To some (including me), July can mean only one thing – the Tour de France. This year’s edition is the 97th and is important for a couple of reasons.
First, it is the last-ever Tour de France for Lance Armstrong. This is his 13th Tour and it is proving to be an unlucky number for him. Despite being included amongst the favourites at the start, some initial bad luck and a prevailing lack of interest have led to what will be his poorest placing ever. He doesn’t seem to mind though and is, apparently, enjoying his last trek around France.
Second, it is the 100th anniversary of the inclusion of the Pyrenees in the race. The first seven years did not feature any large mountain passes, but in 1910 the organizer, Henri Desgrange, decided to include the Pyrenees. Legend has it that upon hearing the news, 26 of the 136 entrants immediately dropped out and most thought that Desgrange was being ‘dangerous’ and ‘bizarre’. The tenth stage of the race included the Tourmalet and the Aubisque, both of them considered Hors Categorie in modern racing parlance. The organizers placed cars at the top of both of the climbs to watch for riders and record their placings at the summit. Most of them could barely turn the pedals as they approached the top of the climbs and hurled abuse at the race directors for being so inhumane.
Fast-forward to this year’s race, which features four long days in the Pyrenees. This year’s race is proving to be a two-man duel between Andy Schleck (Saxo-Bank) and Alberto Contador (Astana) with about half a dozen other riders fighting for the final place on the podium. The French are enjoying a resurgence at the front of this year’s race with five stage victories to-date. For years, the French complained that they were unable to win stages or produce a podium placing because of the rampant drug use by all the other nations represented in the Tour. Whether that is true or not, this Tour has been heralded as the cleanest in years and (so far) there have not been any positive results.
To pay homage to the greatest bicycle race in the world, I have compiled and mixed a podcast called ‘Le Tour’. Click here to listen to 14 songs about bikes. Viva le Tour!