Terroir: the characteristic taste and flavour imparted to a wine by the environment in which it is produced.
The Tour produced a race that was uniquely French and circumstances that could only happen at the Tour de France. The race as a French affair is a showcase of the culture, landscape, people and politics. What magnificent flavour! What a hungry-for-more taste it’s left on the palate.
Winners, losers, punch-ups, DNF’s and landslides…Bernal isn’t a surprise winner to anyone. Yes he’s only 22 years old, in his second grand tour and the first Colombian winner of the Tour. It surely won’t be his last. Alaphilippe put on a clinic in descending, Pinot “left in tears” and G. Thomas somehow found the time to respond to my text messages — what a solid guy!
Messaging G. Thomas, my wife asked me if I thought his feeling of winning the 2018 tour would trump the feeling of finishing second this year? I’ve never won the Tour so I can only speculate. To quote Neil Young: “…it’s better to burn out than to fade away.” By no means is Thomas fading away, but what does go through his head? As an aging rider having won the Tour and now finishing second behind a teammate who will most likely be the leader and man to beat for the years to come, it’s difficult to know what he may be feeling this year. Having won the Tour, what more can a rider achieve, or want to achieve? Once a winner, always a winner and winners always find a way. Maybe I can get him to attend the Peacham Fall Fondo!
At my last race as a Team Sky rider in 2017, I knew that Bernal was joining the team in the following season. In the race, I kept an eye on the then very young climber to size him up a bit. Sure, he’s a great climber, but how was he as a rider in the peloton? He’s as good as they come, I observed instantly. His ability on climbs are stellar, yet his skills in the bunch and way of being in the right position come crosswinds and dangerous points are even more impressive.
Winning the Tour takes a lot more than just being a good climber and time trial rider. A GC rider needs to be switched on for 21 days; he needs to be active in the bunch sprints as well as the mountains. In my first Vuelta in 2015, I never once finished in the peloton on the sprint days, partially due to team orders to conserve energy for the mountains, but more so because those finishes are completely nuts. Bernal can contest for those stages, and just like that a new king of the grand tours is born.
Organizing an event like the Tour de France is a huge undertaking. Roads and towns across France become the epicenter of celebration and excitement for a day when the event rolls though, and then in the blink of an eye the party is gone. On stages 19 and 20 when the race became even more unpredictable with a cancelled and then shorted stage, it’s as if someone just chooses to pull the plug during a Bond movie in the heat of the heist.
Did this affect the outcome of the Tour? Possibly, but bike racing continues to be unpredictable and the open road is the arena in which we compete. We will never know if the gap to Bernal would have been closed on the descent of stage 19 before the final climb, if Thomas could have taken his second win or if possibly Kruijswijk had more in him to launch an attack. It’s fair to say that the best man won the race. Bike racing is a sport that can change as fast as the speed of the riders and nothing is ever for certain until the finish line is crossed or — in some rare cases — not even crossed at all.
The departure of Pinot was emotional, the slip of Alaphilippe was dramatic, the French will have to wait another year to take the yellow jersey for themselves. However, for the first time in a long while, when it looks like France could have a real contender for the Tour, the greatest challenge is the strength of Bernal. With so much hype around the French riders in this years Tour, cycling in France will gain momentum for the next generation, the effect of the countrymen riding well is contagious for young riders, it can spark a boom that will be seen in the professional ranks ten years down the road. Bernal is a product of this in growing up in Colombia: he had riders to look up to, and now he too will return home as a national hero admired by many a young Colombian rider.
As riders roll down the Champs tomorrow, some will be disappointed, some will have regret, but all riders will celebrate the completion of the Tour de France. Twelve months ago I was there with a huge smile on my face as my now wife welcomed me after a 21 days of hard racing and a lifetime of chasing my dream of riding in the Tour.
And then, the thrill of having finished the Tour will quickly pass as the next race is right around the corner. A hard concept to grasp, but I’d bet that within two or three days after the conclusion of the Tour, all the riders will be back on their bike and training for what is next.
Thank you for following along, and if you are able, I hope to see you at the Peacham Fall Fondo presented by Wahoo Fitness on September 21st. The summer is still in full swing so get out there and ride your bike.
Ian will be writing Inside the Tour from the Outside throughout this year’s race. Expect to see new content each rest day and a recap the day following the final stage in Paris. Ian will be shedding light on the race with the race, his own perspective of the effort it takes to race the Tour and will share some of his stories from the road both past and present.
Join us and Ian for the Peacham Fall Fondo. Held in the historic town of Peacham, Vermont, and home to Ian and his wife Gretchen the route displays some of the most picturesque landscape in the northeast. Registration is filling up quickly so make your plans today.