I was told by a cycling colleague here in Brussels that I am “unusual”.
He explained that he found it really rare to find someone who was working in cycling advocacy and transport cycling who was also connected to cycle racing.
I suppose this means I should apologise to my regular blog followers who had signed up to this thinking they were reading about about cycling culture and travel. Instead you have just had a series of raves and rants about British success at the Tour de France.
Actually I’m as surprised as you are!
When I started this blog I expected to put up the occasional post about racing because it is part of my world and my roots in cycling. But when Eurosport commentator David Harmon said on during Tour de France commentary on Saturday “I never expected this in my lifetime” I was with him. Despite loving the success of the British track cycling team in the last 12 years and cheering all Cavendish’s wins on the road winning the overall in the Tour is something that is almost impossible to conceive for a British fan. Amazing being in Brussels this week and getting big celebratory handshakes off an Italian and being gifted a copy of Monday’s L’Equipe with Bradley Wiggins on the cover by an American.
I don’t feel unusual, but if I look around my community I guess I am. I have used bikes for both sport, travel and transport throughout my life, but in a country with only 30,000 racing cyclists and a transport mode share of 2% you are part of a fairly exclusive community to do either cycle racing or transport. In the high transport cycling countries like the Netherlands and Denmark the racing cyclists are of course a tiny minority even if the orange jerseys are part of a continuous successful racing tradition. And in reverse in Belgium, France or Italy – here the sport is king in terms of media and profile and they are struggling to rebuild a transport culture even if the numbers of daily cyclists actually outnumber the racers.
So I hope you will forgive me. “Normal service will be resumed shortly” probably means sometime after the Olympics, because despite my moaning and groaning about the tickets I will be by the roadside on Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday with fingers crossed for the British team.
But for the moment let me enjoy my Tour de France moment. We have had to adopt almost anyone who spoke English as a champion for so many years – Irish, American, Australian and then a Canadian at the Giro d’Italia leaving the British celebrating crumbs from your table.
My Dad and I were sharing our reactions on Sunday and he immediately flashed back to his first entry into cycling in the early 50s when names like Coppi and Bartali were exotic gods read about in obscure magazines with black and white photos. Tim Hilton’s book “One more kilometre and we’re in the showers” (reviewed in the library) tells the story of being a cyclist in that period and paints the picture really well.
My own personal journey into Tour mythology starts at age 6 when I recall my dad freaking out when he was told “Simpson is dead”. I had no idea who, where or why Simpson mattered, but I still remember his response. We were of course by the roadside at a race start point at the time – it was a fixture in my childhood.
Then grainy TV coverage – just 10 minutes per week on World of Sport to cover the whole Tour for so many years, but much better to get the poster pages from Cycling magazine or Miroir du Cyclisme. I had a great picture of Merckx climbing in the classic Molteni colours on my wall for many years – British success was rare.
And the visits to the great event – Paris twice as a teenager, Alp D’Huez as a student and then two Tours in the UK were mainly exotic foreign fare. Sean Yates leading the peloton up Ditchling Beacon in 1994 was brilliant, as were the million people that came to London in 2007. But travelling hundreds of km across France to St Brieuc to watch Chris Boardman in the Tour prologue was more typical. He never even made it to our spot on the course, crashing out and fracturing his ankle on the wet road after less than 5km of a three week event.
I rode L’Etape du Tour in 2001 over the Aspin and the Tourmalet, then watched Lance destroy the field once again over the same terrain.
Other occasional heroes – Barry Hoban, Robert Millar, Sean Yates, Graham Jones, Paul Sherwen and the ANC Halfords team.
When Channel 4 started covering the Tour every evening at peak time we learned so much more about the race under the smooth tutelage of Phil Liggett and later the ramblings of David Duffield on Eurosport. I certainly would not have dreamed that I would work with Phil and David later on, nor that the occasional commentator that worked as CTC’s Mountain Bike Officer would go on to be the same David Harmon who was moved by Bradley Wiggins last week
The current generation of riders changes everything for us fans, culminating in the yellow jersey this week. It’s been a long road, so forgive me for a week or two.