As the 2021 Tour de France draws to a close this weekend, I revisit a post that I wrote about the Tour in 2017.
There’s always a sense of loss the week after the Tour finishes. You have months of anticipation and speculation, three weeks of enthralling racing – yes, even the snooze fests – and then it finishes in a blaze of glory on the Champs Elysees. It doesn’t really hit you until the Wednesday, given Monday and Tuesday as extended rest days, plus the tv channels running various highlight programmes and everyone doing their lists of “Things we learnt from the Tour.”
Mind you after watching 21 stages from start to finish, I’m feeling catatonic. However, it was great to see the podium suspense maintained into the last week-end. As always, I loved the stages where riders enjoyed their “first ever…..” victory/grand tour win, seeing the winners’ emotions, watching the spectacular scenery, fabulous property porn and so on. I did not enjoy the many crashes and rider withdrawals, nor Peter Sagan‘s wholly unfair (IMHO) disqualification.
Five things are now patently obvious to me:-
Each race always throws up some surprises, that’s one of the allures of cycling, its unpredictability. Before the event started I poo-poohed another blogger’s suggestion that Sagan wouldn’t win a sixth consecutive jersey. He said he felt his luck would run out. He was right, it did. Few cycling commentators would’ve accurately predicted the podium, a few may’ve picked Chris Froome and Romain Bardet – two out of three’s not bad. But I bet no one, other than his team, wife and family, backed Rigoberto Uran.
I did enjoy watching the stages from start to finish, though I may have been MIA or working during bits of them. I felt it was instructive to see how, where and when the break formed and appreciate the work some riders do on the front of the peloton for hundreds of kilometres. Riders like that are worth their weight in gold, cherish them. I was impressed with Froome’s closely fought victory. I thought his focus, coolness under fire, failure to panic and knowledge that he had the best team (mates and support staff) were the deciding factors.
Sunday, we also (knowingly) waived goodbye to Haimar Zubeldia and Thomas Voeckler, who completed their last ever Tours. I wish them well in their future careers. I said knowingly because there were probably others who have also ridden their last Tour de France but have yet to acknowledge it. It’s always exciting watching the peloton hurtle round Paris. I speak from personal experience when I tell you that riding over those cobbles is painful. I only had to do it once and after riding a mere 500km. However, it was a very special moment and one I will always cherish.
For me it’s not so much a sense of loss this week but one of realisation. The season is fast winding to a conclusion, there’s only one more Grand Tour to enjoy. Of course, there’s the bonus of one of my favourite races, the Clasica in San Sebastian – a place I don’t need any excuse to visit – which is held on the Saturday after the Tour concludes. It’s typically won by a rider who’s just ridden the Tour and has come out of it in great form. Looking at the start list, there’s plenty of likely candidates.
This year’s Vuelta is handily starting not too far away from us in the ancient Roman city of Nimes, a place we’ve yet to visit. We normally only see its cathedral and concrete sprawl from the motorway. So that’s something to look forward to though I’m hoping (and praying) it won’t turn out to be another Carcassonne. We’ll be in Madrid in September for an international Dental Exhibition – I know, I lead such an exciting life! – and thereafter we’re heading to Valencia for a complete break, so sadly our path won’t cross again with that of the Vuelta. Which just leaves our annual pilgrimage to Lake Como for Il Lombardia, our last race of the season, which has such an air of finality about it.
You maybe wondering why I’ve omitted the World championships being held in Norway in late September. Aside from last year’s in Qatar, I’ve attended 10 consecutive championships. You may regard this a heretical, but I’m not a fan of Scandinavia – been there, have no desire to go back. Hamburg is about as far north as I like to venture. However, I may go to the ones in Innsbruck next year.