Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections – Roger Clapham

21st December 2011

In which, as the year comes to its end, our friends and collaborators look back and share their moments;

So then, 2011. A mixed year personally, but despite the bad there was plenty of good. Of all the music, books and other goings-on (many of which I am confident will be written of elsewhere on this site) one thing in particular stands out for me – and that was this years edition of the Tour de France.

To the uninitiated, the Tour is just a bike race, the showpiece event in a minority sport, frankly nothing to be excited about. To those of us who spend three weeks every July with the television firmly stuck on either Eurosport or ITV4, poring over reports of the previous day’s action and pedalling every kilometre from our sofas and desks it’s much more than that – it’s the greatest show on earth. And this year’s edition didn’t disappoint – in 2011 the Tour was packed with enough twists and turns and action to rank it as a genuine classic. From the media cars swiping riders from the road to the attacks of the Schleck brothers on the slopes of the Alps in the closing stages, it was a true sporting drama set against the ever-changing backdrop of pretty much the whole of France.

The Tour in 2011 started under a cloud with the previous year’s champion, Spaniard Alberto Contador, competing despite an alleged incident of doping the previous year. Contador’s “contaminated steak” excuse has never sat easily with either the cycling press or the fans, but of course it wasn’t always this way – the great Italian rider Fausto Coppi (winner in 1949 and 1952) said of performance-enhancing drugs – specifically amphetamines or “la Bomba” back then – “When do I take them? Only when it’s necessary. When is it necessary? Almost every day”.
How things have changed. Contador, special steak or not, finished fifth this year.

The British contingent suffered an early disappointment too with Bradley Wiggins crashing out with a broken collarbone at the end of the first week. He was on good form and a contender for the overall classification in 2011 so this was a doubly cruel blow – he had won races in the run-up to July and he came back from that injury to place third in the Tour of Spain only a few weeks later. Mark Cavendish made up for Wiggins’ early bath though, winning the green (points) jersey as the best sprinter on the tour.

The race itself was ultimately won by the Australian Cadel Evans, who despite lacking a degree of flair and being far from the Eddy Merkcx or Lance Armstrong figure cycling fans love and hate in equal measures, he was at least a worthy winner. He also once threatened to cut off a journalist’s head for standing on his dog, and you don’t often hear that kind of talk from professional athletes in these media-savvy times. But as I hinted at above, the other winner for the armchair participant are the enduring images of France in the summertime – its countryside, mountains, chateaux and cornfields – that provide the stage set for this procession of lycra-clad heroes and villains. It really is a joy to behold. Vive le tour – roll on 2012.