This is the story of the race up Ventoux, from the eyes of an entranced twelve-year-old:
The Tour de France up until this day had been thrilling. This new, sophisticated sport of grand tour riding had provided so much entertainment during the long, lazy summer holiday. There was plenty of time in the day, and no one minded that I would spend three hours a day glued to the television.
My introduction to the Tour had been through the London Olympics the year prior. Team GB were winning gold medals all over the place, it seemed as if our tiny island was simply the most talented, at least for our size. Especially in cycling, the successful British riders were not only heroes of the nation, by shining lights in a muddy, drug infested darkness. They were all whiter than white, saviours of the sport in the post-Lance era. Even when losing, there was always a plausible excuse, “the other teams wouldn’t co-operate”, a classic. The national pride was flowing every which way, you couldn’t miss it.
Out of the whirlwind of British success came the story of Chris Froome. His difficulties with Bradley Wiggins were known, but Froome was forgotten going into the end of 2012. Wiggins would win Sports Personality of the year, beating out a field of double Olympic champions like Mo Farah and poster girl Jessica Ennis. The peak of sporting popularity. But a twelve year old me saw through the façade. To me, Froome had wrongly been denied that level of sporting stardom. In a time of extraordinary popularity for cycling, he had been left out. He had sacrificed his own success on a mountainside, for someone who barely seemed the least bit grateful.
The lofty heights of the Olympics began to fade at the 2013 track World Championships. GB still topped the medals, but not with the same degree of dominance. Wiggins flopped out of the Giro. The beginning of the 2013 tour saw Cavendish have a few misfires, and Kittel seemed like he had the better of the superstar sprinter. Froome however, continued to show that he was far in front of the rest. A stage win on the first mountain, then a brilliant time trial, which saw him come into Ventoux with over three minutes advantage. A win here, would secure the Tour.
It played out like a dream, Richie Porte shredding the field leaving Froome to rev up his cadence and blow Contador away. The old guard was gone, the king was dead. The young Columbian was next, but seemed decidedly less deterred by Froome’s dishwasher impersonation. Their somewhat collaborative relationship ended when Quintana finally cracked, leaving Froome with an open road to the title. The scene at the summit was of undoubtedly the best rider in world, winning the greatest race of all, with not a single challenger in sight. Froome had shown all the other British heroes how to dominate, without the buzz of the Olympics. There was something more real about this victory, something true.
Since that moment, my idea of a dream bike race has shifted dramatically. With a better knowledge of cycling, it’s hard for even the strongest, most indoctrinated Sky fanboy to blind themselves for long. Anyone who watched Julian Alaphillippe’s extraordinary run at last year’s tour, knows what the Tour de France is capable of delivering without an overpowering Team Sky. Then there are all the other races, to which I was almost completely oblivious to for many years after Ventoux. The Backstage Pass episode where Matthew Hayman wins Roubaix brought me to tears, two years after its initial release. This is despite not having watched it at the time and having no prior emotional investment in the team or the rider. The hours and hours of entertainment the classics have given me, make my moment of inspiration seem somewhat embarrassing, somewhat shameful, in hindsight. I’m not sure if there’s any message that can come from this. ButI suppose it goes to show how whatever your opinions on certain riders and races, if you’re willing to have your mind changed, you might just have a better time. The only thing I can say with certainty is that learning about all of the races on the calendar, and appreciating all kinds of rider, has made my viewing experience of professional cycling far more enjoyable.
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