Thursday, 13 August 2009


Richard Williams, one of cycling's finest writers finished his Tour de France reports this year like this:

"With the end of the Tour de France," the novelist Paul Fournel wrote, "the summer reaches its moment of sadness: long, hot afternoons and no longer anything to get your teeth into."

For anyone with even a passing interest in cycling then Le Tour is the centrepoint of the year. 21 days of racing around one of the most beautiful countries in the world. 21 different battles. Obviously the fight for yellow grabs, quite rightly, the attention, but like a well made drama there are sub stories bubbling away. This year for us brits there were two great stories that developed as the weeks went on - would Cav get green and would Wiggins hold on for a top ten place. As it was Wiggins surpassed even the most optimistic with a fourth place, equalling Robert Millar's heroics back in the nineties. Most heroically holding on to his position as he fought his way back into contention on the lunar landscape of Ventoux - infamously the site of Tommy Simpson's demise and where the wind can knock a man sideways.

Cav didn't get green but did rack up six wins, many mutter that the race commissars purposely judged him harshly, docking valuable points for unfair practices in the home straight but the truth is that, at present, he is the fastest man in the world, and he is British!

I was pondering on the rightness of the French being custodians of the greatest race. After all the birthplace of revolution seems somehow apt. after all, don't we all try and live by the three tenets of 1789? Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite? For what gives us greater freedom than the bike itself. Unchaining us from our desks and commuter lives. Allowing us the chance to soar and dream. Climbing hills and feeling like Brad on Verbier. Surely if that isn't 'Liberte', then what is? The bike makes us free, liberates the worker from work, gives us autonomy and the opportunity to move under our own efforts. It is the instrument of the working class pedaling away from their smog filled towns and into the freedom of the open air. Graeme Fife called it 'the beautiful machine' and he is right, beautiful in its simplicity and beautiful in what it has to offer.

And what of 'Egalite'? Well, I would argue that there is no greater leveller than the bike. It is no respecter of reputations and what our workaday lives might remunerate us for. The banker can ride side by side with binman and all that matters is whether one can take their turn at the front into the wind. The phrase 'don't you know who I am?' is entirely irrelevant on the bike. Your reputation, bank balance, posh office aren't going to help you much. It's down to how much is left in your legs and whether you can convince yourself to dig that bit deeper. In our group we have City workers, carpenters, teachers, taxmen, artists and countless other ways of getting paid. Yet I believe we are all equal through the bike.

Fraternite? Those self same blokes are a brotherhood of sorts. First to offer a spare inner tube, to drop back and ride with those who have blown up. Pop round with books and mags when bones are broken. For all the rugged individualism that cycling can engender there is definitely a feeling that riding in a gang creates a sense of togetherness, a sense of fraternal friendship. We know that if one of us had a chain snap in the middle of nowhere that we have a list of names in our phones that we could rely on to turf out and get us home.

So, when they stormed the Bastille and brought down the repressive Monarchy of Louis XVIII little did the Parisians know that within just over a hundred years they would be giving birth to greatest sporting spectacle that manages to survive despite the best efforts of some of its more stupid partcicipants...but that is another story.

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