Saturday 1 July 2017

Le Grande Boucle ou La Petite Saucisse (LGD -316 Days)
Saturday 1 July 2017, 64 Miles

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For my last birthday, my daughter Megan gave me a copy of ‘A Year in the Saddle – 365 Stories from the World of Cycle Sport’. This is exactly my sort of cycling book. Full of trivia which I can ingest in measured doses. I keep the book on the counter in my kitchen so I can reach the daily entries with my bowl of breakfast muesli or porridge. So far I’ve been quite successful in resisting the temptation to turn the page and read ahead. So far, at least.

The headline for today’s entry reads: ’The first Tour de France starts.' Rather appropriate given that the 2017 edition of Le Grande Boucle also starts today. In 1903, 60 riders set off from the Au Réveil Martin café in Paris on the first of six stages that would cover 1500 miles. The first stage took riders 290 miles to Lyon and was won by Maurice Garin who wore the first ever yellow jersey. Garin wore the yellow jersey all the way to the finish back in Paris, winning a further two stages en route. From the 60 starters only 21 made it to the finish on 18 July. How different things are today.

The 2017 edition starts in Düsseldorf. I've always had a slight difficulty with a Tour de “France” that doesn’t actually start in La France but these days commercial needs must. Instead of an opening stage of 290 miles, today was an eight-mile time trial. A chance to see the riders up close with not much expected to happen in terms of the general classification. Nevertheless, the honour of being the first yellow jersey wearer of the tour is always keenly contested. German hopes were resting on Tony ‘Der Panzerwagen’ Martin who is both the world and national time trial champion. When he’s on form he is virtually unbeatable. For most of the GC contenders, the wet roads meant striking a balance between speed and staying upright. Sadly, Alejandro Valverde got the balance wrong and crashed coming too fast into a sharp bend. A broken knee meant that after only a few minutes of riding his tour was already over. A shame, since given his stunning results earlier in the season, he must have been an outside chance for the overall result, if his team leader, Nairo Quintana faltered.

In the end, the stage was won by all-round nice guy and my fellow Welshman, Geraint Thomas. Watching his changing emotions as he sat in the hot seat as the riders behind him, including all the favourites, crossed the finishing line made this an exciting stage – unusual for a time trial. The slow realisation that he might be in with a chance was palpable. And when asked what it was like to be wearing the yellow jersey his response was textbook Thomas: “Phoa, it’s like the stuff you see on tv innit! Paris isn’t far from Düsseldorf, maybe we can just go straight there and finish.” As he was brought down and had to abandon the Giro earlier this year when he was in with a real prospect of the overall win, wearing the first Maillot Jaune of 2017 must be a great feeling. All of the other GC contenders finished safely with the Froomedog posting the best time amongst the favourites. As you can imagine, the pundits have already started to speculate at length what this means. I’m just going to enjoy race on a day to day basis as it unfolds and smile at the stream of speculation.

To celebrate the start of the Tour I did a little ride of my own on one of my regular local routes. Although my ride was longer than today’s Tour stage it was certainly not Le Grande Boucle. Mine was more a case of La Petite Saucisse!

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