Here at Cycling Torque we have put together a panel of cycling experts and enthusiasts to give their take on some of the key issues in the industry.
1st July is almost on upon us, and that means one thing; Tour de France.
We asked our panel members to tell us about their first tour experience!
Unfortunately, my first Tour memories include the Festina affair, the fall of Marco Pantani and Lance Armstrong’s seven dominant, dirty victories. As a child of the early 90s, there’s not much I can do about that!
Thankfully, I still have plenty of good memories from that drug-fuelled era. One early memory is of Giuseppe Guerini on Alpe d’Huez in 1999. Guerini was riding away for solo glory when a fan stepped out and caused a collision whilst staring through his camera lense. Guerini went down hard but adrenaline kicked in and he held on to win by 20 seconds.
It was nearly a total disaster but the stage perfectly captured the bizarre brilliance of pro cycling. You don’t need to sell tickets to fill stadiums because everything happens on roads that anybody can access. My early heroes definitely inspired me to get out on my bike; I bought a Fassa Bortolo jersey so I could look like Ivan Basso and Alessandro Petacchi.
My first live memory of the Tour comes from 2007 when the race visited the United Kingdom. I waited in Woolwich for 35 minutes for 180 jerseys to fly straight past me. And it was brilliant.
We drove across Brittany for Stage 2 of the 2008 Tour – Auray to St Brieuc. We ‘camped’ out under an umbrella for hours, huddled under the canopy with foil-wrapped sandwiches, jealously guarding the small stretch of crowd barrier we’d colonised. Rain notwithstanding, it was a joy to watch the village of Mur de Bretagne come to life as we waited. A traditional dance troupe practised their moves on one side of the road. Men and women with lived-in faces gesticulated at each other with glasses of beer.
A procession of bikes trundled past taking much longer on the climb than the pros would in a few hours’ time. A cycling museum had dusted off some two-wheeled exhibits to entertain the crowd. A rider in Maurice Garin-era garb on a vintage bike, complete with a bottle of vin rouge attached to the bars, fought his way up the incline. He was followed by the cycling equivalent of a pushmi-pullyu. ‘It was a tandem Jim, but not as we know it’. Constructed with saddles facing in opposite directions, the rider at the rear couldn’t see where he was going and had to pedal backwards. I wonder why that contraption didn’t catch on?
As for the race itself – it felt more like a sideshow with people-watching a much more engrossing pastime. But in due course the giant motorised Evian bottles and freebie-chucking youths of the publicity caravan crawled through and we knew the race was getting close. When it hit – I recognised Tommy Voeckler and Sylvain Chavanel duking it out, standing on the pedals, slightly ahead off the front. Then the multi-coloured peleton whooshed by us – going at an improbably brisk upward velocity given the gradient. All over in about 40 seconds then. We ducked into a bar and caught the denouement on TV. Thor Hushovd won the stage and Voeckler, the polka dot jersey. The vintage exhibits made me realise that there’s more to cycling than high end road bikes. ‘Boneshakers’ of every shape, size and age need to be appreciated.
As for the Tour – watching a live stage in this way may not be the best spectator sport in the strictest sense of the word ‘sport’. But it’s certainly one of the greatest spectacles you’re ever likely to be part of – and it’s free.
My first experience of the Tour de France was watching in awe at these amazing athletes pushing the barrier of human performance, from the comfort of my home! As a youngster I wasn’t lucky enough to watch from the sides in person but I remember the feeling of excitement in watching my heroes race with such passion. It certainly helped promote the love of cycling within me and was a massive motivator for me to push my own limits.
The Tour de France. So many memories drift by with the mere mention of the 3 week spectacle. Back in the day, “Cycling TV” comprised of a 30 minute slot on Channel 4, with the occasional 1 hour slot at the weekend. But this was still enough to pull me into the sport. Sure, I’d always had a bike, but it was the trusty BMX (and yes, it was a Raleigh Burner) that first gave me a real zest for life on 2 wheels. Then along came a BSA 10 speed road bike: more like a tank than a racing machine, but at least the weight of this trusty BSA did help me develop my cycling legs.
I recall watching the 1986 Tour with Greg Lemond and Bernard Hinault fighting it out, and then 1987, with Stephen Roche and Pedro Delgado taking much of the headlines. But it was the Tour of 1988 that really me got me into bike racing. Delgado won the Tour that year, and it was shortly after this that I joined my local cycling team by which time I’d advanced to a Tommy Godwin Reynolds 531c race bike.
Some of the guys I raced with back then remain good friends today and most of us still ride; if not a little slower than what we once were.
I can’t place my ‘first’ Tour de France, but I definitely knew about it in the 80’s, when Steve Bauer was becoming a somewhat household name back in Canada. Since I live in an area of France that never escapes Le Tour, I have been there ‘live’ many times, but the first time I recall the Tour de France really being part of my life was that first fateful bike trip I did here back in 2001.
I certainly didn’t plan my vacation around the Tour and I probably didn’t even realize I’d be in France at the same time, but there I was, cycling from French village to French village, stopping at the local bar-tabac to fill up my bidon, and there it was on the TV! It’s an impossible feeling to describe, but I immediately knew I was among ‘my people’, that is, people who appreciate the bike as much as I did.
And yes, it was the start of ‘something’, which is recounted in the answer to the last question you guys asked. It’s all part and parcel of why I am now in France, riding my bike, and always looking forward to my favorite month of the year – juillet.
That´s all until next time! In the meantime, please let us know in the comments below where your favourite destination is!
Also, if you are interesting in learning more about the panel, click here.