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!