Sunday, March 4, 2007

Ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn't have fallen in love with? - thetoootingtrumpet

My pain inflicted by Pantani's, and, especially, Millar's and Hamilton's drug abuse (amongst many others) is still keenly felt. Over the last twenty years, first with the brilliant pairing of Sherwen and Liggett on Channel 4 (now ITV 4), then with the acquired taste of the eccentric, sometimes overweening, occasionally deeply moving David Duffield of Eurosport, I had come to treasure the first three weeks of July as a highlight of the sporting year (indeed in odd numbered years, the highlight). Add to that the Classics (especially the Belgian "Hard Man" races (Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Ronde van Vlandareen), a crazy world championship race and a smattering of true characters (Cippollini, Pantani, Chiapucci, Durand, LeMond, Fignon, Lance, McEwan, mad Frankie Vandenbroucke, lately Boonen), the sport had a lot going for it. To top it off, pro cycling isn't an easy watch - it takes years to learn the jargon, understand the tactics, judge the players - so you became part of a secret brotherhood who knew the difference between hunger knock and choosing 39 21 instead of 42 19. Even the drugs I accepted as part of the absurd denial of human frailty pro cycling demands - so long as it wasn't too much...

And then a vulnerable genius (Pantani) and two educated, articulate, cosmopolitan cynics (Hamilton and Miller), allied to team managements deeply implicated in systematic drug use, turned me away from the sport, and I cancelled my subscriptions to both "Cycle Sport" and "Procycling" (for years I literally could'nt get enough!)

But Stages 16 and 17 TdF 2006 reminded me of what I'm missing.

Stage 16 saw Floyd Landis blow in a manner that a Formula 1 car blows when the smoke pours from the gearbox and the driver coasts to the pits off the racing line. 11 minutes went, as well as morale and belief (more important in a Grand Tour than any other sporting event). I was heartened, as this was racing as it was in the mid-Eighties, when a bad day was a disaster, rather than losing twenty seconds in the last kilometre and when riders yo-yoed on and off the groups on the climbs as they put in efforts and recoveries, rather then just efforts and more efforts - it seems the clean-up at last was working. Rasmussen, a pure climber, won the Reine Etage in the grand style and reminded me of Luchio Herrera, my first great stick-like hero in the mountains. Floyd suffered horribly.

As I settled at 7.00pm for the ITV 4 highlights package of Stage 17, I smirked as Landis claimed that he would go for the stage win - "You're for the broom wagon mate" I inwardly said. Once underway, I, in common with Phil and Paul, couldn't understand what Landis was doing as he set off alone on the first mountain of five brutal climbs in the cauldron of a French July. I thought that even a Yank would know that the live television coverage would only really start on the second last climb, so it wasn't even worth doing for the publicity.

The gap widened and the bunch bickered about who would work - even the dreaded earpieces failed to sort out an alliance to chase, and my jaw dropped lower and lower. Floyd was going on a epic ride and pulling it off. And, the other side of the beast that is the Joux-Plane (the only mountain to trouble post-cancer Lance), Floyd, afloat on a sea of adrenaline, rode over the line and into favouritism for the Maillot Jaune. At 9.00pm, I watched the whole lot again on Eurosport just to be sure it happened.

It was my sporting highlight of the year and an all-time great sporting comeback.

And I was falling in love again...

And then, suddenly, it was all gone.


andrewm said...

Excellent stuff tooting. I was never a hardcore cycling fan but the Tour was an important sporting part of my childhood. Delgado was the man for me.

However, like many sports I used to love it holds almost no interest for me now, in large part due to the drugs. I don't care if they've always taken some form of performance enhancer, I don't care if it still requires superhuman effort - if you're not doing it clean then I don't give a f*ck, and I really don't understand how anyone can.

TTT said...

Me too andrewm

jonnyboy71 said...

tooting, you left out the Tashkent Terrier.

Great piece, really got me. I was drawn into pro cycling over years, wooed by Channel 4 and then Eurosport. It's tribal, it's people running their bodies to nothing and showing that the mind can wring another day of suicide out of you, it's more inspiring than any other single sport. It's the ultimate. I miss it, too.

Wonder why you didn't get an honourable mention for this. Maybe it reads too much like an elegy, not enough like journalism? Could be you're too far over the line between passionate and dispassionate. I don't know, but keep going with the cycling stuff, I love it as much as I look forward to those 3 weeks in July.

jonnyboy71 said...

Got lucky with this photo a couple of years back:

TTT said...

JB - The Terror of Tashkent was compulsive viewing and he's there on youtube in all his zig-zagging glory.

I didn't enter this for the Big Blogger as I had originally written it straight after watching the two highlights packages in a frenzy of joy at falling in love again. I did post it to a blog shortly after, but it was the 5th of 7 entries before the blog closed, nevertheless, I thought it too cheeky to re-submit to the Big Blogger.

I was prompted to tidy it a little and post here by mimi's lovely piece about cycling. I also feel that the uninitiated need to know how much it hurts us fans to have had the glorious sport snatched from us. I don't even know or care when Milan - San Remo takes place, never mind who is favourite.

This laptop doesn't work for photos, but I'll have a look at work tomorrow.

Thanks for the kind words and for recognising the most elemental of sports.

mimi said...

Tooting: Pantani's disgrace nearly lost me to Pro-Cycling and I often had suspicions about Lance, also didn't like the way he went about winning the Tour, but somehow, I have hung on to my love for the sport. There have always been some conspicuously clean men in the peloton and that was good enough. This year, I really truly believe that the drug cheats are losing the war.
Give it another chance, please.

TTT said...

Mimi - I hope to do so.

I didn't like the way Lance ran his season, but I loved the way he won his Tours. "The Look" was more exciting than all five of Big Mig's wins alone and while it was seldom romantic, it was like watching diamonds harden from coal.

Marco was THE most magnetic personality in sport in '97 / '98. The day before the storm broke at the Giro, he had punctured at the bottom of a typically achingly beautiful climb to a monastery. He carved through the field like the Eagle of Toledo I had read about and the Herrara of '84 I remembered. I think I might have been cheering at the screen.

He's gone and so is Jimenez who was a fantastic watch too.

Whilst I think Moncoutie and some others are clean, I would never have suspected Millar and Hamilton!!!

Maybe I'll come back, but I think I'll stock up on DVDs of Roger de Vlaminck at Paris-Roubaix, Hinault at the Tour, Eddy anywhere. Maybe they weren't clean either, but it wasn't as systematic, as cynical and as fatal.

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