Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Eve of Le Tour - mimitig

So finally, after months of anticipation, we are on the verge of the 2008 Tour de France. For many this is an occasion to be savoured – casual fans only hear of cycling’s dark days, but this year, thanks to the authorities and national bodies that run cycling, we look to a Tour cleaner, and provenly cleaner than for many years.

Sadly, when cycling gets minimal coverage at any time in the media, today the big articles are still about doping and also about the politics that run rife in the organising bodies. Instead of acres of print about the great riders who, tomorrow, will be setting off from Brest in the greatest of all bike races, the papers dwell on whether the ASO will set up a separate tour from the UCI. This is nonsense.

It cheapens and demeans a sport that has done more than any other in trying, and mostly succeeding, in addressing problems with performance-enhancing drug-taking.

What the papers should have said today is that we are about to see the most open and drug-tested Tour de France that has ever been. Dodgy teams have not even been allowed to enter – that’s Astana – meaning that last year’s winner is not going to be able to defend his win. Not that he, Contador, has been found guilty of any infringement, but ASO don’t want to taint the Tour by letting a team with “history” be there.

In my view, the mainstream media would do well to stop picking up second-hand stories about what is wrong with Professional Road Cycling, and spend the next three weeks watching a peloton (that has pretty much whole-heartedly signed up to the bio-passports for proving itself to be drug free), and that has, collectively ridden brilliantly this season, prove itself.

This may be the last chance for cycling to show the world that it has cleaned up its act – something athletics manifestly hasn’t done (cf Dwaine Chambers and his last ditch chance to go the Olympics by taking his case to the High Court of Lawyers with Lots of Money vs Those Who Want Drug Cheats to be Banned for Life).

Eagle-eyed readers will recognise a dichotomy there. I have publicly supported the return to cycling of “former drug-cheat” David Millar, and it is a position I find hard to justify. BUT, and there is a big but. Not only did Millar admit his guilt straightaway, but then did all he could to expose suppliers and the system that had led him into his errors. Chambers has not.

But I did not intend this to be an article about performance-enhancement – I had to take that small diversion to explain why I am prepared to accept Millar riding the Tour this year.

My intention, and thank you if you’ve stuck with me this far, was to whet your appetites for the biggest sporting event of the year. That’s a fact. Even in the most troubled years, Le Tour attracts more spectators than any other event (live). The football, at its highest point, only gets maybe 100,000 in an arena. Le Tour has several million throughout its route through France and neighbouring countries. Last year that included Britain – more than three million turned out to watch the men in lycra duel in the opening Time Trial Prologue and then watch them on Stage One through Greater London and Kent.

I don’t think anyone has added up the television audience for Le Tour. But one of the amazing things about the people who line the routes from Prologue to the finale in Paris, is that so many are actual cyclists. Loads of people either do the pre-Tour ride, taking the same route as the Pros, but quite possibly walking their bikes up the steepest parts in the Alps and Pyrenees or follow the peloton. It is unprecedented in sport.

A pal of mine warmed up for watching Le Tour this year by riding from John O’Groats to Lands End and back to Elgin in a week. A team of four, with one support vehicle, did this in a week. Yes, just seven days. Today Gary told me that he had pushed it further than he thought possible. With terrible weather in Cumbria, the Borders and motorists swearing at them as they traversed the dual-carriageways around Glasgow, they kept going. And for why? Yes for charity, but also because each and every one of those four men had grown up with the legends of Jacques Anquetil, the cannibal Eddy Merckx, the badger Bernard Hinault, Tommy Simpson (RIP) and the inimitable Big Mig Indurain.

Lance Armstrong was mentioned, but in a different breath. He is, unarguably, the most successful Tour rider ever. There is no question about that. However, he sacrificed being great in other races to his Tour dream and so in my mind, he is not as great as some earlier greats, and obviously not to such as my pal.

Well, less than 24 hours to go, and yet again Le Tour’s first day will be competing with tennis at Wimbledon, qualifying for the British Grand Prix and Essex v Yorks in the second semi-final of the Friends Provident Trophy.

Thank Dog there’s no football then!

Me – I’ll go for a gentle warm-up ride along the coastal cycle path, have a little bit of tennis on a home-made court and read a lot of cricinfo. Then I’ll settle in for Brest to Plumelec – 197.5 km on the flat and have no clue who will either win Stage One, or be the favourite. It’ll be Tuesday before anyone shows their hand, and what other sporting event keeps you on those sort of tenterhooks?

Join me next week to see if we have a race or a political intrigue. My money is on the race and I wouldn’t bet against the Manx Express, Mark Cavendish, taking the sprint win on Day One.


MotM said...

Great to see all your enthusiasm here Mimi.

I'll still need a little more seduction before fully falling for the race yet again - I share your view that pro cycling is at the vanguard of the fight against drug abuse, but I can't take seriously a sport that strips Bjarne Riis of his Yellow Jersey then lets him drive the CSC car as directeur sportif (and there are hundreds of cheats like him in management and in the media working the Tour).

Aside from that, it shapes up to be a splendid race. Christian Prudhomme must be ecstatic that his gamble of dispensing with a prologue has paid off and that his finish brought the cream to the top. It's also welcome that he has done away with time bonuses on the line, so there's a real chance for anyone to wear the jersey if they get into a breakaway and can hold on.

Valverdere rode a brilliant last 1000 metres today, but should let the jersey pass to a sprint team today - I'm sure that a group of 10 - 15 will go away and Valverdere would be foolish to chase them down. He'll need the energy and friends in the mountains.

I hope you will keep these pieces coming - let me know if you would like a domestique like me to take over at the front of the peloton for a bit if you fancy soft-tapping for a few stages!

bluedaddy said...

Of course it had to be Valverde. The force is with Spain at the moment. Nadal's turn next.

Cheers mimi x

guitougoal said...

Valverde is more yellow than verde and mimi is hot-Yes mimi keep them coming.

andrewm said...

I am a relieved man. Not only because of your fine coverage of the race, mimi, but also because while Mouth claims he's not fully seduced yet, I still get to read his comments, which seem to me as well-informed as always.

The quality of writing on Pseuds has really brought me back to two of the great sporting loves of my childhood - the Tour and American Football (eagerly awaiting VB's next offering, I can tell you).

Good times. Good times indeed.

bush said...

Didn't Valverde win the Grand National ? It is a Spanish summer.
It is best not to worry about the drugs and enjoy the spectacle.
Bloody windy for the TT tomorrow so I will back a Belgian to win. They are brought up cycling in the wind. Stijn Devilder, he won Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

mimi said...

Forget the Spanish, today was for the French. Stage win and le maillot jaune. The only tricksie bit for les francais is that it's not yet Bastille Day, but with a Tour this open, anything could happen.

Glory for the Tricolour on the last day in Brittany means pages to be written in the history books.

I'm loving Le Tour so far. Nothing has gone to plan really. Valverde did promise an explosive beginning, and he did that, but there was nothing for the sprinters. I have no doubt about Cav's talent, but boy, was he bad for the team's PR today! Very poor performance with the press.

It's great some of you are reading this, and I really appreciate your comments, specially those who have almost lost faith in cycling.

Tomorrow is the Time Trial - we're going to see big gaps opening up in the GC and I wouldn't know where to put my money for the win.

guitougoal said...

keep your money in your pocket and buy us a drink please.

mimi said...

Actually I feel a bit sick.

I am not sure that today's winner is clean.

Schumacher failed an out of competition test for recreative drugs. He has obviously been passed OK by his team, but I am nervous.

It was cocaine they used in the old days. And that same drug is linked with today's winner.


bluedaddy said...

Maybe not day one mimi, but day five will do. Who cares about drugs, SuperCav's back on the podium.

offsideintahiti said...

When asked to describe his feelings after crossing the finish line, he said it was "ecstasy".

So, Belgian soup, coke, and now "e", what else are they on?

mimi said...

Super Cav restores a bit of faith. Fantastic finish and win.
Youngest Brit to get a Stage win.

However, seems I'm not the only one with doubts about yesterday. L'Equipe goes for "Le Maillot Pale" and Imlach and the others on commentary are making noises about Schumacher.

I feel vindicated for my comments at various places about the Time Trial winner, but it is sad for LE Tour.

Let's hope The Manx Express's win garners better headlines tomorrow.

guitougoal said...

I don't know what biking Schumi is taking, I would like some.

mimi said...

Schedulling difficulties have left me at day behind with Le Tour - and it's getting worse. Not only am I fighting time for the Test Match, the Good Doctor (what a fine knicker-wettingly funny review of Mamma Mia), the Scottish Open and T in the Park on the telly and radio, but it's Gala Week and there is real stuff to be done.

Hopefully will find some time tomorrow for a catch up of week one and look forward to week two.

Hell's teeth, sometimes I feel a few amphetamines wouldn't be unwelcome here!!

Nooooooooo noooo
I didn't say that.

Palbo said...

Tengo un grano en el culo que parece un pezón y me excita chuparlo.

guitougoal said...

some poetry from the Palbo guy..! It's surprising his
comments are not removed or deleted.

offsideintahiti said...

Probably of friend of Ebren's...

typomanintahiti said...

*a friend*

Ebren said...

Don't think I'm not reading this. Or, in fact, that I have friends.

*sobs into second beer of the morning*

guitougoal said...

Senor Ebreno,
hopefully after the fifth beer you may be able to translate palbo vulgarism and grossness from spanis into english although it could sounds better after translation-

guitougoal said...


Ebren said...

I really can't translate that - I can, however, point out that this Pablo gets about a bit...


Ebren said...

some of those might have been deleted: google says this

mimi said...

I have no idea what this is about.
Bit like cav trying to do an interview in spanish.

So just as the boy gets on his bike and rides, I've sent a review to the Ebren.

Pennyfarthing Greengrass said...

I am sure Mouth is not hard to seduce if Mimi plays her cards right.
He is, after all, a Liverpudlian - an easily-excited bunch, some of whom have been known to become extremely agitated at the sight of P. Neville putting pen to paper.
I shall remain aloof, aware as I am that the sport of biking started its downhill slide when gears were introduced.

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