenees, Millar and David De La Fuente of the Saunier-Duval team drove the peloton over the Port de Pailheres at a crazy pace, in the hope that team-leader Mayo could do something on the way up to the stage-finish at Plateau de Beille. But he couldn’t, and lost nearly ten minutes on the final climb. And now we learn he was on drugs too.
Mayo had a terrible tour, finishing 16th at 27’09″. I thought the drugs were supposed to prevent that kind of thing.
I don’t think I’ll try to become a professional sports photographer any time soon. But here are three images from this afternoon’s racing, anyway.
Quite by chance I seem to have got Alberto Contador in the middle of this pic, on the second half of the first circuit of the Champs-Ã‰lysÃ©es, flanked by the rest of his Discovery Channel team.
Here comes the peloton!
The Lampre riders, on their way to set up the stage win for Daniele Bennati.
Hmm, what was I saying the other day about drugs scandals that “inject a bit of life into the cycling soap opera” but which “wonâ€™t destabilise the whole event”? Actually, I’m not sure the whole event is destabilised, even with Rasmussen chucked out, and calls for there to be no winner this year, or to scrap the event, or whatever are excessive. The Tour isn’t just bigger than any individual rider; it’s much, much bigger. And it’s far better that it ends this way, tossing the yellow jersey out before Paris, than with the way things turned out last year, in a Tour that still doesn’t have a winner. Anyway, I’ll be on the Champs-Ã‰lysÃ©es this year — for the fifth time, and the third year running — and I’m still very much looking forward to seeing them all come home. I’m just hoping that (i) Contador turns out to be clean and that (ii) he can hold off against Evans in the time trial…
Not entirely clear why KlÃ¶den et al should be pulled from the race, too. Maybe we’ll find out in the hours to come. Anyway: this is just what we want: a drugs angle to inject a bit of life into the cycling soap opera that won’t destabilise the whole event.
While I’m on the subject, do other Stoa-readers agree with me that Vino looks funny when he rides his bike? Especially when he’s being filmed from the front on the breakaway. I can’t really describe it; he looks like some kind of comically stubborn child as the legs pump up and down. The bandaged knee has something to do with it, but I don’t think it’s just the bandage; he’s stockier than the average cyclist, and that has something to do with it, too. Maybe it is just me.
Anyway: it’s been a cracking Tour, and I can breathe easily now that it looks as if Cadel Evans won’t be winning it.
UPDATE: Good piece (as ever) by William Fotheringham in tehgraun.
I’m delighted to say that someone is letting off fireworks in North Oxford, which I am assuming is in honour of Bastille Day. Vive la RÃ©publique!
Today’s the fortieth anniversary of the death of Tommy Simpson, the first (and only?) really great British cyclist, who collapsed and died near the summit of Mont Ventoux in the 1967 Tour de France.
Richard Williams has a good piece in today’s Graun; and do read William Fotheringham’s Put Me Back On My Bike if you get the chance: it’s a cracking book, certainly the best book on cycling that I’ve read, but one that’s not just for the cycling nerds out there. In fact, anyone interested in the social history of postwar Britain in general and the popular culture of the 1960s in particular should enjoy it. And, look, there’s a new edition, too, so it’s bound to be in the shops.
(There’s even been speculation that Bradley Wiggins has gone on the attack in today’s stage from Semur-en-Auxois to Bourg-en-Bresse by way of symbolic tribute to the man; we’ll find out, no doubt, at the end of the day’s racing.)
I’m quite glad I didn’t see the TV pictures of the last hour or so of today’s stage in the Tour de France. The BBC reported that
1602: It’s race favourite Alexandre Vinokourov’s turn to hit the tarmac, apparently after colliding with a following vehicle. He shakes his fists in frustration and replays show a nasty graze to the right buttock, which looks like it will be exposed for the rest of the stage.
And the Guardian Over-By-Over commentator (or whatever it’s called when it’s cycling rather than cricket) had this:
4.23pm: With 10km to go, Vinokourov is pushing really, really hard to try and re-attach himself to the peloton, which is a minute ahead of him. He had six riders with him, but now he’s on his own and making a huge effort that’s bound to take it out of him as far as future stages are concerned. To make matters worse he has a patch of skin missing from his right buttock that looks about six inches square. He’ll be sitting gingerly at the dinner-table tonight.
Thanks to this page, I’ve managed to get live pictures of the Tour de France from Serbian TV onto my computer screen, together with the audio commentary in English from Eurosport (my Serbian’s not too hot). I think this means that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.
I mocked Stephen Pollard below for his silly opinions about petitions on the 10 Downing St website, and now I find that perhaps, just perhaps, they can make a difference. I signed the petition against the proposed changes to the Highway Code that would make it an offence not to cycle in the cycle lane, if there was a cycle lane to cycle in, and now I read that the offending sentences have been removed from the new draft code that will come into force into September, all being well.
(In fact, while we’re on the subject of Stephen Pollard and bicycles, perhaps it’s a good time to catch up on his classic column from 2004 about why the Tour de France is boring, “because the team element is missing”.)