Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

14 July 2013

Le Quatorze Juillet: Victoire Sur Ventoux, Mais Pas Pour Un Cyclist Francais

Aujourd'hui, c'est la fete nationale francaise:  le jour de la prise de la Bastille.

If any Francophones or Francophiles are reading this, I apologize that I don't have diacritical marks on my keyboard!

Anyway, I spent le quatorze juillet in France four times, two of them on my bicycle.

In France, this date is always one of the most important in the Tour de France.  Or, at least, it's one of the dates on which the French pay most attention to the race.  Perhaps the best way I can describe it for Americans is this:  Imagine that, on the Fourth of July (le jour d'independence american), there was one baseball game.  Imagine what it would be like if most of the nation (or what seems to be most people in the nation) watched it before enjoying barbecues with families and friends and fireworks displays in their communities.

On all four of the years in which I was in France for le quatorze juillet, I was also there for le quatre.  On two of those occasions, I was in Paris and there were celebrations of American independence.  (The French--even Parisians--don't hate Americans, contrary to what you've heard.  It's more complicated than that.)  But in the other two years, when I was in les pays, enjoying the festivities of le quatorze made up for The Fourth simply being another day.  Well, almost:  The Fourth also happens to be my birthday!

Anyway, in the glory years of French cycling--when riders like Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Thevenet and Bernard Hinault won the Tour--a win in the stage on the 14th was almost expected.  And, in recent years, when the races has been won by cyclists from Spain, Italy, Colombia, the US (Greg LeMond still has his titles.), Germany and--helas (if you're French, anyway)--Britian, French cycling fans could console themselves with a victory--or the prospect of one--by a French rider on Bastille Day.

However, this year, it was not to be.  However, today's stage had an interesting outcome, in its own way.  Chris Froome--a Briton by way of Kenya and South Africa--won today's stage, which ended on the Tour's most difficult climb, Mont Ventoux.

Froome spoils French party by omnisport-uk

Ventoux is inherently a difficult (rated hors de categorie) climb.  But what makes it even more difficult for Tour riders is the fact that, unlike climbs like Galibier, les deux Alpes and Peyresorde (all of which I've done!), Ventoux is not part of a mountain chain.  It seems to come out of nowhere, so it's a shock to riders who've spent the day on the rolling-to-flat terrain that surrounds it.

One of the reasons why Froome's victory on Ventoux is so interesting is that the mountain claimed another famous British rider.  In 1967, Tom Simpson become the first cyclist from Albion to wear the yellow jersey, signifying the race leader, in the history of the Tour.  Some believed he would win the whole race, as he'd had an enormously successful racing season.

However, in pedalling up Ventoux, he suffered a stroke that killed him.  An autopsy revealed--to the surprise of few--that drugs played a part in his death.

There is a memorial to Simpson, and every Tour cyclist pays tribute--whether by waving his cap or with some other gesture--to the rider whose death, some argued, set back the hopes and dreams of British racers for at least a generation.

Three years after his death, one of Simpson's former teammates (on the French Peugeot team) won the stage that ended on le geant de Provence and paid tribute to him.

He was, arguably (Well, I won't argue, anyway!), the greatest racing cyclist who ever lived:  Eddy Mercx.


  1. I confess I started the morning wondering how much time some of the other GC contenders were going to take out of Froome today. I have to give him props for the stunningly good ride he did (and to Richie Porte, for dragging him as far up the hill as he did). I was a bit surprised to see Schleck crack as early and hard as he did. And Contador still has his work cut out if he wants to make a comeback. Quintana made a decent showing, too, coming in just a few seconds behind Froome.

    I love watching the mountain stages, as they tend to be where interesting things happen, and I'm so bad at hills on my bike that I can really appreciate them.

  2. Ailish--Even though his reputation is now in tatters, I still will never forget Being there when Lance powering his way up l'Alpe d'Huez and in the time trial up the mountain at Chamrousse in the 2001 Tour.

    I agree with your assessment of this year's peloton. I expected Contador to at least make more of a race of it on Ventoux and, as you said, Schleck was a bit of a disappointment. But, in a way, it's not so surprising to see Froome make his "statement" as he was a pre-race favorite last year and this year.