A few years ago I read Daniel Coyle’s book about Lance Armstrong called Tour de Force. I’m not sure how this book made it onto the Fam Fibro bookshelf, as we are not noted sports biography lovers, but this was a riveting read. Coyle writes really well. Armstrong cycles really well.
But what really captivated me was The Peloton.
I have become an ardent follower of the Tour de France. When I say ardent, I mean that in a ‘6pm highlights’ kind of way. Watching four hours of cycling in the middle of the night, every night for two weeks, would make me a Tragic. I’m more a Slightly Sad. But if it’s quality, not quantity, of ardour you’re after, I’m your girl.
I love the tactics of the TdF. I’m sure all bike races are just as interesting, but I don’t watch them, so I wouldn’t know. The TdF features not only cyclists riding aggressively, but lots of lovely bucolic scenery and the occasional Chateau to admire. Plus I get two weeks of highlights to remember how it all works. So it wins my passion.
The rigours of cycling aside – and it’s worth watching the riders get skinnier and skinnier as the race progresses – the teamwork of the race is fascinating. Riding your backside off (literally in the case of some of the smaller team members) to catapult some other bloke to the winner’s podium is an extraordinary way to live. No wonder they’re called ‘domestiques’.
I love listening to Phil Liggett talking about cyclists “wearing the mask of pain” (which frankly makes them look like they’re smiling). I love watching the cyclists collect their ‘feed bags’ and spend a few kilometres shoving protein bars into the various nooks and crannies of their lycra shirts. They even read the labels.
I love watching the bravehardy fools form breakaways and slog away for 100km, only to be mown down by the mighty Peloton with 500 metres to go. As Coyle points out in his book, sheer physics means that the Peloton travels faster than any group of small riders, so, if the Pack puts their minds to it, they will always reel in a breakaway.
Why do they do it? Why? In the crazy hopes of being Sylvain Chavanel, who has now won two stages of this year’s race using this breakaway business? Possibly. To avoid crashes on narrow, cobbled streets? No doubt. For a less-obstructed view of the fabulous scenery? Probably not.
There is one more week of the race to go. Cadel Evans – who seems to have acquired a much friendlier personality this year – is wearing the Yellow Jersey. Can he keep it? Will he crash? Or will The Peloton, silent but for the whirring of 100 expensive wheels and the gasping of breath, drag him back to the pack.
I’ll just have to wait for the highlights to find out.