If you’ve kept your ears open during any of the past month’s news bulletins, you’ll know that the Tour de France just took place. If this were a couple of years ago, you couldn’t be judged for not knowing le Tour was. But since 2011, I hope, Cadel Evans has almost single-handedly increased the popularity of cycling in Australia to a point of no return.
I’m not going to explain the intricacies of le Tour here. If you have a Tour fanatic in your household, chances are it has already been explained to you, perhaps falling on deaf ears. In short, however, le Tour is a three week race over 3500km in which a winner is decided after adding up the total time they accumulate after each day’s racing. Last year, Cadel bested everyone else by a minute in total.
A question you might be asking, however, is why didn’t Cadel make the podium this year? Surely one might expect last year’s winner to be there?
Yes, he may have, but this is not tennis. Tactics and luck involved in le Tour are insurmountable, and given the nature of the race – arguably the hardest in the world – it is quite unsurprising that racers can’t repeat their efforts. This year’s winner, Bradley Wiggins, retired from the race last year after a collarbone-breaking crash. Every year, many of the competitors do. Cadel didn’t break a collarbone, but he did have a stomach bug which made him nauseous. This meant he couldn’t ingest the glucose gels he’s meant to have shot down on the mountain stages. Remember, these guys are eating 5000-6000 calories a day (the equivalent of about 20 Big Macs), so energy is a big deal. One bad day, and it’s a bad Tour de France. That said, it’s no poor effort to finish in the top ten: but Cadel clearly wanted to defend his title.
There have been worse instances of bad luck, however. A flat tyre. Losing minutes at a railway crossing (with severe penalties for crossing on the red). Wind pushing you back when you want to keep up with the peloton. I’m sure a little of this and that affected Cadel, and after already being the oldest winner of le Tour ever, the veteran’s legs just couldn’t keep up.
Of course, the other riders may be on drugs, but that’s for us to speculate and not to judge. But any given Tour, it is a safe bet that some of the riders have attained needles to inject themselves with either blood or some new fangled pharmaceutical. Frank Schleck, a former podium finisher, and brother of perennial favourite Andy (who was injured this year), dropped out halfway through le Tour because he tested positive to Xipamide, a diuretic (a drug which makes you urinate more). There are allegations that the Xipamide was being used to flush out more sinister drugs.
Unless you’re a Pom, this year’s edition was probably a bit disheartening (unless you have an erection problem which was finally addressed by the ridiculous metaphorical ads during each and every break). But there may be a silver, or golden, lining. Two of Wiggins’ teammates, Michael Rogers and Richie Porte, are on fire with regards to helping big name riders such as Cadel, and with those three in the Olympics alongside one-day specialist Simon Gerrans and unlucky sprinter Matt Goss, the chances of Australia beating Britain may actually be reasonable. It’s a one day race, and the Brits may still be tired out from le Tour, whereas Cadel evidently took the foot off the pedal (not literally, he’s clipped in) during the final week.
If you felt unsure before, keep feeling that way, but be optimistic, because the north of the Channel may bring some greener grass for the green and gold.