I’m a relative newbie, only taking up road racing in 2006, but I have a passion for the history of the sport and spend time watching old footage and reading about the exploits of legends such as Coppi, Merckx, Bartali, Bahamontes. It’s a sport with a rich heritage, grounded in the heartlands of Belgium, Italy and of course France.
Starting in the 80’s, the sport became increasingly anglicised, with first LeMond, then (dare I say the name) Armstrong taking on the best and winning. Or maybe not as it turned out in Lance’s case.
Fast forward 30 years and now GB is top dog. It’s remarkable really. We had a history of performing well on the track, and in the late 00s, Dave Brailsford announced what we’d all been waiting for, Team Sky! Laughably, or so we thought then, Sir Dave announced that Sky’s goal was to win the Tour within 5 years.
Team Sky launched with the same attention to detail and master planning that had delivered track success and it would be fair to say that the first season fell well below expectations. Told you so, you could almost hear the established teams saying, as they chortled. Sky had everything – the flash Jags for the DS, Pinarello bikes for the riders, the best of kit, and a team bus unlike anything seen before (David Millar christened it the Death Star). Everything then, apart from results.
However now, as I write this at the end of July 2013, amazingly they’ve won the Tour not once, but twice! And who would bet against Chris Froome repeating again next year?
As a Brit, it’s great to see. Particularly this year, where Froome rode with panache after the fairly dull procession last year.
All good then?
Not really, and this is what bothers me. You see, in the UK, we’re used to ‘supporting’ a team when it comes to sports. But that’s not how cycling has worked historically. You don’t have Rabobank corner on Alpe D’Huez, or BMC corner at Place de la Concorde. It’s Dutch / Norwegian corner, the fans there to support the riders from their nation, irrespective of who they ride for. As it should be.
But during this past Tour, particularly on twitter, it seemed that if you said anything that could at all be construed as negative regards Sky, there was an army ready to jump down your throat! This was stoked by the UK media, who report on the exploits of Team Sky and more often than not pay scant regard to great rides from others.
I love to watch good racing. I don’t support any team. I like to watch the Classics, and to see the best riders go head to head. Cancellara & Boonen. Sagan. Maybe, in the future, Stannard or G. Who they ride for makes no difference to me. But it seems I’m now in the minority.
Maybe it’s some deep tribal thing – it’s how we’re conditioned here in Blighty? don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted that Chris Froome, and Team Sky, won. But I’d have been just as pleased if Quintana or Contador had been on the top step of the podium, as both riders illuminated the race. I don’t think there’s a better racer in the peloton than Contador. He has a racers instinct – he doesn’t care what the power meter says. And for me that’s the essence of racing.
Maybe I’m just getting old, and too steeped in the past? Would love to know your thoughts.