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.

More questions than answers from smaller tours

As we hurtle full gas towards the Tour de France there have been a number of shorter one week races going on to hone the skills of the multi day rider.

We have seen Primoz Roglic in the Tour de L’Ain and Dauphine (ahead of the final stage!) and Remco Evenepoel in the Tour of Poland. But some if not all of that good work could have been undone by crashes leaving us no further on in terms of indicators of form.

Roglic was great in the northern half of France and but for a spill had seen off Ineos in the Dauhpine. So much so that Chris Froome was sitting up on the climbs, Geraint Thomas was complaining about his weight and Egan Bernal had a back injury that saw him fail to start the last stage.

It could well have been Jumbo’s race with Roglic but he was struggling after a crash and also failed to complete the Dauhpine.

This left the door open for Thibault Pinot to win the race with him leading into the last stage and having a ‘combine’ of the major French contenders trying to keep him at the head of the GC.

However, he couldn’t watch the whole peloton and Dani Martinez of EF Education First/Cannondale snuck off up the road with Tadej Pogacar and held on to win the race. He might have made a few pundits top 10, but I don’t remember anyone tipping Martinez to win the race so this was a real upset.

As well as losing Roglic, Jumbo saw Steven Kruijswijk hit the deck and abandon. So far from seeing off Ineos ahead of the Tour de France and stamping their authority, there are now questions about the teams fitness.

There will also be questions over mentality after the bad crash in the Tour of Poland which was caused by Dylan Groenewegen and left Fabio Jakobsen with every bone in his face broken and in an induced coma.

Whilst the team have been present in most races since, there could be a reaction coming.

The accident in Poland highlighted the danger in the sport and it was in the Il Lombardia classic at the weekend that the Remco Evenepoel run of wins came to an end after he overshot a corner before vanishing over a bridge.

He is young enough to come back physically but will this accident have an effect on his mental ability to push downhill and in sprints?

Only time will tell.

Stay tuned to the blog for more ahead of the Tour de France.

2015 Tour memories

Unable to sleep I spent the early hours of day light re-watching stage 20 of the 2015 Tour de France on Eurosport.

Not only were Sean Kelly and Carlton Kirby in brilliant form, the race was exciting and the sun was beating down on the peloton as they headed towards the foot of Alp D’Huez.

But this was a Tour with an undertone. There was a feeling of real hatred towards Chris Froome in the yellow jersey. At times as well it spilled over from feelings into actions which is wholly unacceptable, regardless of what nationality you are and what teams or riders you are aligned with.

This was a Tour, and in the Covid age of masks preventing saliva transfer this seems ridiculous, that Froome found himself spat on regularly as he rode towards Paris.

In fact within the last 4km of the Alp on this stage you saw a clearly drunk man in a free gift polka do jersey lurch into the road to empty his sinuses on the passing yellow jersey.

Despite being in a real battle with Nairo Quintana to keep the race lead, Froome still had time to look back over his left shoulder and clock a look at the perpetrator.

Cycling is the most wonderful, beautiful and positive experience. But as with everything there are those who can’t behave and who let themselves down. This will be important to remember going forward as any indiscretions like that in this autumns condensed calendar will see bad publicity and possibly racing cancelled.

We don’t want that.

Why Bardet transfer could be the biggest this winter…

There are two other contracts that have been signed which influences the important of where Romain Bardet ends up in 2021 and beyond.

Firstly there is the commitment of Flemish classics start Oliver Naesen to stay with the Alpine based Ag2r team. It shows their faith in him to deliver a monument (despite a number of near misses including one with a spectators coat) and with some of the other names on that teams retained list there seems to be a bit more emphasis on the all round aspects of cycling than just whether Bardet can even win the Tour de France.

On the other side of the French team divide is Groupama/FDJ and their extension of Thibaut Pinot’s contract.

There is an argument to say that he is even more of a flaky GC contender than Bardet having succumbed to injury more times than Bardet has suffered stage fright. But his team see enough in him to make sure he is tied to a deal.

So with his main French rival under contract and settled in his environment and the main classics star on his own team already signed up (along with a number of other young French talents) does this leave Romain in the wilderness?

Well, he is 29 so if its going to happen in Le Tour he doesn’t have long left. However he doesn’t seem able to address that weakness in time trials and seemed happier to go to the Giro (as Pinot had done in previous years) to get away from the pressure of being one of the home country’s hopes to end their yellow jersey drought.

He clearly feels like a change may benefit him and Sunweb who were caught short (hahah) by Tom Dumoulin’s departure could see him as a good bet for a stage win and mountains jersey at least. After their rudderless performance in the Tour last year it would give them someone to get behind easing the pressure on Michael Matthews on the earlier flatter stages.

I do hope that wherever he ends up we see that sense of freedom back in his riding because when he attacks both uphill and down (remember that thrilling descent from the Dauphine a few years back?) he is box office to watch.

British Cycling updates it Covid policy…

Click here to read the full release.

The gist is that despite the relaxing of government regulations allow groups of six people to meet outside, this isn’t especially practical when riding a bike keeping 2 metres away from each other, pedestrians and traffic without compromising safety.

So the current rules and regulations remain in place until July.

Whilst I understand the impatience of those who thrive on group rides and are desperate for racing to restart, it’s important that we are seen to be doing out bit and the right things.

It’s less than a month away now and if things keep moving in a positive direction, a return to group riding and competition will be worth the wait.

Team CCC likely to be the first of a few?

There has been confirmation from a fair few sources the the CCC mens pro team is definitely without a sponsor from the end of the season.

It’s riders are currently on 50% of their full salaries and a number of team staff have been laid off.

There are conflicting reports on the fate of the womens team as it appears their deal has been negotiated separately.

The likes of Greg Van Avermaet and Matteo Trentin will have plenty of suitors if no new sponsor is found and the teams contracts all end. But there will be some riders deeper down their roster who might find its the end of their career.

Giant Bicycles are reported to be staying on and they have been title sponsor of a team before so maybe there is still hope.

I fear that if the teams ownership were going to have to look into the corporate market for a brand to take on the lead sponsor position now, they would likely be unsuccessful.

One other point of note surrounds a team no-one would have thought might have sponsorship issues, that being Team Ineos.

The piece about their owner asking the UK government for support for one arm of the business has been latched on by Cyclingnews who, in my view, don’t always report with objectivity about that particular team. So I am going to bear that in mind when judging the story.

What is clear and key, is that cycling needs a resolution to the pandemic as much as any individual business or sport.

I had a power meter and it made me a worse human.

I have been very careful in how I word that title, as the distinction has to be made that it didn’t make me a worst cyclist.

Aside from the period I was coached and riding really well, having a power meter was far more stress, trouble and hassle than it was worth.

A little knowledge can be dangerous, but I went through pages of research before making sure that I was using it in a relevant way.

I had issues with the transferal of the kit between winter and summer bikes and for some reason I spent more time before time trials changing my power meter than eating and training properly.

You are getting the picture?

I was that classic time crunched 40 something cyclist with little kids a busy job and trying to get back the times I did in my late teens when most of the time I was virtually riding as a pro (with very part time studying).

Something had to give and it was usually my sanity.

When the kit failed (and that was quite often due to forgetting to charge it, not having done a calibration ride correctly etc etc) I would metldown and the whole cycling world I existed in came crashing down around me.

For my family this was an awful thing to have to see and live with. And for that I am truly sorry.

I have ridden events where I know full well I would have performed better had I not been looking at my Garmin hoping some figures for watts would appear on screen.

There were times it all worked though. My first trip to the French Alps saw me ride to the wattage a preemptive FTP test had declared.

But to balance that last summer I arrived at the top of Alp D’Huez sans power meter having ridden on feel and almost 10 minutes faster.

This is not a critique of power meters, their users or the myriad of data they provide. But in my personal experience, I have slept better and had much better quality of life since getting rid of mine.

I am time trialling much faster and closer to this teenage times, and when I am out on my bike I am looking up and seeing things around me. They are quite pretty you know. I put this improvement in performance down to being happier when I am on my bike and enjoying what I am doing a lot more.

I still study the Elevate google extension daily to see if the metrics fit with how I feel in body and mind but if they go down, so be it. I’m never turning pro so why not enjoy cycling for what it is rather than try and be what I am not?

I can thoroughly recommend it.