Thursday 13 July 2017

A Few Thoughts on Pushing the Boundaries (LGD -304 Days)
Thursday 13 July 2017, 111 Miles

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It’s been a while since I’ve ridden down to the coast at Orford and I decided to correct that today. As I approached my garage I could hear my Bianchi family chattering away so I eavesdropped on them or a few seconds. In a nutshell, the Infinito and the Impulso seemed to have decided that today was to be the XR1’s day and were making sure that as it hasn’t been to Orford before, it asked for its doughnut. Quite how they knew where we would be going escapes me. We headed off on the ‘standard’ route via Debenham and Woodbridge with a detour to the quayside at Bawdsey before carrying on to Orford.

The XR1 must have a sixth sense or, more likely, it is fully tuned in to the Garmin, because it seemed to pick up the pace as we approached the Pump Street Bakery. In an attempt to confuse it, I directed us past the Bakery and down to the quayside for a quick looksee. Then we doubled back and with a turn of the cranks, we rode past the Bakery for a peek at Orford Castle. Eventually I gave in to the XR1’s protests and we pulled up outside the Bakery which was doing a brisk trade. Fortunately there was a doughnut waiting for the XR1; I had a small (tasting-size) custard tart which restored my depleted sugar levels. Suitably refreshed we turned inland for the 50-mile homeward leg via Saxmundham, Framlingham, Stradbroke and Eye. All in all, a great ride which we both really enjoyed. I spent much of the ride reflecting on events at the Tour de France which has just entered its second week.

The Tour is a demanding and sometimes cruel event. Apart from the physical and mental challenges of riding long distances at speed day after day for 3 weeks, the unforgiving hand of fate can change the course of events in the blink of an eye. Yesterday, Maciej Bodnar got away in a 3-man break soon after the start. With just under 20 miles to the finish, and sensing that the peloton was closing in, Maciej sprinted off the front in the hope of holding out and winning the stage. He almost made it; the peloton caught him 300 yards from the finish line. After being out front for over 120 miles, being invited onto the podium to receive the day’s combativity award must have felt like a meagre reward for his efforts.

Other riders have been even unluckier. Alejandro Valverde went into a corner too hot on the opening time trail stage and in the wet conditions his back wheel slid away so that he ended up crashing into the barriers and breaking his knee. For him, it was Tour over after only a few short minutes. Mark Cavendish who had been hoping to beat Eddy Merckx’s record for the most stage wins broke his collarbone in a high-speed finish line crash and was out of the race. In a controversial decision, World Champion Peter Sagan, chasing a record-equalling sixth Green Jersey, was expelled from the race for his part in Cavendish’s crash.

Stage 9 saw its share of casualties too. On a wet and highly technical (i.e. twisty) descent of the Mont du Chat, Richie Porte, who was in with a real chance for the Yellow Jersey, lost control and hit a rock face at high speed breaking his shoulder and pelvis. Dan Martin who was riding close to him was also brought down but was able to remount and continue. Earlier in the stage, all-round Mr Nice Guy Geraint Thomas crashed on the descent of the Col de la Biche breaking his collar bone. Although he remounted and tried to continue it soon became obvious that this wasn’t going to be an option. With his trademark good-humour he posted a photo of his torn and bloody jersey on Instagram saying it was for sale – “not in 100% condition”.

Disappointing as it may be for them, all of these riders will probably have another opportunity at glory in La Grande Boucle. Others have not been so fortunate. Today is the fiftieth anniversary of Tom Simpson’s death on the Mont Ventoux stage of 1967’s Tour. “Mr Tom” has he was widely known was the first British professional rider to achieve major success in Europe. He finished sixth overall in the 1962 Tour and was the first British rider to wear the Yellow Jersey. His impressive palmarès include World Champion in 1965 and a host of one day and classic races.

There’s a monument to him beside the spot where he fell and cyclists from all over the world visit it and bring their mementoes to honour this great rider. A memorial fund was created in 1996 to ensure the monument is maintained in good condition. There’s another similar monument in Harworth, Notts where Tom began his cycling career. This year’s Tour isn’t ascending Mont Ventoux. But hundreds of people, Tom’s family, friends and fans, are expected to get together at the memorial stone to pay tribute to him. And Tom’s daughter, Joanne, will ride to the summit before opening 13 granite steps leading to the stone. I hope that one day I will have an opportunity to ride up Ventoux and stop along the way to offer my respects. Instead, today I spent a lot of my ride contemplating what drives professional cyclists to push themselves to the limits and sometimes beyond. And I found a quiet place to stop and observe a minute’s silence for Mr Tom.

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