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David L. Stanley
Reflections on the 2020 Tour de France

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David L StanleyDavid Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo, Velo-news.com, Road, Peloton, and the late, lamented Bicycle Guide (my favorite all-time cycling magazine). He blogs regularly for Dads Roundtable. Here's his Facebook page. He is also a highly regarded voice artist with many audiobooks to his credit, including McGann Publishing's The Olympics' 50 Craziest Stories and Cycling Heroes. And there is his masterful telling of his bout with skin cancer, "Melanoma: It Started With a Freckle".

 


Author’s note: As this is written, I am watching an incredible Men’s World Cycling Championships. To see a race that covers the legendary 5 km of the Imola Grand Prix circuit, Ooh la la, indeed.

This is my confession. I watched perhaps 6 hours of the Tour 2020 live. I cheered like a mad fool for Alexander Kristoff, the Viking with whom I share a birthday, albeit 29 years apart, as he pillaged Stage 1 for the maillot jaune. I watched crosswinds decimate the field on Stage 10. I watched the carnage on Stage 15’s Calvary up the Grand Colombier, but not the lead-up to the climb. I watched the top ten race up the La Planche des Belles Filles in the time trial. But no one else.

Alexander Kristoff

Alexander Kristoff takes stage one. Sirotti photo

I kept up. Read all the race reports; here on BikeRaceInfo.com, the Guardian, Cycling Tips, even L’Equipe – between my schoolkid French and Google translate, I got by. I watched all the Mitchelton-Scott behind the scenes videos, and you should, too. The Deceuninck-Quick Step videos, the Le Tour Officiel videos – in 30 minutes each night, I kept up with the happenings.

And what was happening was a lot. But I didn’t watch much as it happened.

Even before the start, we knew this race would be different. No Froomey, no Geraint, Sagan looking less than titanic; you could tell that this race would be wide open, plenty of chances for a NextGenTdF. Bernal. Pogacar. Mas. Wout. And those old guys, Roglic and Quintana and Porte and Landa. Wide open.

But first, why can’t the UCI join the 21st century with a mandatory and consistent head injury protocol?

I was gutted for Roman Bardet and his concussion. The lack of a consistent concussion protocol for professional cycling is just another sign that the UCI and race organizers are far more concerned with things like money and sponsorship then they are with rider safety. With American football, it took 70 years of glaring, destructive evidence before the NFL decided that maybe, just maybe, years of head trauma was the cause of all those “punch-drunk” ex-NFL pros who couldn’t even button their own shirts at age 50 after a 4-year career in the league.

I have no idea what the UCI is waiting for; riders have died on the roads from head trauma, they have finished stages with no remembrance of riding the bike, they experience black-outs and surging headaches. It is well-past time to institute a concussion protocol.

I cheered like crazy for Caleb Ewan and Sam Bennett. As a 5’7” match sprinter in my twenties, Ewan is every short guy’s hero. And Bennett? Who can’t love a guy who wins with such glee? I am also a Sagan fan, so wasn’t it a remarkable moment when Peto conceded victory in the maillot vert to Bennett near the end of the Tour? It’s rare that we see such sportsmanship. Game knows game, indeed. And I believe that Sagan knows his remarkable run in green is over.

Peter Sagan

Will we see Sagan in green again? Sirotti photo

Roglic. Pogačar. Two Slovenians. Let me re-punctuate that: Two SLOVENIANS?!? This was big. (H/T to the UAE Team Emirates video that taught me it is pronounced po-GOT-cha.) How big?

Picture it – the year is 1989, and Andy Hampsten, not Fignon, is trying desperately to hold his lead in the final time trial down the Champs as Greg waits, a massive bundle of nerves bouncing like a kid in the mosh pit, as he watches the clock hit 00:00 and run up to 00:08 and Greg realizes he’s the winner.

That big. Bigger, in fact. Greg had already won the Tour. Andy had already been fourth in the Tour and had a Giro win to his palmares.

I was gutted for Primoz. I found myself standing in front of my seat cheering for Pogačar. That stage, that moment, that was “the human drama of athletic competition.”
(Thank you, Jim McKay & Roone Arledge for those indelible words.)

Prinoz Roglic

Stage 20 time trial: Primoz Roglic unable to do the ride he needed to do. Sirotti photo

Despite the racing, memorable as it was, I couldn’t, regularly and daily, plop myself in front of the TV or laptop and let myself be hauled happily around France with the caravan publicitaire and the elegantly equipped team buses and the journos and my once-a-year glimpses at Le France Profonde.

Maybe it was Covid. I’ve lost four friends and acquaintances. Many of my friends have lost friends and relatives. Every time I saw crowds unmasked, I couldn’t bury myself in the racing and tactics as I usually do. What normally is cause for joy made me glum.

Maybe it was the time of year. July is, eternally, the Tour. 23 Days in July and all that. July should be grass-courts, all white, and strawberries at Wimbledon. July should have been the Tokyo Olympics. I should have dived into September’s waters, I know, to celebrate the Tour’s stand against a worldwide pandemic. I tried. Truly. But it didn’t take.

Pogacar

Tadej Pogacar in his only day in yellow, the one that matters, in Paris. Sirotti photo.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t appreciate how well this Grand Tour came off. The French Bubble, La Bulle Francaise, worked. It kept the riders and team support people safe and healthy. Chapeau! for that.

I overcame my malaise for the Worlds.

Ah, the World Championships, eh? I Campionati del Mondo! It’s been many years, in either the men’s or women’s race, since anyone crushed the entire field as did Anna van der Breggen. I watched the last 40 km. She was beyond remarkable. Incredible! Incroyable! Countach!

Isn’t Julian Alaphilipe the World’s Happiest Frenchman? He’s going to look quite snazzy in his new Maillot Arc en Ciel, n'est-ce pas? A little sad, too, that Mads Petersen only got a few months in his. To echo a few cycling pundits, why not let Mads wear his through the end of 2020. It’d be a nice gesture on the part of the UCI.

Julian Alaphilippe

Julian Alaphilippe enjoying a magical moment at Imola. Sirotti photo

Indeed, the Tour’s racing was predictably spectacular. On the world’s stage, my favorite sport not only put on its usual exciting show, it demonstrated that big sport in a pandemic can be managed. I am certain, as fall turns into winter here in Michigan and I take refuge on my trainer in the basement, I will exult with each hour of coverage on YouTube.

That’ll be a few months yet, what with late September and October being glorious days for riding here in Michigan. I ride past cut-over farm fields, and catch glimpses of browsing deer and feeding turkeys. I see the odd fox eyeballing the fields. Last October, I was accompanied on a ride for a couple hundred yards by a curious coyote that trotted along beside me. I’d give a box of raisins at the end of a four-hour ride to see coyotes again. I watch the winter wheat being sown and sprout before the freeze sets in. Orange and yellow and red leaves blow in front of my wheel. I ride past Al-Mar Orchards on the way home, grab a donut and watch their pigs forage the windfalls while I have a snack. I might even buy a tinnie of the world’s finest hard cider, JK Scrumpy’s, and stuff it in a long sleeve jersey pocket to drink with supper. It’ll be okay.

We’ll get through this and some joy will return, of that I am certain. I am so excited about the future of our sport. Remco. Wout. Tadej. Marc Hirschi. Enric Mas. Egan Bernal. Lennard Kamna. Sepp Kuss is but 26. Heck, JuJu is just 28. We are entering another Golden Era.

The Giro starts October 3. For some reason, I’m stoked. Maybe because the odds are strong that the riders are going to wrestle with snow in the high mountains, just like they do in May. It’ll feel like a Giro. See you in Sicily.

Afterword – a special shout-out to Roger Kluge (Lotto-Soudal). It takes a true pro to hang tough enough throughout the entire Tour to be the Lanterne Rouge. Lesser men would’ve feigned illness or injury to escape the pain of each day. Kudos, Herr Kluge!


David Stanley, like nearly all of us, has spent his life working and playing outdoors. He got a case of Melanoma as a result. Here's his telling of his beating that disease. And when you go out, please put on sunscreen.

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