The Col du Tourmalet was witness yet again to an exciting stage finish yesterday in the Tour de France, as Alaphilippe extended his yellow jersey lead. This day in the Pyrenees may yet prove to be the defining stage of this year’s Tour, which settles the grand classification.
I don’t spend a lot of my life watching sport; I participate rather than spectate. But I love watching the Tour. It really shouldn’t be good telly, yet it is. There is an extra frisson with the Pyrenean stages, as well as some of the Alpine, in that I have cycled them myself. I did the Tourmalet in 2006 and seeing yesterday’s footage, I am right back there, grunting up the wonderfully maintained tarmac, recognising the shifting perspectives of the mountains, finally seeing the pass open up in front of me. Last month, I did Superbagneres and, despite it being an unremarkable overcast day in a lonely ski resort in summer, it was easy to visualise colourful crowds on the verges, egging you on; Dutch, Belgian, Swiss fanatics; The Devil in his outrageous red lycra costume. I am no racer – never have been – and I must weigh in about twice your average hillclimb specialist, but the recognition is there. I am with the riders, feeling the pain and the exhilaration. I have shared with them this particular theatre of dreams.
Our local team got to Lords for the Haig Village Cricket Final back in the 70s. That they lost (to Linton Park from Kent, I recall clearly) must have come with the massive consolation of having batted, bowled and fielded on the same turf as the greats of the day. Cycling the Grands Cols has enhanced my respect for my sporting heroes. In other sports, or the arts for that matter, does your average Joe Bloe get the chance to play out their dreams on the very stage where the drama takes place?