TdF 2016 – Stage 16

One day, if we don’t have to endure 10-15 years of confessions, recriminations and tell (mostly) all books, we’ll look back and reflect fondly on what an excellent generation of cyclists we had in the 2010s. Star names abound: Peter Sagan, Mark Cavendish, Chris Froome, Fabian Cancellara, Tom Boonen, Tony Martin…I could go on. I won’t.

Today was a Tony Martin day. He didn’t win the stage – Sagan did (of course) – but he was in a two man breakaway with Julian Alaphilippe for most of the day. Unlike other cyclists, Tony doesn’t attempt to hide his suffering. When he’s on it, the bottom lip sticks out, drool and snot trail down his face and drip off his chin, and his eyes are those of a man who has been to many, many raves and doesn’t remember a single second of any of them. I look fairly similar when I get to the end of a 20 mile training run. It isn’t pretty, but it is bloody effective. Well it is for him. I’m just a whole heap of mess and hurt.

Today was relatively quiet for the GC contenders. It meant that their domestiques a got a bit of a day off too. Or so it seemed. It probably didn’t feel like much of a rest to them. 

Over the last few days I have been hugely impressed with Wout Poels. He became one of my top 5 favourite cyclists during last year’s tour and now I think he might just have hit the top spot. He’s a bit unsung, which seems slightly unfair as he won Liege-Bastogne-Liege earlier in the year. Oddly, Team Sky didn’t really seem to give the achievement the fanfare it deserved. He only gave them their first Monument victory after all. I know they prize the Tour over everything, but some riders and team base their whole existence on a single monument win. In contrast, Vasil Kiryienka won the world time trial championships last year and Sky mention it aaaaaallllll the time. Dan Martin won L-B-L for Garmin a few years ago and he’s only *just* stopped wanging on about it. Then there’s Wout, hauling back errant breakaway riders seemingly at will in the high mountains at the behest of his team leader and dicking about adorably on the team bus and no-one really mentions how great he is. It’s the Team Sky first would problem of an embarrassment of riches I guess. See also: Mikel Landa, Michal Kwiatkowski, Segio Henao, Mikel Nieve, Geraint Thomas, etc etc etc.

Side note: after an unfortunate mishearing last year, Mr FollowingtheWheels calls Wout Poels ‘Wagbo’ (the Harry Hill character.) Don’t ask. No really.

Tomorrow is an actual rest day.

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Wagbo. Not a cyclist.

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Wout Poels. Definitely a cyclist.

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TdF 2016 – Stage 1

I’m taking part in the Velogames fantasy Tour de France. So is Mr (Dr) FtW. He’s hoping that his ‘Mostly Team Sky plus Kittel plus a random’ team will trounce my ‘Carefully chosen but with more heart than head deployed’ team.

Neither the Indecent Minority (my team) or the Chatteris Climbers (his) contain Mark Cavendish. I’m convinced that I’m going to somehow jinx my riders simply by favouring them (sorry Tom, Marcel, Peter, Richie, Wout, Adam, Steve, Mikel and Tony.) Therefore, to give Cav the best chance of winning gold in the Omnium in Rio and not ending up in a heap on a roadside near Utah Beach, I simply couldn’t include him.

There’s a great interview with Peta Cavendish (Mark’s wife) in the book ‘101 Damnations’ by Ned Boulting, in which she says that her husband “holds [The Tour] up on a pedestal, in an ivory castle, with unicorns surrounding it”. Until today he had never worn the yellow jersey at the TdF. This was his third opportunity and he grabbed it from Kittel, Sagan and the rest. Cav is famous for crying at some point during every TdF he has taken part in. The tears were those of the joyous variety as he took his 27th TdF stage win and donned the yellow jersey for the first time. One suspects that this jersey will have a very special place in his home, mounted in an ivory frame, housed in a turret, probably guarded by unicorns with yellow horns.

As a cycling Johnny-come-lately I’m not familiar with the pre-marriage and  children Mark Cavendish. I’ve read stuff of course – the tantrums, the petulance, the colander, the generousness, the former Miss Italy – but the 2016 Cav comes across as a man that knows he is basically winning at life. The plain speaking, fury and sweariness is still there, but they’re part of what makes him…him and not a platitude-spouting robot.

When Cav finally decides to retire from cycling  (not just yet, eh?) I would really, really, REALLY like him to be a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing. He used to be a ballroom dancing champion of course (of course!) but that’s no more of an issue than any number of celebs who have been to stage school. He would be brilliant entertainment, his pro dancer would adore his work ethic and he’d probably win the entire show.

Anyway, I’m getting distracted. This is really about my fantasy team (and Cav.) In other news there were a couple of big crashes, the first of which involved Alberto Contador. Nope, nothing to say about that at all. Geraint Thomas was caught up in the second crash, which is the least surprising news since we learned that moths really, really like flames. Luckily he’s fine and astonishingly bouncy for a grown-up.

The TdF may be the largest annual sporting event in the world but it still retains an air of the village fete at times. This was apparent at the start of the race this morning when the peloton went to Mont-Saint-Michel and was directed to double back on itself for no obvious reason other than to frame the island commune as a pleasing backdrop to Chris Froome, Vinceno Nibali and the rest looking slightly confused for a few minutes while the various important cars and motorbikes performed elaborate three point turns. A ribbon was eventually cut. SIR Gary Verity appeared on screen, apparently summoned by a yellow-trousered genie in a lamp imported from Ilkley (without a hat.)

Tomorrow’s stage goes as near to Jersey as it’s possible for the TdF to get without becoming part of a Guy Martin world record attempt. I’m hoping for a sighting of Jim Bergerac and/or Charlie Hungerford. It’s flat(ish) with a cat. 3 climb near the end. In the interests of the Indecent Minority I’d like Sagan to win, produce a pair of scissors and chop his mane off whilst shouting I AM NOT SAMPSON! I AM SAGAN!

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No more heroes

I have a policy of not having individual sporting heroes. Not these days. Certainly not current sportspeople. Frankly, I’m too old and cynical to indulge in hero worship of anyone.

When I first got into cycling, we were watching the highlights of a race one evening (I forget which one) and my husband piped up from his end of the sofa ‘There’s no-one in cycling for you to fancy really, is there?’ I thought about it for a bit and concluded that it wasn’t relevant and didn’t matter. There may have been a bit of ‘How very dare you!’ for good measure.

Of course, there are some members of the peloton that are generally considered to be quite fanciable: Adam Hansen (clever, hard as nails, 13 consecutive grand tour finishes and counting) and Tom Boonen (reformed bad boy, dad of twins, Classics specialist) immediately spring to mind.

Others stand out for different reasons. Marcel Kittel has magnificent hair (see also Owain Doull.) Esteban Chaves is adorable and I’d like to adopt him. Taylor Phinney (also has good hair) is too cool for school but you’d be glad if one of your children bought him and/or Alex Dowsett home. Peter Sagan is an absolute gift to cycling and probably one of the few characters along with Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and Laura Trott to transcend the sport.

As I’ve got older I find that I value solidity over flashiness. I’m convinced that once you have children you’re more impressed by someone that can get shit done rather than one that spends more time getting ready to go out than you do. I’m referring to Tony Martin, along with the Sky quartet of Wout Poels, Ian Stannard, Luke Rowe and Geraint Thomas. So impressed was I by the latter’s contribution to the success of Sky that last year I did a presentation for the Group Dynamics and Leadership module of my Applied Sport and Exercise Psychology course in which I argued that he was the prototypical team member and was therefore the future of the team, along with Richie Porte…

…who now rides for BMC. Awkward. Anyway.

Stage 3 of the 2014 Tour finished in London. My sister and I decided to watch the Tour at the Olympic Park in Stratford. My sister wrote Va Va Froome in chalk on the pavement and we spectacularly failed to nab any of the freebies that were flung in our general direction by the Caravan. By the time we realised that the arrival of the peloton was imminent I was slightly hysterical, to the amusement of my husband who had come to join us. It was the first time had been to watch the Tour – deliberately at least. It came right past our flat in 2007 but I was pregnant, sick and grumpy and didn’t really understand cycling back then.

The noise increased. The motorbikes came by and then the peloton was rushing towards us. I held up my phone to take photos. In my hysteria I screamed. In fact, I threw my head back and screamed at ear-splitting volume:

COME ON RICHIE!

To this day I cannot explain why I did it. It’s become a meme in our house. Every time there’s a bike race on and Richie Porte is participating I wait for my husband to screech COME ON RICHIE in a shrill approximation of my voice. It’s become A Thing. It is absolutely hilarious apparently. I find it significantly less funny.

However, I have no cycling heroes apart from the ones mentioned in this post. Maybe a few others. I’m sure there are plenty of people I’ve forgotten to mention. At some stage I need to do a whole separate post on the female cyclists that I find inspiring. This is definitely a ‘to be continued’.

The beginning (Part 1)

My love affair with cycling…no. My love affair with road cycling (I’ve had a relationship with track cycling for a while now) began during the 2013 Tour Down Under.

No. Wait. Start again. I started watching road cycling during the 2013 Tour Down Under but I actually fell in love with it during the Giro d’Italia.

That explains the when but it doesn’t explain the why.

Olympics

For the why, we have to go back to the Olympics. London 2012. The Saturday morning after the Opening Ceremony the night before. The BBC were telling everyone that all Mark Cavendish had to do was turn up, pedal a bit, win the road race and TEAM GB’s FIRST GOLD MEDAL IN LONDON in the process. Or so it felt. There were words of caution from the ex-professional cyclists turned pundits and commentators but they were swept away by a tidal wave of patriotic confidence. Of course Cav was going to win! Mark World Road Race Champion and BBC Sports Personality of the Year Cavendish! That afternoon I took the children to a party absolutely certain that Cav would win because Sue Barker said so. There was a ripple of surprise among the parents at the party when someone looked on their phone and announced that Cav had finished 29th. This meant that the BBC and Sue Barker were wrong and that’s akin to the ravens leaving the tower or a plague of locusts. Heads would surely have to roll.

I, naively, took to Twitter to ask what happened. I got a couple of replies from proper cycling fans. Their subtext was that I was a moron. What they actually said was that it was impossible to control a race with 5-man teams. I still didn’t understand. Why did *that* matter? I left it and got on with the terribly important business of being completely and utterly consumed by the Olympics. Lizzie Armitstead won the silver medal in the women’s road race the following day and apologised on national television for coming second. I wondered if the apology was an attempt to prevent a crazed member of the BBC presenting team hitting her over the head with a Wenlock statue. I now understand it slightly differently.

The rest is so well known it is barely worth repeating. Bradley Wiggins won the time trial a week after winning the Tour which was a surprise to this particular idiot because I thought he was predominantly a track cyclist. A sort-of British person called Chris Froome took the silver medal in the same event. Then the track cycling events started and I essentially forgot all about the road variation as everyone in a Team GB skinsuit essentially won everything.

*Leaves swirls across the screen, marking the passing of time*

January

There are two things that are important to know about me:

  1. I HATE January
  2. I HATE not knowing things

To borrow a phrase from David Millar’s book The Racer, I f*****g hate January. Flicking around for something to watch in January 2013, I noticed that Sky Sports were showing something called the Tour Down Under. Inconveniently, it was being shown during the middle of the night (because that’s how the earth works) but we set the TiVo and decided to watch the previous days’ stage the following evening.

I decided that I wanted to understand road cycling and I didn’t like the fact that this sport was alien to me. My first image of cycling was of a peloton of approximately 150 men in tight, brightly-coloured clothing cycling really very fast along a very long, very straight road in front of a background of bright blue sky and yellowish-brown land. Apparently there was a ‘breakaway up the road’. This phrase meant nothing to me. They had ‘a sizeable gap’. No, nothing there either.

Breakaway

I read somewhere that one of the first questions that people ask when they first watch cycling is: Why doesn’t the breakaway stay away? I quickly learnt that it doesn’t. Well, unless Tony Martin is in it. Everyone fears Tony. I subsequently found out that the breakaway is controlled by the peloton and is normally reeled back in when it suits the purposes of the larger group. This sort of thing isn’t explained to the casual idiot who happens to put the cycling on. It’s just assumed that you know this stuff. It’s like sitting in the pub with a gang of people who are significantly cleverer than you and hoping that by keeping quiet and absorbing everything they say they won’t notice your presence and laugh at you for being infinitely more stupid than they are.

Growing up, I had no frame of reference for cycling. We were a family of avid sport watchers – football, cricket, rugby, athletics, anything on Grandstand on a Saturday afternoon, any major multi-sport event – but cycling didn’t cross our radar. Moreover I only learnt to ride a bike in 2012 based on the rationale that if a bloke with one arm and one leg could do it and compete in the Paralympics, I could too. So, powered by the twin drivers of loathing the month of January and not wanting to be an idiot I shut up and started the process of understanding a new sport.

To be continued in Part 2….