It’s tough being a professional cyclist in July. Spare a thought for the 193 poor hangers-on who aren’t Vincenzo Nibali at the Tour de France, slapping off on ice rink roads, sleeping in pre-fabricated horror hotels; being eyed up for autographs then overlooked for a bigger star; staring at the jubilant roadside holidaymakers and wishing they weren’t plodding up the side of a sodding mountain. TS Eliot was slightly off: July is the cruellest month to be a professional cyclist.
Then stop and spare a moment for the poor souls not doing the Tour. Now that’s true hardship.
Imagine. It starts mid-June. “So, are you doing the Tour de France?” people enquire. They go quiet and shoegaze when you reply in the negative. Smiles turn to incomprehension.
It’s the only race they know. It’s like saying you’re an actor and not appearing on telly. To them, you might as well have been sat on the sofa watching Jeremy Kyle for the last eleven months.
Your morale is low and all your mates are away, rolling past sunflower fields on TV. Oh well, maybe racing will take your mind off it.
In July, the racing calendar narrows into the Tour and the Not-Tour, which has limited choices. Step this way, inferior cycling specimens, for the two-week Tour of Qinghai Lake. By day, get beaten by suspiciously-speedy Iranian climbers. By night, faint into your dinner because there’s no oxygen up at 3,000 metres.
Don’t fancy that? There’s always the Tour de la Region Wallonne, where OPQS rip it into the gutter every single day and Tom Boonen wins everything.
Win a stage and the overall at the Tour of Austria? Good for you, but nobody cares. All the fans and media are watching the Tour, and your directeur sportifs are fixated on the overpaid team’s captain grind to ninth place overall. Even your agent is there, occupied with his more important clients. You get a congratulatory text from your mum and several needling remarks from Twitter trolls, saying you only won because all the best riders are in France.
Making small talk with neighbours after the race, you mention your exploits on the Kitzbüheler Horn. They think you’ve jacked in the cycling and taken up wind music. You gamely nod through a five-minute conversation about Tchaikovsky symphonies.
So, it’s a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The only thing worse than getting your head kicked in racing the Tour de France is not being there at all.
TOUR TWEETS OF THE WEEK
The uncle of Garmin-Sharp rider Ben King absolutely nails his demonstration of the correct selfie distance.
Marcel Kittel’s legendary strength? In the quiff: “Big disaster at the airport in London: my hair gel did not make it through the security check :P”
STAT’S THE WAY, UH HUH UH HUH
5.3 million – Population of Yorkshire
5 million – Most optimistic estimate for the turnout over the two Yorkshire stages of the Tour de France.
10 – Number of different nationalities in the top ten of the Tour de France’s first stage into Harrogate.
Thrills and spills from stage three of the 2010 Tour, the last time the race featured cobbles.
Greipel goes for Germany’s 2015 Eurovision entry. Don’t quit the day job, André (which currently seems to be finishing 19th in Tour de France sprints).
Getting to know Marcel: star sprinter Kittel visits his old school and first velodrome in this documentary.