I always fancied myself as a cyclist. Cycling to middle school I would hurtle across Putnoe, chasing down the milk float every morning on my metallic blue Raleigh Arena, bag and cornet perilously balanced across the rack with octopus elastics.
Once I had a paper round I saved for an upgrade, a black pure racer with skinny tyres, the Raleigh Pursuit. I used to write about it too. One short story I remember writing involved the failure to complete a local race of my own imagining, in which I suffered a devastating puncture. From this insurmountable obstacle I trained harder, using the diamond that I had found embedded in the tyre as a lucky charm. Obviously I won the next race.
In my mid twenties I made the fateful decision to buy a mountain bike. That bike died after only a couple of years during a particularly tough Duathlon, So I upgraded to my current GT XCR 2000, an insanely expensive purchase at the time that has shown its value time and time again over 20 plus years.
But the rusted skeletal remains of my Raleigh Pursuit, padlocked to the fire escape of a Victorian flat conversion in Bedford still haunts me, more terrifying than Christine could ever be.
In the back of my mind there is always the thought that I will confront that two-wheeled demon by saving another abandoned machine, and until I fulfil that dream, I can enjoy my cycling, vicariously, through Le Tour de France.
I know what it feels like to be pushing your limits and find that there is yet another hill looming in to view. I have felt, embraced, the loneliness of the open road. I was never the sportiest kid, and cycling, together with rugby, was an opportunity to enjoy the best that sport had to offer without the challenges of constant training. I was never in it to win, I was in it to work hard for the reward of achieving something that previously felt impossible.
Le Tour offers an insight to that higher performance world. A world where the smallest of margins separate greatness. This year, it was a 2km stretch up La Planche des Belles Filles that boosted the young Pogacar to victory, as it simultaneously ripped the heart from Roglic, his shoulders dropping as he swayed, out of the saddle, towards the summit.
It was an outstanding ride that no-one predicted, and no-one could believe was actually happening. It was painful to watch, compounded by the cameras lingering on the Roglic’s TJV team-mates Tom Dumoulin and Wout Van Aert as they watched events unfold with horror in their eyes. It is this roller coaster that makes sport so compelling. An oft-exaggerated version of our lives, it can also be a lesson to us:
- Do your best
- Trust in yourself, and in your process
- Forget about others, their actions are irrelevant
- Change the paradigm. Don’t listen when you are told you are too young/old/short/tall/thin/fat. No-one else knows as well as you do, how much you are capable of
- Never give up.
By taking action you may not win in the sporting sense, but by staying where you are, unhappy with your lot, you can and will lose.
Finishing with the race itself, I feel so blessed that I could still watch the race this year. I never thought it would go ahead. I had my cycling collection ready to read as a replacement for the sport itself. This race offered little, and promised nothing special. It has given me so much more than i could have asked for. Not just the battle at the top, but the humour of the ITV podcast that always lifts my spirits, and the words of Ritchie Porte, a fan-favourite who has been so close on so many occasions:
“It is hugely satisfying… in lockdown i didn’t think race was going to happen and with the timing, to miss the birth of my second child… my wife said to me, come to the race, do your best, if she sees me at the back of peloton, sulking she will be disappointed in me. This is sweet, this is a photo I will have on my wall, it feels like a victory to me, to be third.