Man at His Best

Egos, Elbows And Angry Crowds: Why You Should Get Into The Tour De France This Year

It's a lot more fun than you probably think.

BY tom nicholson | Jul 13, 2018 | Culture

Getty Images

It's true that most of the time, cycling feels like a country club version of F1: nerdy, snooty, obsessed with numbers rather than thrills. In can seem incomprehensible, something summed up best by the Alan Partridge commentary: "You join me now in the helicopter as we look down on these cyclists that look somehow like cattle in a mad way, but cattle on bikes." And yet, every year, I get slowly drawn in.


I'd like to be able to say that the thrill is in the synthesis of man and machine, or the romance and history of Le Tour, or how a notionally individualistic sport becomes dependent on the sacrifices junior riders make for their leaders, jostling and blocking and carefully ushering them through the pack. I'm afraid it's nothing as noble as that.

Mainly, I like the the fact that everyone involved is absolutely furious with everyone else constantly, and that, because of the preposterously huge egos involved, there's a kick-off brewing around every corner.

Then there's the sheer guttural terror of seeing people flying downhill wearing just lycra and a small hat. Imagine flying naked into a mountain at 60mph. It's like watching Gromit frantically laying down train track in front of himself and weaving through table legs, but for 3,351km. Mark Cavendish, who's won 30 Tour stages in his career, reckons this year's course is "the hardest I've seen in my career", so it's going to be a properly gruelling one.

There are big personalities and stories to unfold too. For one thing, Chris Froome's been cleared to race. Froome has never really been clutched to the national bosom in the same way as Bradley Wiggins was. He's a bit more aloof, sure, and not being an Adidas Samba-collecting Paul Weller wig-wearer makes him harder to relate to. The long-rumbling (and, as of Monday, officially discredited) accusations of doping haven't helped.

Peter Sagan (centre) wins stage three of last year’s Tour / Getty Images

But he's won the Tour de France four times. The record is five, and only four riders have done that. He's going for immortality here. And, more to the point, some French fans absolutely loathe him and have expended bodily fluids mid-race to show it. It really comes to something when a fellow racer, Tom Dumoulin, has to clarify: "Nobody deserves to be showered with urine. Froome does not deserve that." Even the UCI president said he'd "heard calls, sometimes completely irrational, for violence on the Tour de France" against Froome. Sometimes irrational! That's what he's up against. It's Froome, the newly vindicated legend, versus twitchy suits and urine-chucking bumpkins. How can you not back him?

If Froome is a bit blank for you, there are more generally vibier men to back on this Tour as well. Vincenzo Nibali (vibe: aristocratic daredevil diamond thief) wants a second yellow jersey. Former Wiggins and Froome sideman Richie Porte (vibe: Captain Ahab on wheels) wants to prove he's not as terrified of going down hills as everyone thinks he is after a horrific crash last year. Peter Sagan (vibe: David Ginola in a remake of Happy Gilmore) raced - and won - wearing tennis shoes and t-shirts instead of lyrca as a kid, and won the 2007 Slovak Cup riding his sister's bike which was bought from a supermarket.

Then there are the 25-year-old, Bury-born Yates twins: Adam, who won the Tour de France's young cyclist classification in 2016, and his brother Simon who pinched the prize off him last year while Adam was (unfairly, they contend) banned for unintentional drugs violations. Simon's not racing in this Tour but their vibe is the vibesiest vibe of all: chippy, wronged northerners.

Yes, I know the World Cup is great. It really is. But you're going to need to wean yourself off it slowly. As impenetrable as cycling can look, the key to enjoying the Tour de France is to accept that Partridge is actually right. You needn't be confused by techy, wonk-ish over-intellectualisation of the race. Just enjoy the battle between egos, muscles, lungs and elbows. Wait to find out who bottles it. See the riders as cattle, in a mad way, but cattle on bikes.

From: Esquire UK