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Le Grand Tour

Posted on 8th July 2016 by Sally Campbell
We're witnessing an explosion in the quality of writing dedicated to the art and sport of cycling. With the Tour de France now at full, unrelenting throttle, Matt Gardiner sat down with four such top writers and captured their thoughts on all things Le Tour

James Witts  -  The Science of The Tour De France


James Witts has a background in sports science and is a writer for a number of magazines including Cyclist, New Scientist, BikesEtc, 220 Triathlon, Runner’s World, Men’s Health and GQ.  His new book The Science of the Tour was published by Bloomsbury in June.

 

What is your first memory of Le Tour?

I vividly remember Spain’s Miguel Indurain climbing the Tourmalet en route to the first of his five Tour victories back in 1991. You had this giant of a man, who seemingly rode a bike that looked far too small for him, effortlessly ascending one of the Tour’s toughest climbs. That was the climb Indurain broke Greg LeMond, and laid the foundations for his Tour dominance.

What is your favourite moment from Le Tour history?

It’s hard to look beyond Sir Bradley Wiggins’ 2012 triumph. I’d followed Wiggins’ career closely, interviewed him a couple of times and watched as he transformed himself from a star of the track to moderate road rider at Cofidis to GC contender at Team Sky. Not many have successfully followed that route from the velodrome, but through weight loss and being with the most progressive team in the peloton, Wiggins – also with the help of Froome and Richie Porte – strangled the life out of the opposition in 2012. Following up with Olympic TT gold soon after was the icing on the cake. (Wiggins, of course, would have consumed a beetroot smoothie rather than a cake!)

Which riders should we look out for at this year’s Tour?

Nairo Quintana’s twice finished second to Chris Froome and, if the race had been 22 stages last year, his late-race charge could well have sealed victory. The Columbian has been impressive all year, most recently winning the Route du Sud in France. Astana’s Fabio Aru will also be a threat, the Italian winning his first GrandTour at last year’s Vuelta, and you can’t discount Alberto Contador, though age isn’t on his side. You also have Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet, who will be looking to break France’s 31-year Tour barren spell. Both are young, have finished on the Tour podium and are stronger than ever.

Who do you think will win Le Tour?

It’s hard to look beyond Chris Froome. His early season form was more inconsistent than previous years, possibly due to becoming a father for the first time. But his recent win at the Critérium du Dauphiné, which he won prior to both Tour victories so far, suggests he’s back to his best.

Who would you like to win Le Tour?

Putting my domestic bias aside, I’d have to go for Pinot. He’s such a talented rider and it’d be great to see France finally break that Tour hoodoo. I like the way he’s overcome some pretty human fears – like descending fast on two wheels – to become an outstanding talent.

What is your favourite book on Le Tour De France?

Okay, not necessarily specifically about the Tour but I really enjoyed Racing Through the Dark: The Fall and Rise of David Millar. The candid memoir seems both candid and cathartic, as Millar reveals just how a rider tipped to win the Tour could end up in a French jail, charged with doping abuse. I also enjoyed Ed Pickering’s Yellow Jersey Club, which examines the physiology and psychology about what it takes to win the Tour de France.  


Suze Clemitson - P is For Peloton

 

Suze Clemitson is a cycling journalist and commentator. She is also the author of P is for Peloton: The A-Z of Cycling and editor of Ride the Revolution: The Inside Stories from Women in Cycling.

What is your first memory of Le Tour?

Tuning in to Channel 4 every evening and feeling the anticipation build through those technicolour opening titles and Pete Shelley’s brilliant theme tune. Then Gary Imlach reporting from somewhere before that thirty minutes of bliss. That music still sends a tingle up my spine – I use it as my ring tone.

What is your favourite moment from Le Tour history?

That I saw myself? Probably Eros Poli hauling his massive carcass over Mont Ventoux to hold on over the top for a stage win. It encapsulated everything I love about the race – the plucky domestique, tallest man in the race, holding off the slender little climbers through sheer guts and courage. A lone breakaway – he rode nearly 200km alone in the heat - winning one of the most prestigious stages in the race. He bowed to the crowd as he crossed the finish line. It was a proper old school exploit. And for all that suffering – he was virtually at a standstill climbing the Ventoux – he earned nothing more than his moment on the podium.

From the history of the race there are too many to mention, but the image of Rene Vietto sitting on a wall, waiting for a spare wheel that seemed never to arrive, as he watched any chance of his winning the Tour (and he never did) evaporate, sums up something to me about the ambition and sacrifice of bike racing.

Which riders should we look out for at this year's Tour?

Chris Froome of course – he’s defending Champion and his Dauphien win showed Sky have delivered him pretty much perfectly to the race with probably their strongest ever team behind him. Alberto Contador will try and push him close. Nairo Quintana will want revenge and a first Yellow Jersey on the Champs Elysees. But there are a raft of young riders showing huge promise – Tom Dumoulin, Eteban Chaves and Steven Kruiswickj all showed outstanding GT promise at the Giro this year. And the French have finally found some genuine contenders in Julien Alaphilippe, Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet.

Who do you think will win Le Tour?

It’s difficult to see past Froome, as he’s come into form at just the right time and has thoroughbred support. But Quintana will want to go one better than last year’s second place.

 Who would you like to win Le Tour?

I love Contador’s style on the bike – he’s by far and away the best GT rider of his generation. But really I’d love to see a win a la Walko – Roger Walkowiak was on one of the weakest teams in the race and won the 1956 Tour by getting into breakaway after breakaway. So it would be great to see a total dark horse prepared to have a go and really shake up the race.

What is your favourite book on Le Tour De France?

The L’Equipe Tour de France book released to coincide with the hundredth anniversary in 1903. It’s packed with images and reportage from l’Auto and l’Equipe that build up a complete record of the evolution of the race. Suffice to say it’s my bible!


Richard Mitchelson - The Grand Tour



Richard Mitchelson is an animator, illustrator and designer for, among others, Team Sky, Mark Cavendish and Rouleur Magazine.  His new book The Grand Tour was published by Velodrome in May.

 

What is your first memory of Le Tour?

My first memory of le tour is the finish in 1989. Lemond celebrating on the Champs-Élysées after winning against Fignon by only 8 seconds is a defining moment for me and my love of cycling.

What is your favourite moment from Le Tour history?

I love a loan break away. When they're out all day on their own and have that moment of realisation in the last few k's that this is going to happen. Stage 13 of the 2009 Tour had just that and I'd been out on the bike (myself) in the rain that day so coming home to see Heinrich Haussler in the break and pushing for the win was pretty exciting, his reaction over the line was absolute magic, with tears of joy. It's not a mountain top finish or an exciting sprint, but this stage and the result has always stuck with me.

Which riders should we look out for at this year's Tour?

There's obviously the main contenders, Froome, Contador, Quintana and Porte or van Garderen. But I think french riders like Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot are going to really show something special.

Who do you think will win Le Tour?

I think it's wide open, and I'm not sure. Sometimes there's one rider in the season that really sticks out. But this year everyone in that top group has shown real class, so it's tricky to pick one out. I think that'll make it really fantastic to watch as a fan.

Who would you like to win Le Tour?

I'd love to see Chris Froome win another.

What is your favourite book on Le Tour De France?

Oh there's a few. Bad Blood by Jeremy whittle is a fascinating read (although I read it in 2009, so it probably seems a bit different if you read it now, knowing what we do.) I also really enjoy Ned Boulting's How I Won the Yellow Jumper which I sat on a sun lounger on holiday and read twice. It just made me laugh a lot, and that is really important to me. Cycling has a tendency sometimes to take itself too seriously, and this book was really really good fun. And that's why I enjoyed it so much.

Tom Bromley - Be:Spoke

 

Tom Bromley is an editor, author and ghostwriter with ten published books to his name and a further nine ghostwritten for others. He has edited around a hundred published titles. His new book  Be:Spoke, on the language of cycling, will be published by Velodrome in September.

 

What is your first memory of Le Tour?

Watching the 1987 battle between Stephen Roche and Pedro Delgado. The stage that sticks in the mind was Stephen Roche’s remarkable climb to La Plagne: left for dead by Pedro Delgado at the foot of the climb, Roche came round the final corner as if out of nowhere to the disbelief of Phil Liggett and minimising his losses to a Tour-winning handful of seconds. Part of the magic was the lack of cameras in those days, which made for the surprise. Today, you’d know (and Delgado would have known) exactly where he was.

What is your favourite moment from Le Tour history?

I loved watching the final day time trial on the Champs-Elysees between Laurent Fignon and Greg Lemond in 1989 (even though I wanted Fignon to win). Also Andy Schleck’s epic solo win to the Galibier in 2011: an amazing, old-fashioned piece of solo stage racing. And having grown up in Yorkshire, watching the Tour there in 2014 was something special. 

Which riders should we look out for at this year's Tour?

He doesn’t have the backing of Sky but Adam Yates is a great rider with huge potential: a top ten placing at the Dauphiné shows he is in form and that he can hold his own on the mountain stages. I’m also really interested to see how Fabio Aru fares in his first Tour de France, having won last year’s Vuelta.

Who do you think will win Le Tour?

Chris Froome. Nairo Quintana appears in better form, but Froome has the better team, especially with Mikel Landa in support.

Who would you like to win Le Tour? 

Froome, from among the serious favourites.

What is your favourite book on Le Tour De France?

I feel duty bound to say The Great Bike Race by Geoffrey Nicholson, seeing as my publisher has just reissued it. It is a fantastic book, but Slaying the Badger by Richard Moore is the book I always buy for people just getting into cycling.

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