Le Tour de France
Le Tour De France can’t cease to amaze me. I am no aficionado of the sport but do know a thing or two about cycling and its ultimate grand tour. People often ask me what is it that I find attracting in racing and Tour de France in particular. I can’t pinpoint any one reason but have a few theories.
My reasoning is that a person who loves to watch sports can’t pooh-pooh any form of sport for they know the exclusive club competing at professional level is in itself a signal that it’s the best selection out of us mortals . We may have a liking for a particular sport, a specific form of sport but for those who like to watch racing there is a tinge of that closet sport lover that lure them to sports that have some sort of motion dynamics and engineering at the backend.
Maybe the sport helps me to justify to my 12th class physics lover alter ego that I am still connected to the roots though I visit them only occasionally on weekends via F1 and Moto GP and annually via this marquee and one of the ultimate pinnacles of endurance sport mentioned in the same breath with Le Mans and Dakar Rally.
This sport caught my fancy somewhere around 2004, or 2005. Just after summer vacations when most of the schools restart and Wimbledon is brought to a close in the first week of July those of us who pine for other avenues of sports to blood some life into the hapless souls in the first fortnight after summer vacations Tour de France comes calling to lift us and take us through a 3 week long extravaganza, 2 hours, or 4 hours, of daily fun guaranteed.
I distinctively remember from years gone by commentators reeling off names such as Lance Armstrong, Jan Ulrich, Alexander Vikornikourov, Fabian Cancellara, Ivan Basso among others. Then there were teams such as Discovery, Cofidis, Astana, CSC which these drivers used to represent.
Every year there were 2 or 3 new cyclists on the block; these starry-eyed would compete amongst themselves for the young driver’s White Jersey though some way off the lead and down in the GC (General Classification) Leader board. Then there is a red jersey for the pride of France and in green jersey we have the best sprinter who has the legs at the end of 200 km of energy sapping cycling to make a dash to the finish line. In the process the stage victory is on the line and the speeds in the final kilometer, or so, on a flat stage can reach up to 80 km/hr. Phew! That is some serious speed.
The polka dot king of the mountain jersey for the best mountain rider is given to the cyclists who circumvent the high gradients and steep slopes of the Pyrenees. But the prize for which every rider would be ready to trade all the stage victories and individual time trial wins is the maillot jaune, the best rider at the end of the 3 weeks, overall leader and winner of the yellow jersey. This jersey trades many busts before we get to see it emblazoned on one individual at the end of the tour.
Though officially the records of the period 1999-05 have been expurgated from the record books, I had to include these in the article as this was the phase which had a profound impact on the psyche of this writer.
After the era of Lance Armstrong and Team Discovery some Spanish riders came through the field and held aloft the trophy. The winners include Oscar Pereira and Alberto Contador but again their victories came under scrutiny and took some sheen off the sport. Oh sorry I almost forgot to add Schleck brothers from Luxembourg to the list.
I will move over to the new glorious era where the British are ruling the roost. It all started from Bradley Wiggins, the winner of 2012 Tour de France. His domestique was none other than now the 2-time winner and this year probable Chris Froome. Bradley and Chris represented Team Sky in 2012 and played an all important role in rebuilding the reputation of the game which lay tattered.
A few of us would remember that in a test match in England in 2012 there was a temporary phase when crowd cheered on for at least 5 minutes and then the commentators revealed the reason to be Bradley Wiggins Tour de France win. It’s the moment like these that the sports fans remember and relive down the memory lanes. After Bradley was sidelined with an injury in 2013 Chris Froome took the mantle from Wiggins and Richie Porte played his domestique, a role that requires a lot of sacrifice on part of a cyclist and involves hours of selfless slogging, pushing and some time pulling the main man back into contention.
Chris Froome, a well cultured English brought up in the early years of his life in Kenya, a country that has produced countless long distance runner, it seems picked up some of the traits off the African country athletes. The combination worked well and he became the second English man after Wiggins to win the tour.
Then came 2014 and Vincenzo Nibali of Astana, a previous winner of Giro d Italia, stood atop the podium holding off Thibaut Pinot, among others, but as the gods would have it Froome reclaimed the title in 2015 from the Italian. Some new names came to the picture, a young Colombian after the famous George Hincapie from the Latin American nation, took to the tour like a storm. He came up short for all his efforts against the seasoned campaigner Froome. James Rodriguez, the unrelenting terrier finished third and the green jersey went to the Slovak Peter Sagan.
A special mention is due to Mark Cavendish, a phenomenon himself who has swept to 30 stages victories, including four this year; he is second only to the great Eddie Merckx and has surpassed Bernadinho Hinault. Though Marcel Kittle overshadowed him in the last 2 years and Mark was written off by many a pundits he has come back firing on all cylinders this year.
This year a great battle was on cards between Froome and Quintana but 2 weeks down the line Froome looks certain to wrap up the victory and stands as the symbol of hope for not just me but the whole of the UK. I used to idolize Lance Armstong more than anybody else across sports for he fought all odds to emerge the winner of the tour for record seven times but the USADA revelations came as a body blow to the sports enthusiast and sulking disbelieving child in me. I started to look every achievement of sportsperson in endurance sports with a suspicion; the only assurance that I have are these words from Chris Froome when he stood at the top pedestal at Champ Elyse after winning the 2013 tour and told the presentation party “ this is one yellow jersey that will stand the test of time.”
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