Tour preview – memories of the 1980’s

The strange timing of the Tour de France this year means that in England the first week of the race coincides with the return of children into schools (covid permitting). 

Teenage me would have been horrified at this thought having dedicated half of the 6 week holidays from the late 80’s onwards enjoying the big race on television before recreating the stages on the roads of Huntingdonshire the next day.

The 1987 race is the first one I remember following with any degree of genuine interest. 1988 was the first where I recorded each day’s channel 4 highlights and watched and re-watched until the VHS was worn. This was somewhere around the middle of that November.

The voices of Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett were the sound of summer in our house evolving into the Eurosport team as the years rolled on. David Duffield took over that mantle with his insightful appraisal of whatever local area the race was and its appropriate local produce. 

Having not even left England let alone visited France back in 1987, the Tour seemed to be taking place in a wonderful far off land with sunflowers and high mountains. It was broadcast in grainy low res adding to the air of mystique and drama. 

Steven Rooks of Holland was my first real favourite rider and his win at Alpe D’Huez in 1988 started my obsession with that particular stretch of road. His style on the bike was so neat and efficient that I always aspired to look at one with my bike like Rooks did. I also wanted a mullet but my Mum said no.

As I started riding and racing myself that desire to tweak and adjust my position to look like a pro cyclist meant my Falcon team Banana frame was never far away from an allen key in the garage when not out of the road. 

Despite Jean Paul Van Poppel being the dominant sprinter of those late 80’s Tours, Soren Lilholt and Dag Otto Lauritzen came into my thinking as riders to aspire to. That rouleurs desire to hang off the front of the peloton in the last few KMs of a Tour stage really appealed to me as a rider from the fens. 

I even had the mirrored Bolle shades like Lauritzen and the pony tail like Lilholt which made me think I looked pro. The people of my home village of Yaxley may have thought otherwise. 

The final tour of the eighties was the best in the race’s history and to this day whenever people ask me which celebrity or famous historical person I would most like to have a drink with I answer Greg LeMond! 

As much as it was trendy to watch the Australian soap opera Neighbours at that time, in terms of daily drama the ‘89 Tour was way beyond anything Joe Mangel and Paul Robinson could produce. 

First it was LeMond in the yellow jersey, then it was Fignon, then LeMond again, then Fignon… it looked like the Frenchman had got the jersey back for good before his last day collapse in the Paris time-trial.

It was a one in a million race and the memories I have of it are as fresh as the day that Tour finished. Only Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour in 2012 has come anywhere close to equalling that feeling. 

Let’s see what the 2020 race has in store.

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