Le Tour and so on!
UK, Spain and Kenya
The Tour de France is a movable feast of all things cycling, both good and bad. A chance to display on a world stage, to reach an audience outside of the cycling community, to enter the wider social lexicon.
Each nation has their heroes who propel themselves to sporting superstardom given the chance. Sponsors reveal themselves, new products, new team kit in new colours and strategies, to be validated by the startling exploits that result from a simple turn of the pedals. Something we all understand, taken and enhanced beyond imagination, to be enjoyed, discussed and emulated. The powerful inspiration of the human spirit.
To comprehend the complexity, the mental pressure, the physical endeavour, is one step beyond us all.
Each year the Tour rolls around, its vanguard the promotional caravan, its wake a weaving peloton of emotions.
The 100th Tour of 2013 has the added Armstrong flavour, the taste for a half listening mainstream media and public, an opportunity to sell the underside of the Tour, the negative, and, as with all powerful media storms, with scant consideration of fact or circumstance.
With this hangover, even the most resolute feel the headache. Yet the endeavour proves most encouraging, whilst remote observers question, the close observer can see a grey faced Contador, no longer springing divinely on the pedals, but breathing, grimacing and grinding at the back of the group he previously blew off. On the podium the yellow jersey enhances both the motivation and exhaustion of a quiet, but firm, cycling hero.
This is the model of a Tour hero confident on the bike, engaging and professional off. Not given to anger or surrendering to provocation but tolerant, professional and necessarily ruthless. No energy wasted in temper, no bikes thrown down in anger, all energy stored, and sparingly, but effectively, spent. An attacking yellow jersey who makes the running, holding on to strike when most effective, a lesson well learned from the Vuelta a Espana 2012.
In Spain, as is their wont, the Spanish arrayed themselves against Froome, the final spoils almost irrelevant in the face of a Spanish clean sweep. As the Tour originally served to reinforce the pride of the French male, so the Vuelta aims to boost an ailing Spain.
Sky’s rivals reveal themselves to have learnt. Dowsett’s move to Movistar shows an uncharacteristic intention for a big Spanish team to part with traditional methods.
But Froome has also become wiser. United we stand, divided we fall, and in the face of adversity Sky unites, spending what they have as effectively as they can to offset the power of Movistar, Saxo-Tinkoff, and Katusha. These are not teams overawed by the grand stage of the Tour, they are the tag teams that showed Froome the way on the mountain roads of the Iberian Peninsula. With this in mind we anticipate more of the same, national loyalties the primary motivator.
But at the Tour the stakes are higher (and steaks, as Contador discovered). Froome moved early and with good effect, leaving an insurmountable gap to the second step of the podium - a gap which left infighting between the remaining contenders.
Saxo-Tinkoff were merciless to Valverde, and Movistar returned the favour. Rodriguez was invisible for all but one day. Columbian tradition was upheld, a Kenyan (read British) rider won, a French rider didn’t win a stage until the Alps and the sprint tables were turned. The 100th Tour - how racing should be!