Sport Cycling

The love of Le Tour

Written by Ben Blaschke

There is nothing quite like the Tour de France. A grueling three week race through the mountains and countryside of Europe, this year’s course actually started in England on Saturday and will spend time in both France and Belgium before the traditional final stage culminates on Paris’ Champs-Élysées on 27 July. The 21 race days will include nine flat stages, five hill stages, six mountain stages and an individual time trial with just two rest days along the way.

Now, as a sports fanatic, I’ll watch pretty much anything from football to tennis, badminton to billiards and even those funny little sports you only ever hear about once every four years when the Olympics or Winter Olympics roll around. Yet even among those who love their sport as much as me, you can usually categorize people into two distinct groups – those who love Le Tour and those who hate it.

Watch out for the dog!

Watch out for the dog!

I must admit, there was a time back in the day when the thought of watching cycling seemed about as appealing as being on the end of a Luis Suarez chomp. To me it looked like little more than a random pack of bike riders meandering along some road in the middle of nowhere with nothing of any great note happening – perhaps with the exception of a stray dog getting in someone’s way.

Last year's winner Chris Froome is helped along by his Sky teammates

Last year’s winner Chris Froome is helped along by his Sky teammates

Then one night when I was too distracted surfing the internet to bother changing the channel, I found myself sitting through a full stage of the Tour de France for the first time and noticed that, where at first there appeared to be little happening, there was in fact quite a lot going on after all. Much more than meets the eye.

The strategy, the personal duals, the breakaway groups trying to get one over on the peleton and of course the combined efforts of a team as they try their best to break the resolve of another. I was fascinated!

How riveting those final few kilometres of the flat stages are as the sprinters jostle for position before unleashing a burst of late energy in their quest to secure a famous stage victory. The race within a race as the breakaway group clings to its lead while the peleton ever so gradually closes the gap. And just like Sky did last year for their man Chris Froome, the sight of a team working together to ease the burden on their man and, most intriguing, their work paying off as their rivals get left behind.

Cycling fan Dieter "El Diablo" Senft has been a regular on the Tour de France roadside for the past 20 years.

Cycling fan Dieter "El Diablo" Senft has been a regular on the Tour de France roadside for the past 20 years.

That’s the real beauty of Le Tour – watching men reach their breaking point on the exhausting mountain stages where their resolve is tested like never before. Last year, on Stage 9, race leader Froome found himself in a perilous position when his rivals mounted a serious challenge and managed the unthinkable by breaking all of his Sky teammates. One by one the exhausted Sky riders dropped away from the pack – except for Peter Kennaugh who happened to plunge into a ditch instead – yet Froome showed incredible stamina and resilience to stick with the leaders and preserve his overall lead.

If you’re a Tour de France veteran you’ll understand exactly what I’m talking about, but if not I recommend giving it a real go this year. Even if it takes you a while to get into the racing side of things, there is always the lovely French countryside and the bizarre costumes adorning the roadside spectators to keep you amused in the meantime. And of course, keep an eye out for those pesky dogs!