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Tag Archives: Tour de France

You Want the TV Remote for How Long?

TdF Banner DOGO News

Photograph courtesy of DOGO News

To the uninitiated, watching a three-week long cycling Grand Tour (the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France, or the Vuelta a España) would seem akin to watching paint dry.  Even Test cricket manages to reach a conclusion, albeit sometimes a draw, in five days.

For my non-cycling readers, here are some of the attractions of a Grand Tour to a cycling fan.

TdF Route.png

Firstly, consider the scale of the undertaking.  This year’s Tour de France covers 3,540km / 2,200mi, spread over 21 stages.  There are fifty three categorized climbs packed into the route. Eight rise 1,000 meters / 3,280 feet or more each.  Three tower to more than 2,000 meters / 6,560 feet each.  Those eleven climbs will require the riders to ascend a total of 19,164 meters / 62,874 feet.  That is the equivalent of riding a bicycle to the top of Mount Everest.  Twice.

TDF Muscles Pauline Ballet ASO

Photograph courtesy of Pauline Ballet / ASO

Secondly, consider the physiological stresses the riders must face to complete a Grand Tour.  These men are amongst the fittest endurance athletes on the planet.  The stage with the most climbing in this year’s Tour de France, Stage 18, has 2,642 meters / 8,668 feet of elevation.  Perhaps cruelly, the longest stage of this year’s Tour de France is Stage 19, covering 222.5km / 138mi.  The winning rider has to average about 40kph / 25mph over each of the stages, and do that day after day after day.  There are only two rest days during this year’s Tour, after Stage 9 and after Stage 15.

TdF Mental Crossfit Aevitas

Graphic courtesy of Crossfit Aevitas

Thirdly, the psychological challenges are immense.  Each stage is incredibly stressful.  The riders have to fight their way against rain, temperatures reaching 30 degrees Celsius and strong cross winds, whilst tricky surfaces including cobbles, street furniture and winding roads demanded their full attention.  The risk of crashing is ever present.  The finishing kilometers of each stage, which can last for four-to-six hours, are particularly taxing.  Riders must overcome severe mental and physical fatigue in order to maintain speeds of more than 60kph / 37mph for the last 5 to 10km / 3 to 6mi of racing, reaching speeds of 75kph / 47mph at the finish line.

TdF Peloton Eric Gaillard Reuters

Photograph courtesy of Eric Gaillard / Reuters

I don’t mean to imply that the entire duration of a Grand Tour makes for riveting television.  The riders may be suffering, but often all the viewer sees is an unchanging peloton for kilometer after kilometer.  Which forces the television commentators to give us geography and history lessons to liven things up.

There’s also the land art.

TdF Land Art

Photograph courtesy of Bicycling Magazine South Africa

And the occasional high wire cyclist to keep viewers entertained.

TdF High Wire Bryn Lennon Getty Images

Photograph courtesy of Bryn Lennon / Getty Images

Every so often though, the race bursts to life.  And you get to see what truly attracts fans to the Grand Tours.  Stage 9 of this year’s Tour de France, from Nantua to Chambery, had it all.

First there was the jagged stage profile.  Nasty, to say the least.  You might not win the Tour on this stage, but you could certainly lost it here.

TDF Stage 9 Profile

The stage profile set the scene for an incident-filled day.  The wet roads ensured that there were crashes.  Lots of them.  Only 4km / 2.5mi into the stage, Manuele Mori and Robert Gesink hit the deck, and both had to abandon the race.  Unfortunately, this was an omen of much worse to come.  Crash followed crash on the fast and wet descents.  Geraint Thomas, in second place in the General Classification standings, crashed on the descent of the Col de la Binche.  His race was over.  The same fate befell one of the pre-race favourites, Richie Porte, who had a horrific crash on the descent of the Mont du Chat.

Then there was alleged skullduggery.  On the ascent of the Mont du Chat, Chris Froome had a mechanical issue.  As he raised his right arm to signal for his team car, Fabio Aru, on his wheel, surged ahead, literally under Froome’s armpit.  This was a violation of the unwritten rule not to attack the race leader during a mechanical.

Nairo Quintana and Porte kept the pace down, and Aru’s ill-timed attack came to naught as three Sky teammates helped bring Froome back up to the group.  Aru proclaimed his innocence, saying he was unaware that Froome had a mechanical.  The polemics about Aru’s actions will rumble on for some time.

TdF Aru

Screenshot courtesy of cyclingnews

The three hors-categorie climbs on this stage probably put paid to the title aspirations of Nairo Quintana, who lost 1 minute 15 seconds to race leader Chris Froome.  Also out of the title frame is Alberto Contador, who finish 4 minutes 19 seconds behind Froome.  They now trail Froome in the General Classification by 2 minutes 13 seconds, and 5 minutes 15 seconds respectively.

Dan Martin was another pre-race who will rue this stage.  Porte took Martin down with him when he crashed.  Martin remounted and pedalled on, only to fall again a bit later on.  Incredibly Martin finished the stage in the Quintana group, but is now 1 minute 44 seconds behind Froome in the General Classification

This stage, arguably the hardest of the entire race, accounted for twelve riders leaving the tour.  Five due to crashes, and seven who did not make the time cut.

TdF Finish velonews

Photograph courtesy of velonews

The cherry on the cake was the incredibly exciting finish.  Warren Barguil led over the summit of the Mont du Chat.  Romain Bardet caught and passed Barguil at the bottom of the descent, with just under 12km / 7.5mi to the finish.

Froome, Jakob Fuglsang, Aru, and Rigoberto Urán were in the chase group.  Uran’s derailleur was damaged, and he was stuck in a big gear.  The television commentators blamed it on debris kicked up by Porte as he crashed, with Urán right behind him.  To me the video seems to show Dan Martin’s heel striking Urán’s derailleur as Martin tumbled over the unfortunate Porte.

Whatever the case, Urán muscled that big gear and stayed in the chase group.  With only 2.1km / 1.3mi to go, the group of five, now including Barguil, caught Bardet.  After 180km / 119mi and 4,600 meters / 15,092 feet of climbing, the stage came down to a bunch sprint.

Fuglsang started the sprint. First Bardet, then Urán passed him, but Barguil pulled up alongside Uran at the last second, and thought he had won.  Even the race officials gave it to Barguil, and he was led to the winner’s enclosure.  Prematurely, as it turned out.  It was a photo finish, and Uran, damaged derailleur and all, had held on for the win.

Stage 9 had everything that makes watching stage racing so addictive.  Bring on Stage 10.

TdF Minions Rest Day

Still Too Wet to Ride?


Yesterday I listed the biographies and autobiographies in my collection of cycling books (see Too Wet to Ride?).

Today I will start with a memoir and a more general review of the cycling stars from the golden age of the 1940s, 50s and 60s.  Tim Hilton wrote “One More Kilometre and We’re in the Showers.”  Hilton’s breadth of knowledge and interest is evident in this scrapbook of cycling lore.

One More Kilometre

Tony Hewson of “In Pursuit of Stardom” fame wrote another book about the era of UK cycling in the aftermath of World War II.  “A Racing Cyclist’s Worst Nightmare:  And Other Stories of the Golden Age” is a collection of short stories written in a variety of genres:  autobiography, biography, discourse and fiction.

A Racing Cyclists

Now onto books about major races.  They don’t come any bigger than the Tour de France.  There are countless books about the Tour.  I have “Blazing Saddles:  The Cruel and Unusual History of the Tour de France.”  Matt Rendell complements his vivid storytelling, sometimes of the unsporting and unsavoury underbelly of the Tour, with more than 100 classic black-and-white photographs.

Blazing Saddles

Ned Boulting spent eight years covering the Tour for ITV.  “How I Won the Yellow Jumper” chronicles his journey from being dropped into the roving reporter role, despite having no knowledge of cycle racing, through to becoming the Tour commentating equal of the likes of Phil Ligget and Paul Sherwen.

How I Won

Bill Strickland co-wrote “We Might As Well Win” with Johan Bruyneel in 2008.  Bruyneel built an enviable reputation as a Director Sportif, winning thirteen Grand Tour championships in eleven years.  This book is about how Bruyneel, his teams, and his star riders Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador, dominated the Tour from 1999 to 2010.  My biker chick was a fan of Bruyneel’s, at least until he fell from grace after the USADA formally charged him with administering a long-running doping program.  To this day she says that he broke her heart.

We Might As Well Win

My favorite history of La Grande Boucle is “The Official Treasures of Le Tour de France” by Serge Laget and Luke Edwards-Evans.  This is a compendium of historical tidbits, 275 archive photographs and 40 removable facsimiles of posters, postcards and other Tour memorabilia.  You will love this book if you are the type who pushes all the buttons on science museum displays.

The Official Treasures

There are books about particular editions of the Tour.  Like “Tour De Lance.”  Bill Strickland had unprecedented access to Lance Armstrong as he attempted an audacious comeback to win the 2009 Tour.  With his main rival Alberto Contador for a team mate no less.  This is another book that I need to reread now that Armstrong is no longer a winner of seven Tours de France.

Tour de Lance

Tim Moore is a British travel writer who rode the entire route of the 2000 Tour.  “French Revolutions:  Cycling the Tour de France” is his irreverent diary of that trip, as well as an homage to bike racing.

French Revolutions

I have only one book about the Giro d’Italia.  Herbie Sykes‘ second cycling history book, “Maglia Rosa:  Triumph and Tragedy at the Giro d’Italia.”  This does not read like a history book though.  Sykes presents a collection of stories together with 150 images to create his tale of the Giro.

Maglia Rosa

The Giro is central to Italian cycling.  It gets a big mention in this book about the history and impact of cycling in Italy.  “Pedalare! Pedalare!  A History of Italian Cycling” by John Foot.  Foot is a Professor of Modern Italian History at University College London.  He has written extensively about Italian history, including three books on Italian soccer.  He brings with him a historian’s eye rather than a sportswriter’s take on cycling in Italy.


I need to add a book about the third of the Grand Tours, the Vuelta a España, to my collection.  Actually there are many books that I want to add to my collection.  Where is that Kindle?

I have books about riders. I have books about races  Naturally I have books about bicycles.  Or more properly in this case, a book about a show about bicycles.

Bespoke:  The Handbuilt Bicycle” is the catalog produced by Lars Müller Publishers for the NYC Museum of Art and Design exhibition of the same name.  An exhibition of the work of six internationally renowned bicycle builders.


Robert Penn takes a slightly different approach to building a bicycle.  “It’s All About the Bike:  The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels”  is about his quest to put together the perfect bike.  He takes his readers on a journey around the world visiting the factories and workshops where the parts for his custom bike are made.

It's all about the bike

That man William Fotheringham pops up again.  This time as the author of “Cyclopedia:  It’s All About the Bike.”  An encylopedia-like collection of everything Fotheringham has learned whilst reporting on professional cycling for the past 30 years.  Something you can read from A to Z, or just dip into at random.


A true history of the bicycle is what David Herlihy produced.  “Bicycle:  The History” may sound like an overly-confident title, but this book lives up to it.  It is the definitive history of the bicycle.


The last book on my shelf about bicycles themselves is by Guy Andrews.  Andrews is the founder and co-owner of Rouleur, a bi-monthly British cycling magazine.  Rouleur is noted for its design and its photography.  So no surprise then that Guy Andrews’ book “The Custom Road Bike” is also beautifully designed and is full of lovely photographs.  Photographs of the very best bicycle components.  You will drool over this book so much that you might as well have gone out in the rain.

The Custom Road Bike

More books in my next post.