Another team I like: (2) the Tour de France (teams)

tourdeImage: Le Rouleur Lent

When I lived in Paris, part of the finale of the Tour de France took place in the street five floors beneath my front window. It left me cold. All it meant was that it was a lot harder to get around. Pete Sixsmith begs to differ, and just loves those scrawny, “Steroids .. me?” beanpoles and their pelotons. Not strictly speaking “another team”, but it seems to fit the spirit of the series ….

The team have taken off for Portugal without me. Had they gone a week later, I would have been sitting in the sun in the Algarve, sipping a glass of Sagres and deciding which members of the crustacean family I would be devouring.

As it is, I am stuck in a damp County Durham with a pleasant enough bunch of hormonal teenagers and a list of Northern League friendlies to choose from. It could be Esh Winning v Cornforth United or Annfield Plain v North Shields, but I think that I will give both a miss and watch the wonderfully exciting Tour de France on ITV 4.

As someone who has never mastered the skill of riding a bike without stabilisers, I have a slightly more than passing interest in cycling. The Greek brother (all donations to his survival fund can be sent to me – I will make sure that he gets it – honest!!) is a very, very keen one and has been since he frequented Gus MacDonalds shop on St Johns Road many, many years ago.

In our infrequent telephone conversations (Greeks are only allowed to use the phone for five minutes per week as part of their austerity programme) I pass on titbits about SAFC, the state of the Northern League and who has passed on recently while he regales me with stories of the latest island he has been whizzing round on his Claud Butler or whatever £3,000 machine he now has.

He is fanatical about the Tour, and over the last few years, some of that has transferred itself to me. I usually watch the highlights programme on ITV 4 at 7.00p.m. It is an excellent production, fronted by Gary Imlach,(author of a cracking book on his dad, 50s pro Stuart) with commentary from Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin.

Imlach has an understated, hangdog look about him and a sardonic turn of phrase, ideally suited to the race, while the commentators frequently disagree with one another and offer valuable insights into what is going on – so nothing like Clive Tyldesley and Jim Beglin.

However, the real star of the show is France and the Great Interior known as la France Profonde. The race takes you through empty flatlands, sleepy towns and dozing villages and field after field of 10 foot high sunflowers. Then, it smacks you in the face with the mountain stages in the Alps and the Pyrenees. As one spectacular mountain pass is succeeded by another, you begin to have an understanding of how big and how magnificent France really is.

At the moment, they are riding through the Pyrenees. It’s a fantastic area, all hairpin bends, steep climbs and amazingly fast descents. They can reach 100kph as they come down the mountain – and this on roads where there are no safety barriers at the sides.

The riders are as fit and as strong as any sportsman you will come across. The Tour appears to have chased out the drug cheats, blood dopers and steroid junkies and what we see now is a combination of strength, courage and tactical acumen that would put a master tactician like Mick McCarthy to shame.

I have followed it religiously this year and have marvelled at the ability of Mark Cavendish to time his final sprint to a tee. The one day he failed miserably to get it right, he was in tears, not for himself, but for his team mates who had set up the situation where he should have won.

I have shook my head in admiration for the Aussie Cadel Evans who has rode for eight days with a broken arm and been amazed that 39 year old Christophe Moreau is still pedaling round France as part of the peloton.

It’s a world with a language all of its own. Peloton is a brilliant word – it describes the group of riders who stick together behind the leaders. It’s almost a living organism and I love to see it in the superb aerial shots when they come to a roundabout. Half of them flow to the right and half of them flow to the left before they come back together again, like quicksilver on a wooden desk.

The race is really between two men and has been for a week or so. Andy Schleck is on course to becoming the best known Luxembourgois ever, while Alberto Contador is looking to add the Tour to the National Teams World Cup and Rafael Nadals Wimbledon title. It’s a real battle with Contador going ahead when Schleck’s chain slipped off while they were nip and tuck on a mountain side. Some said bad form by the Spaniard, while others said Schleck should have checked his chain. I thought it made great TV.

They have a couple of days left in the mountains before a time trial which should be a shoo-in for Contador, followed by the ceremonial ride in to Paris and up the Champs Elysees on Saturday. If you can drag yourself away from wondering whether we can beat the mighty Hull City or those legends of the game that are Brighton and Hove Albion, it may be well worth a look.

Next; my flirtation with synchronized swimming – or not.

3 thoughts on “Another team I like: (2) the Tour de France (teams)”

  1. I have to agree with Bill and Jeremy. The piece is both lyrical and wonderful. But if the cycles and cyclists don’t really matter, and it’s all about the paysages they cross, then why not do away with the bikes and just enjoy the scenery?

  2. This was a wonderful piece prodding at the emotions almost more than the thought processes which it stirred immediately. As a committed and signed up Francophile the Tour de France remains an event of the utmost mystery. I have absolutely no idea why this is the case, but it has never grasped my attention or interest despite the fact that as Peter so lyrically described, it should be such a wonderfully captivating event. Despite the countless summers spent Frenchside (to risk using North Americal parlance), in which I’ve almost been dealt a glancing blow by the tour’s meandering progress (a bit like Bill in the bus all those years ago), I’ve never actually seen it. Growing up in County Durham with a Raleigh Chopper as a bairn has probably left an indelible scar (amongst sundry others) on my psyche as well as body. This was possibly the most interesting article that I’ve read about a subject in which I have not the slightest interest. Nice one Pete.

  3. Pete’s lyrical description makes me wish I’d used the Tour to gradually bring myself down from my World Cup addiction instead of going cold-turkey.
    I remember, on my first trip outside Britain, being on a bus coming from San Sebastian and up through France. We were delayed near Bordeaux (I think) for a couple of hours by the Tour going through. Some people on the bus grumbled but it was captivating spectacle, a circus on wheels. That would have been 1965, the days of Raymond Poulidor and Jacques Anquetil. I was still a keen cyclist myself then and envious of a friend who had a Claud Butler. I rode a Sun Snipe (there’s one listed, “vintage,” on eBay right now; starting price £50; no bids. I’m almost tempted). We regarded Gus MacDonald’s store in Bishop Auckland (on Tenters Street, as I recall) as an unofficial clubhouse. It was considered the height of chic to have a cycling jersey with Gus’s logo on it, rather than something like Campagnolo (exalted, certainly, but rather gauche in our circles), just as it was de rigeur to have your cycling cape, which you kept fastened under your saddle, wrapped in one of those plasticky ice-cream advertising posters that you used to see flapping in a frame outside newsagents.
    Sorry, I’m getting carried away here and turning Salut! Sunderland into Salut! North. That would never do.

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