By Andy Brown, posted 4 July 2017
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Andy doesn't agree with Chris Evans. 3 days in, and the enthusiasm is still there.
Day three of the Tour de France and my enthusiasm is not fading. This morning (Monday) Chris Evans on BBC R2 said nothing really happens in the first week or so. That might be the case to the novice watcher of the world’s biggest bike race, but I’ve followed it off and on since 1985.
Back then I had know clue about what was going on. I was inducted into its traditions and drama - Lemond taming the Badger etc. and the fascinating Robert Millar. I loved and still do love the romance and back stories less than the winning. For me, the journey that is one big advert for French tourism is a feast for the eyes and imagination. The back stories about riders with titanium in their leg (Taylor Phinney) or the altercations with dog owners (google it, there's a few) and the glory of the breakaway and the failure of it just short of the line. Then the chaos theory of the sprint finish: there is a science and a technique behind the madness and the elbows.
Today we saw a world champion, Peter Sagan, loose his pedal in the final sprint of five hundred metres proving that we are all normal. I regularly lose my pedal: could I, would I recover to win stage by throwing my bike over the line to beat someone as fast as Matthews? Sagan is one of those people that epitomises what Just Ride the Bike is about - albeit in an extreme manner. He rides anything. He competed in the Olympics in mountain bikes for goodness sakes. He pulls wheelies. It feels like he rides for the joy of it.
Yes, Le Tour is a gruelling race for the winners and their domestiques, but it about more than that. There is sheer joy of riding the bike there for all of the competitors if they take their chance. Stage 2 we saw Taylor Phinney do what Jens Voigt and many other cycling heroes have done so well - the breakaway. Or more correctly, the failed breakaway.
Why do it? Because there is one, maybe two chances out of every ten times that it will come off. As a rider you get the experience of leading the world’s biggest sporting event. You have the media exposure all to yourself. You can demonstrate your professional and athletic skill in a way not many other sports offer. You can do it in a glorious manner - it's do or die. Just ride the bike. Hard, fast, like you stole it as Voigt famously said (and wrote in a card to a fiend of mine). Lance Armstrong almost turned me away from cycling.
But names like Coppi, Merckx, Hinault, Simpson and maybe people like Geraint Thomas (his ability to cope with crushing injury and pain and crashes is the stuff of steel framed down shifters and He’d fit right in with the riders of the early Tours), Tony Martin and Phinney capture a romance, drama and love of bike riding that always means I want to know as much about the Tour as possible. For me the Tour is bigger than who is on the podium. I do prefer the British to be wearing the garlands and the right colour jerseys if at all possible but the teams and individuals matter less. I try and see past the rumours around various teams and I hope that Team Sky show a more human and romantic side to them. It is the individual stories within the Tour that make it what it is. The sum of the whole then becomes greater than those parts and it will always overcome the criticism and lack of awareness of some media pundits like say, Chris Evans. So, if you think Le Tour is not about bike riding in the normal way, think again. It is. In huge ways. Your personal commute could be a drama of losing a pedal at the lights. Your trip to the shops might involve drastic avoidance of street furniture or errant pedestrians. Heaven forbid you have a close pass from a motorbike or car. Le Tour riders share all of these risks, but at about an average speed of 40km. And sometimes all on their own on a 205km stage. What ever way you look at it, the world’s biggest cycling event is all about one thing: #justridethebike.