Doodles in the margin from an artist living and working in the Scottish Borders.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Ten Memorable Things About the 2011 Tour de France.

1. A picture of Johnny Hoogerland's backside should be on the dressing room wall of every football club for any 'hard man' to contemplate before he goes out to lumber his thuggish, preening way around a pitch clattering other players and complaining about having to play two games in a week. (Photo here: don't feel you have to click on it, it's not pleasant. Really.)

The Dutch rider was knocked off his bike by Juan Antonio Flecha, who was in turn knocked off his bike by that lunging French TV car. It illustrated the horrible vulnerability of cyclists to cars, and with repeated viewing it didn't get any less shocking. Hoogerland was catapulted into a barbed wire fence, and continued the race with thirty-odd stitches holding him together. Not the least thing to his credit was his reaction immediately afterwards; while being visibly upset and very shaken, rather than giving live TV a ten minute swear festival he was full of dignity and forgiveness, putting it in the context of poor Wouter Weylandt's death. 

And then a few days later he was back on the attack in breakaway groups. I like football, but you could make five football 'hard men' out of the bits of Hoogerland left on the barbed wire.

2. My friend Colin predicting a Vinokourov stage win, a full minute before he rode into a tree and broke himself into pieces and retired from cycling. He had a mottled record, Vino, but he was a fierce rider, and fierce riders are good.*

3. Bradley Wiggins getting into an ambulance. What could go wrong? Wiggo, winner of the Dauphine, looking generally in great form, reconciled to and comfortable with his role as team leader on an excellent team, wearing the British National Champion's jersey in the Tour, a podium finish a distinctly achievable aim. We were all rubbing our hands together in anticipation. And then all of a sudden on Stage 7 he was getting into the back of an ambulance and going home and it was all over. Bugger. I hope he had a big bag of chips that night.

4. The indestructable Jens Voigt. He fell off twice on one stage and then was there back at the front yet again, hammering out a horrible pace for mile after mile. He fell off seven times on one stage of a previous Tour and the peloton said that the road was getting Jens rash. He's announced his intention to keep racing next year, which is excellent as he's one of the few remaining professional sportsmen older than me.

5. Cadel Evans during the time trial. Whereas Andy Schleck was willowy on the bike, constantly changing his position, Evans hunched himself into a bullet shape as he came down the ramp and stayed that way until the end. He was a picture of power and determination, and he rode brilliantly in the mountains, too, dragging the field up the Galibier in pursuit of Andy Schleck. I thought it was going to be a matter of seconds in the end, perhaps even closer than Fignon and LeMond, but Evans knocked lumps out of Schleck's time by the finish.

6. Dickheads. It's great being on telly. It's great being drunk and on telly. It's especially great being drunk and wearing nothing but Speedos and espadrilles and bellowing in a cyclist's ear while trying to run flat-footed sideways up an Alp showing your arse before strutting back down the road to do it again.Because this moment is all about me not some bloke on a bike who I admire so much I'll impede him or knock him off his bike or put his eye out with my hilarious steer-horn hat. Contador punched one of them in the gob this year. Good.

7. David Harmon and Sean Kelly's commentary on Eurosport. Once you've had David and Sean you can't go back to Phil and Paul. This was a shocking discovery, because they were The Voices Of The Tour for donkey's years. Then this year I started listening to David and Sean and began getting genuine insights into racing, rather than having a goldmine owner read aloud from The A-Z of Big French Castles before revealing 'Contador will want to go as fast as he can.'

8. Alberto Contador, winner of the Giro d'Italia and strong contender for the 2011 Tour victory, still not having had his drugs hearing yet. World cycling picking up a big gun and pointing it carefully at its own foot. Idiots.

9. The television. No different this year to any other year. From a swarm of brightly coloured microbes sweeping along the floor of an Alpine valley, to giddying, motion-sickness descents, to Maxime Monfort foaming at the mouth in high-definition super-slow-mo, it was a fantastic thing to watch on the television. Hats off to French TV, apart from when they tried to to kill Flecha and Hoogerland.

10. Voeckler. Voeckler generally, but especially Voeckler at the stage finish at the top of the Galibier. Heaving desperately to get the oxygen in, collapsed over the bars of his bike, not yet able even to get off it having ridden himself into another day in yellow, it was like seeing the classic cycling photographs of the greats in agony, live and in colour.

He rode the whole Tour like a terrier with his teeth into the yellow jersey, and every pedal stroke was an act of defiance, a refusal to accept his own limitations as he shouted, grimaced, fought his bike up every stage. 

David Millar on Saturday afternoon reported being in his team car, driving past a 'strangely familiar' figure in Eurosport kit cycling alone along the autoroute after the time trial. The chat in the car died away as they realised it was Voeckler, presumably needing some time out of the way on his own to come to terms with things before the huge Roman circus of the media started to feed on him. Tommy, however rotten you were feeling then, you have no need. You were magnificent.

*Col also selected a fantasy cycling team which ended up garlanded with stage winners and jersey wearers. I did not.

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