Posts Tagged ‘stephen roche’

Le Tour de Bore

August 9, 2012

Words: William Fotheringham 

Boring. Tedious. Monotonous. Predictable. That, according to some, were the words that summed up this year’s Tour de France. We had the first ever British winner but apparently that wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t thrill a minute, seat of the pants, tension all the way stuff. Well that wasn’t how Bradley Wiggins lived it, if the few chances we had to exchange views during the race were anything to go by. He seemed to be having quite an intense time of it.

Concern that the Tour is boring is not a new phenomenon. In fact it’s a perennial concern. In 1952, the organisers increased the prize money for second place to liven things up as Coppi romped to victory. In 1970, they were aghast when Eddy Merckx took the lead early in the race. Further back, Alfredo Binda was famously paid to stay away from the 1930 Giro because, guess what, he was making it too predictable. Jacques Anquetil was criticised for it, so too Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain.

Part of the problem is down to the nature of cycle racing on the road. An endurance sport is not always thrill a minute. Thrill a minute is an elimination race on the velodrome; the 20/20 to the Test Match that is the Tour de France. But while elimination races provide great entertainment they are rarely memorable in the longer term (unless Laura Trott or Willy De Bosscher is involved, but that’s another story). The other issue with road racing is team tactics, which are now so well honed that the outcome of many Tour stages is preordained until the (bunch) finish.

If we have expectations that the Tour is an edge of the seat ride, I blame Laurent Fignon, Pedro Delgado and Greg LeMond. It’s all their fault. Between them they created the most incredible Tour ever in 1989, with the Frenchman and the American swapping the lead time after time with never more than 53 seconds between them. I suspect that race has conditioned many people’s view of what a Tour de France should be. But it was a completely unique event, because neither Fignon nor LeMond was anywhere near their best form – both were fighting back from long-term injury of different kinds – and the big favourite Delgado set off with a 3min handicap by missing his prologue start time.

The 1989 race came two years after the Stephen Roche Tour – in which the Irishman ruthlessly hunted down Delgado in the final week – and three years after the most intrigue-filled Tour ever, the 1986 race in which LeMond and Hinault indulged in a hilariously theatrical battle with the glorious twist being that the pair were team-mates. That contest pitted a mentally strong but physically fading Hinault against a physically fresh but mentally fragile LeMond. Further back, the 1979 Tour was a thriller (ignore the 13min gap between Hinault and Joop Zoetemelk, 10min of which was added on afterwards when the Dutchman tested positive), largely because Hinault had a nightmare on the stage to Roubaix, losing three minutes after a puncture and a delay due to strikers on the course. He then hunted down Zoetemelk with the same ruthlessness Roche showed eight years later in his pursuit of Delgado.

These Tours are exceptions, however. Mostly, the race is a relentless process of physical attrition in which the first big physical test, be it a summit finish or an early long time trial, delivers a verdict that remains largely unchanged in Paris. On the whole the rate of physical deterioration in any stage race is a curve which remains the same for most of the protagonists, so in the final week it’s rare for a leader to be much better than earlier in the race. That’s why the classification is often fairly set and the gaps simply get bigger.

That can seem predictable but the fact is that there is so much else going on during the Tour that in my eyes it never is. This year’s ‘boring’ race had Wiggins calling the Twitter doubters “fucking wankers” (and worse), the tacks on a Pyrenean climb, the intriguing question of Chris Froome, and plenty more. It didn’t have the cut and thrust of the 1989 and 1979 races but few Tours do. Boredom is in the eye of the beholder.

Extract from Rouleur issue 33. William Fotheringham is the author of Roule Britannia. A history of Britons in the Tour de France, the book will be reissued in October with new sections covering the 2012 race. 

Battaglin 1987

August 2, 2012

Photos: Michael Blann

“I was stunned when I came round the final corner and saw Delgado up ahead. I didn’t expect that at all. First of all I could just see the back of some cars, then I was able to see Delgado just in front of them.”

“Even then I didn’t know how far up he was – that didn’t really interest me. All I knew was the faster I went, the closer I would get to him and the better my chance would be of winning the Tour.”

“I think if Delgado had known I was coming back at him he would have gone a little bit harder as well if he’d had anything left in the tank.”

“As I crossed the line I didn’t realise the significance of what I’d done. All I knew was that winning the Tour was still a possibility for me, but I had no idea what I’d achieved.”

“What made it dramatic was the fact that because the journalists behind the finish line were getting the time checks from 4km or 5km to go, they assumed that the Tour was over.”

“Everybody had their own ‘Delgado wins the Tour’ stories already written in their minds, so when I came round the corner they were all surprised, including Phil Liggett, as everyone will remember from his famous commentary as Delgado finished. I’ve had it played back to me a few times since.”

Born to Ride by Stephen Roche is published by Yellow Jersey Press

On the Shelf

July 4, 2012

Words: Ian Cleverly Photo: Jordan Gibbons

Firstly, an apology. I have been seriously slacking these past few weeks. The cycling books that have been arriving on my desk at the rate of three or four a week for the last couple of months have largely gone unread.

So apologies to the authors, to the publishers, and to you. Your prospective holiday reads gather dust, while plans for hours of lazing around the pool, book in one hand, beer in the other, are in tatters because this lazy-arse deputy ed can’t be done with actually reading and digesting each and every increasingly weighty tome that arrives in the post. Again, sorry. You know how it is: magazine to write and organise. Piffling, side-tracking matters. Waiting for a detailed analysis of the new releases to accompany your attempt at evening out a ridiculous cycling tan on the beach? Read no further. This is, most certainly, not it.

There is also the small matter of the non-stop perusal of cycling-related matter leading to brain atrophy or, at the very least, the impression that pain, suffering, drugs and untimely death are what makes the world go round. I try and fit a non-sport book between each two-wheeled tale – currently Patti Smith’s excellent autobiography Just Kids – to keep a balanced perspective. That Smith’s story should contain more than its fair share of pain, suffering, drugs and untimely death is an unfortunate coincidence. Back to the cycling books, then.

If you have read Jeff Connor’s Wide Eyed and Legless chronicling the sorry tale of ANC Halfords’ attempt at the 1987 Tour, you may consider re-visiting the story 25 years later superfluous. How wrong. Field of Fire is every bit as well written, funny and insightful as its predecessor. The author’s admittedly sketchy knowledge of the sport in 1987 has increased considerably and his recent interviews with team members and management show a greater understanding on all sides of the scale of what ANC were trying to undertake. Connor’s take on the sad descent into the gutter of Fleet Street’s red tops plays a big part in proceedings and the whole works perfectly. Highly recommended.

Merkcx: Half Man Half Bike by William Fotheringham I had high hopes for, but struggled to connect with. William has written some fine books, notably the Tom Simpson story Put me Back on my Bike and Roule Britannia, but falls short. It feels rushed and under-researched. Merckx is a notoriously difficult subject to get under the skin of and I am not convinced William has pulled it off. But then it topped the Times Bestseller’s List, so what do I know? Daniel Friebe’s The Cannibal awaits, but I’m all Merckxed-out for the moment.

So two Merckx’s arrive at once and, before you know it, there are also two Fotheringhams in the pile. The latest addition is from brother Alasdair, his first book. It makes you wonder what kept him. The Eagle of Toledo – The Life and Times of Federico Bahamontes, is not only a terrific tale but is very well handled by Hispanophile Alasdair. Accounts of cycle racing’s early years invariably contain suffering on a scale unimaginable to the modern professional, but post-Civil War Spain was another level altogether. Riding hundreds of miles between races, surviving on watermelons filched from fields, winning prize money was a necessity for the starving Bahamontes. The maverick climber comes across as a man difficult to like but, once you know the background, impossible not to admire. Alasdair’s book deserves a wider readership than I suspect it will get in this avalanche of summer cycling reading. Do seek it out.

As for the great unread, some appeal more than others. Nicholas Roche (too young), Stephen Roche (maybe…), Bill Strickland’s Tour de Lance (Bill is great, not so interested in the subject matter), Bjarne Riis (ditto on the subject matter), and Reg Harris (could be good).

Bike! compiled by experienced hands Daniel Benson and Richard Moore is a big handsome beast, a tribute to manufacturers, big and small, that have shaped the evolution of the racing bike through the 20th century and beyond. It looks mighty fine and I look forward to settling down on the sofa with it soon – this is no beach read, but the release date is September, so no worries there.

On the lighter side, Ned Boulting’s tremendous How I Won the Yellow Jumper has a Mark Cavendish green jumper update which should be equally good fun. Simon Warren’s demon little pocket book of fiendish ascents has a new brother, Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs – “Longer! Higher! Steeper!” You get the picture.

Around Ireland on a Bike by Paul Benjaminse got my attention, purely because it has been an awful long time since I did an anti-clockwise tour of the country and it is high time to re-visit. The scenery appears as dramatic as ever. Does every person you pass on the roads still say hello? Do the road surfaces remain rough as old boots? Probably, and long may it last.