If you have felt something was missing from my previous posts about la Grande Boucle, then wait no longer; I did actually photograph the riders too.
To the uninitiated (and doubtless there were many among the millions who cheered the peloton in the UK last weekend) the tour is a confusing beast. There are three four different jerseys to be won, and any of them may be claimed by riders who never cross the line first during the three weeks of riding; though this is especially unlikely in the Green Jersey points competition where the bonuses for those who sprint to the line feature strongly in the points accumulated.
You may have thought my references to doping in the previous post indicate that I am cynical about the race, but that’s not quite true; I wouldn’t have been there caught up in all the excitement last week if that had been the case. I deplore drug taking in any sport, and yet in an event which is arguably the most gruelling sporting challenge in the world it has been part of the culture for over a century; and certainly in the early days it was as much about pain relief as performance enhancement. The biography of Tom Simpson (born a few miles from my home) who was the first Briton to wear yellow, and who died on Mont Ventoux as a result of a cocktail of amphetamines and alcohol reveals the extent of the practice 50 years ago.
The longest ride I have ever undertaken was 140 miles in a day, crossing two groups of English mountains; the Lakeland Fells and the Pennines. As I recall there was about 12 hours of riding involved (plus a lot of rest breaks and puncture repair time!). That distance would be worthy of a tour stage, though the professionals would cover it in half the time (but hey, I was on a full suspension mountain bike, not a carbon fibre dream machine!)
What is more impressive is that they do so day after day for three weeks with only two rest days during the whole event. That would take its toll upon any body, but couple that with the cuts, bruises and worse sustained during the regular crashes, and even the cheats can impress. (Though I have not forgiven Lance Armstrong the scale of his deceit).
But back to the competition. Each stage offers different challenges that suit different riders, but the yellow jersey will be won by rider who completes the entire event in the shortest time which usually means that great climbers or time-triallists are victorious as those types of stages offer opportunities to truly differentiate a great rider from their competitors.
In the few seconds it took for the peloton to pass me, I tried to pick out such contenders; Chris Froome defending champion, Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali, Alejandro Valverde or some legendary riders like Fabian Cancellara, Tony Martin or maybe a Schleck or two.
It proved virtually impossible beneath the uniformity of helmets and glasses. The seven man breakaway that preceded the peloton were easy to identify since there was only one from each of the teams represented; Matthew Busche (Trek Factory Racing), Blel Kadri (AG2R), Perrig Quemeneur (Europcar), David de la Cruz (NetApp-Endura), Armindo Fonseca (Bretagne-Séché), Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis) and Bart de Clercq (Lotto-Belisol).
Come the peloton I was happy to pick out Marcus Kittel (easy to find the maillot jaune), and the names on jerseys helped with Team Sky (or would have done had I been on the other side of the road!). Still the polka dots of the King of the Mountains were being worn by a most unlikely climber. Jens Voigt‘s heroic breakaway on the opening stage had given him the chance to wear the jersey for a day and allowed me to spot a true tour legend on his final tour.