Words: Ian Cleverly Photos: ASO
The former Cervélo man Tweeted these statements minutes after Chris Froome had crossed the line arms aloft at La Planche des Belles Filles and as Bradley Wiggins was about to don his first ever maillot jaune at the Tour.
Seeing as I had only just finished hollering at the telly – not a common practice, I assure you – and resumed a seated position on the sofa, Vroomen got me thinking. Brits were unbearable already. Would the country be gripped by rampant jingoism in the following weeks due to the heroics of Team Sky’s men? As the mainstream media latches onto a sniff of home success and cycling briefly commands the front page, perhaps there is danger of this nation not realising what this sport is all about.
Consider the highlights of what has been a tremendous Tour (ignore the naysayers who plead boredom), for which huge credit is due to Christian Prudhomme for some dramatic parcours and exhilarating stage finishes, blowing away the notion that only the combination of high mountains and time trials can settle the GC.
Peter Sagan’s brilliant three stage wins, each one different from the next, each with its own accompanying victory celebration. Thibaut Pinot, this year’s youngest rider, soloing across the line, his apoplectic directeur spoftif Marc Madiot behind, hammering the car door in frustration, encouragement, sheer nervous tension. (The left arm of my sofa also took a serious battering, a cloud of dust emerging as my every smack echoed the manager’s.)
The Tour’s oldest rider, the fabulous fruitcake Jens Voigt, hauling his creaking bones up the final kilometre into Bellegarde-sur-Valserine in the most painfully drawn-out slow motion sprint you will ever see. And that day’s winner, Thomas Voeckler, outwitting his breakaway companions with typical panache, his Europcar teammate Pierre Rolland pulling off a superb solo win 24 hours later. And Voeckler again, at Bagnères-de-Luchon.
Not forgetting David Millar’s wily fox routine at the end of a dull day on stage 12, the anniversary of Tom Simpson’s death and a fitting tribute to a great rider.
Cycling fans appreciate great performances, first and foremost. Nationality is secondary. We stand by the side of the road for hours on end to cheer guys who have been riding their bikes for hours on end, and – though we may reserve that extra shout for our favourites – we applaud each and every one (apart from Ivan Basso, obviously…)
There are, of course, exceptions to the rule: certain stretches of Alpe d’Huez; some of the Pyrenean climbs frequented by disturbingly inebriated orange-clad fans; the pissed-up hordes of the Carrefour de l’Arbre at Paris-Roubaix. Sky’s Michael Rogers took abuse from fellow Australians at the roadside as he paced Wiggins up the Glandon on stage 11. The morons thought supporting Cadel Evans would be better served by mouthing off at their countryman. Wiggins would probably have a word for them. It begins with C.
As for the bizarre incident with the tacks, there appeared to be no dubious nationalistic intent behind it. Just wanton malicious damage. Very effective it was, too. A moron working alone it seems.
So as a combination of Austrian, Australian, German, Norwegian and (let’s face it) Kenyan riders coax and tow a Brit along at the head of affairs towards Paris, put it in perspective. If Wiggins does become the first winner from these shores of the Tour de France in Paris on Sunday, it will be a great moment for the country. Just remember who helped put him there. It is our duty as long-time supporters of the sport to educate those – and there are many – not so au fait with road racing’s many peculiarities, alliances and tactical nuances. Teams are not built around national lines, and neither should they be supported as such.
By all means be patriotic, but not to the detriment of other nations. Share the love.