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Hat to Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins

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Last weekend I was in Benidorm to see the Team Time Trial opening stage of the Vuelta a Espana, one of cycling’s three Grand Tours (the other two being the Giro D’Italia and, of course, the Tour de France).

The team time trial is about as close to a viable spectator sport that bike racing gets, short of spending three days in a campervan on French mountainside drinking your weight in Oranjeboom, as each team hammers past you in sequence, in perfect formation, riding inches from each other’s wheels, maximising their speed in each other’s slipstream, creating a perfect line of bicycling spacemen.

You have a couple of seconds to yell encouragement before they are gone, and you are really left none the wiser as to who is winning. If you’re lucky there’ll be a scoreboard to give you the time read-outs, but that’s really it. It’s something of a symbol of this bizarre, epic sport that it is simply enough to be there, to see the scale of the event, the power and technique of the riders, and to appreciate that you have seen only the tiniest percentage of the effort, focus and ability it takes to win a three week long race.

Cycling as a professional sport is booming in Britain, thanks to the efforts of the Olympic track team, world-leading female road racers like Nicole Cooke and Emma Pooley, a successful British pro team in the form of Team Sky[1] , and an authentic all-time cycling great, the sprinter Mark Cavendish. If there’s any justice in the world, and if the papers can find room to cover the Vuelta, what with all the slagging off Arsene Wenger, then today might be another milestone in the journey of cycling into mainstream acceptance.

For this moning, one of the most important cycling races in the world has two Brits in its top three. Bradley Wiggins lies third after a strong weekend of climbing and an excellent third place in the time trial stage in Salamanca. But, even better than that, leading the race is twenty six year old Chris Froome, Kenyan-born, now riding for Great Britain. He matched Wiggins pedal for pedal up the climbs and rode the time trial of his life to finish second in yesterday’s stage.

For someone like me who grew up watching the Tour de France on Channel 4 when barely a handful of British riders even made the start-line, let alone made any impression on the racing, it is enough to made you extremely giddy. These are not fleeting appearances at the top of the standings before the big boys make their presence felt. Indeed, several of the big boys were ridden out of the race today by Froome and Wiggins, who are now two of maybe half a dozen riders who are seriously capable of winning the race.

I shy away from blogging about cycling as a) my knowledge is, at best, that of an enthusiastic amateur and b) I’m quite sure it bores the casual reader to tears. But on days like today, you must allow me a chance to say “Chapeau” to Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome.

1. Yes, yes, I know, Murdoch, boo-hiss. At risk of provoking a John Prescott hashtag campaign and a ticking off from Tom Watson, Sky have injected unprecedented amounts of money and support into British cycling, and haven’t even been gone near the rights to the sport, meaning most of it is available to access for a fairly cheap subscription on Eurosport, or (increasingly) free to air on ITV, who are doing a bang-up job covering the Vuelta. So there you go. Murdoch – not all bad.


Written by samelliot

August 30, 2011 at 8:30 am

Posted in Cycling, Hat, Sport