One notion that I took away from the travels behind the story of The Breakaway was a sense that the climbs we had tackled were essentially the exact same roads the Tour peloton had been riding since the race first tackled the high mountains over one hundred years ago. The road surfaces had improved (tarmac laid onto the mud tracks of those pioneering days) but in essence the Col du Tourmalet I huffed and puffed my way up was the same that created the legend of Eugène Christophe in 1913, the same over which my hero Robert Millar led the race in 1989 (en route to stage victory at Superbagnères). Many of the climbs that the race will tackle this July will be the same sweet and savage roads I was lucky enough to ride during my own tour of France.
On Saturday 29th of June the peloton will roll out of Porto-Vecchio on the island of Corsica for the start of the 100th Tour de France. Whilst a sprinter, such as Mark Cavendish or Peter Sagan, is likely to don the first yellow jersey, it will be in the mainland’s high mountains that the race overall is decided.
With Bradley Wiggins apparently all but wiped from the public’s consciousness (how fickle the British sporting fan), Chris Froome has stepped up to the plate (or kicked Wiggins clean from it) to become pre-race favourite and undisputed Team Sky leader. Whereas Wiggins’ forte is the time trial, Froome will be looking up-slope to make his winning moves. He is a far better climber than Wiggins, perhaps the best in the world right now. On the high passes of the Alps and Pyrenees he and Team Sky will most likely put on a dominant display or, you never know, he will falter, allowing a rival to steal a march and make their mark on Tour history.
Each year the riders (with a little help from the mountains) create another instalment of Tour history to add to the archive, another layer of reference for the fans (those of us around now and those of us who will be around to see the 200th Tour). No two editions of the race are the same (although the Armstrong and Indurain eras were often predictably dull). No matter what kind of cycling, or cyclist you are into, there’s always something to look forward to.
This year, like Chris Froome, but for different reasons, I’ll particularly be looking forward to the Ventoux summit finish (stage 15) and the Alpe D’Huez double (stage 18). There’s a real sense of satisfaction to be gained from watching the peloton race up climbs you have tackled (albeit at comparably inferior speed) — pride (perhaps a little shame too) and a deal of (in my case, unashamedly) childish excitement. That’s one of the great joys of cycling, the fact that you can ride out your own fantasies, create your own personal sporting legends upon the exact same stage that your heroes (and a few villains) once strutted their stuff.
Click here to buy or preview a copy of The Breakaway. It might just inspire you to create some Tour history of your own.