In truth, I suspect they’re always this horrible, and we just forget from year to year. Or maybe it’s that this year the cycling injuries seem to have happened to the big names.
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The only plus is that other sports and the non-cycling media are starting to wake up to what a splendid bunch of tough nuts we are. I did a radio interview on the day that Alberto Contador broke his leg, yet tried to carry on with the stage.
“Yes,” I said, “of course cycling is a hard sport. It’s not like football, where at the merest whisper of an opposition shoelace across the shin pad, you fall to the ground screaming. Look at Chris Froome, setting out for stage five with a broken wrist and hand, or Geraint Thomas riding the whole of last year’s race with a broken pelvis. It’s a tough sport for tough men.”
“So as a former international rider, you must have had to ride through some injuries in your time?” asked the host, not unreasonably. Then, after a few seconds of total silence from my end, “Hello? Michael? Are you still there?”
The first reply I could think of within even hailing distance of the truth was, “I went out training with a really bad hangover once.” That didn’t seem to be the kind of anecdote that measured up.
The next contender was that I tried to train through a nasty virus when I was a student — so nasty that my average training speed dropped from around 20mph to something like 11mph. You can kill yourself doing this.
“The non-cycling media are waking up to what a splendid bunch of tough nuts we are ”
It’s much dumber than trying to ride a stage of the Tour with a broken leg. But even I have to admit that no one is going to buy “I trained with a really bad cold once” as an example of courage through adversity. It lacks the awesome crackle of breaking bones.
The third possibility was to tell him about the time I got back onto my bike with a severe concussion after crashing in a criterium. A commissaire had said, “How many fingers am I holding up?”
I’d said, “What? Who are you?” and he’d passed me as fit to continue. (He had quite low expectations of bike-rider intellect, I suspect.) Witnesses told me later that he seemed unperturbed when I set off in the wrong direction round the circuit, perhaps rightly feeling that this was a development likely to spice up an up till then fairly run-of-the-mill race.
We’re all the same
I don’t remember what happened when I met the bunch coming the other way. It’s a pity, because it’s hard to imagine that it wasn’t entertaining. But, again, as a dramatic injury story, it lacks the crucial dramatic injury. It was just slapstick en velo. I rejected that too.
In the end, we’re all bike riders. We’re all cut from the same cloth, Alberto, Chris, Geraint, me, you. I decided that because I’d never been lucky enough to sustain a horrific injury and thereby acquire a suitable story, that was no reason to be modest, or, indeed, truthful. “Oh yes,” I said, eventually. “I’ve had all those injuries in the past and carried on. We all have.” I feel I did all of us a valuable PR service.
Incidentally, as I was heading home afterwards, it occurred to me that if every time a competitor got knocked off their bike the officials stopped the race and gave them a free go at attacking the bunch, the Tour would consist of nothing but riders hurling themselves into hedges and emerging clutching various body parts. Be grateful I didn’t think of saying that instead.
Acts of cycling stupidity
Tour stage seven into Nancy was won, as I’m sure you remember, by Matteo Trentin, who outsprinted Peter Sagan. For several minutes after the finish, though, both the riders and the officials thought Sagan had won it, because that’s what the timing transponder said. Only a photo-finish image revealed a half-a-tyre-width margin to Trentin.
The rumour round the race was that Sagan had been careful to slide the transponder chip on his bike forwards a couple of centimetres before the stage started.
I really, really hope that’s true.
Great inventions of cycling 1930 – Tour de France advertising caravan
The caravan is the series of promotional floats and vehicles that precedes the Tour. It is — ready for this? — 12km long. That’s 12km of flatbed lorries with French students putting in a summer dancing while dressed as baguettes, surly-looking middle-aged men driving giant teddy bears, women sitting astride bigger-than-life-size plastic horses, hand-jiving with giant foam hands and, weirdly, the French fire brigade. Just in case your house is burning down and you can’t remember who you phone for help.
The caravan was invented in 1930, when the Tour banned commercially sponsored teams and then immediately ran out of money. The first to sign up was Menier, a chocolate maker who in the first caravan handed out several tons of chocolate and half a million
promotional policemen’s hats. The tradition of free crap was part of the caravan from the outset. These days, many hundreds of tons of plastic tat is handed out to overexcited spectators, who, when they get it home, will feel rather ashamed of how many people’s children they trampled over to get to it.
In 1935, a journalist noted, among a long list of complaints about the caravan, that it “plays terrible music”. This has, regrettably, continued. It is, however, one of the caravan’s virtues that it generates sufficient royalties for the composers of awful, awful Euro-pop that they don’t need to play it anywhere else.
On summit finishes, the caravan and its staff are often stuck at the top of the mountain until the teams, officials, TV trucks and press have taken their turns getting back down, in some instances until after midnight.