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Saturday, 5 October 2013

A Vote of Thanks

Nanos gigantium humeris insidentes

I bloody hate the Oscars. I hate the Oscars with a passion. A more self congratulationary event there cannot be. I couldn’t care less about who wins the bloody things and I care even less about what so and so wore on the red carpet. And those interminable, toe curling acceptance speeches are truly awful. It is all a big bag of baws.
However, there is something magical about the cinema and I count going to watch a film as one of life’s great luxuries. Possibly the only thing that I love more than watching a good film is slouching on my couch in my front room.
I am not sure why, but I am not capable of sitting up straight. As a boy I was chided constantly by my mother and implored to ‘sit up straight’. Slouching was, apparently, indicative of a lack of moral backbone as well as a physical one and was to be stamped out with an evangelical zeal.
I do love a slouch though. There is nothing I like better than lounging on my couch and contemplating the world, or as my dear old Granny would say, warming my eyes. My couch has slowly moulded into the shape of my backside and now mimics my slouch. It is impossible for me to sit on my settee any more without it sucking me in and slowly making me recline.
Given my love for my couch it is strange that going to cinema is such an attraction. After all with modern technology I can get access to films only a couple of months after they are released in the cinema and I can to watch them from the comfort of my beloved couch. But no there is still something wonderful about a trip to the flicks.
I am afraid, therefore, that I am about to embark on the equivalent of an oscars acceptance speech. I feel compelled to do so and I make no apology for it. You have been warned though, so feel free to bugger off and go and make a cup of tea, or talk amongst yourselves for 5minutes. I wont be long. I will give you a shout when I am done.
There are many people that I would like to thank. Without whose help I would not have been able to complete my Tour.
Firstly my own travelling Tifosi. I am now, regretfully, 37 years old. At my age my parents really shouldn’t be coming on holiday with me. If I had an ounce of self respect it would be a little embarrassing. Indeed I could tell that there were a number of people in the Tour party who were of that mind and couldn’t quite figure out why a middle aged man was being followed round France by his mother. Well, to hell with them, I say. It was an absolute delight to hear the cowbell jangle whilst struggling up many an Alpine climb. I am blessed to have parents who want to not only share in an adventure, but are willing and game to have an adventure themselves.
I borrowed the Kempervan the other week and how the pair of them managed to survive 6 weeks sleeping in quarters that are tighter than a single bed, I will never know.
At the bottom of the Alpe I was welcomed by Saltires waved by the Trewartha clan and was accompanied to the bottom of the incline by Craig and to the top of the hill by Stevie. It was wonderful to have support at the bottom and some company to the top.  It fairly made the legs birl faster.
And to be welcomed to the top of the Alpe by my brother, sister in law and my niece and nephew was wonderful. Twice up the Alpe was tough and I could have done without wheeling my three year nephew endlessly round the block, mind you. Perhaps when I am old an infirm he will push me endlessly in my wheel chair.
The welcome in Paris was special. Brad, a friend from Canada who now lives near Paris came to cheer me on in Versaille. My cousin Kirsty had taken a break from counting fish on a research vessel in the far North Atlantic to accompany me on the last leg.
My friends Mark and Jamsie had travelled from Glasgow to witness my triumphant ride into Paris. Although it was supposed to be a surprise, Jamsie had divulged his intention whilst inebriated at the Stone Roses concert the week before I left. So drunk was he, he made me swear that I wouldn’t tell myself that he was coming, so as not to spoil the surprise.
My Uncle Alan and Auntie Christine had travelled from Norway, my cousin Fiona had flown in from Brasil with her 18month year old daughter Linnea, my cousin Iain and his wife Amisha had travelled from London all to share in the party. And what a great party it was. I was and am, immensely humbled  and grateful for the efforts that they made and the support that they gave.
But the biggest thanks has to go to the Tour de Force team. Riding the tour was a long held ambition. I dedicated a year of my life to getting fit and prepared for the journey. It would not have been possible without the dedication and hard work of the TdF team. To the medical staff, Sarah, Andy, Julian, who kept the weary bodies on the road and were there to assist when ever necessary. To the mechanics Stu, Pete, Sam Nick, Ian, Ian, Matt, Andy, Andy and Ben who worked incredibly long hours to make sure that everyone’s bike made it through the journey. To the physios, Jen, Baz, Lucy, Kirsty, Louise and Paul, who worked tirelessly to make sure bodies held up to the rigours of the tour.
To big Dr Col. Who cycled every mile and more and was still able to fulfil his medical duties.
And finally, to my fairy god mothers. Who really were responsible for making a dream come true.
Tracey – who organised so much before we went out, managed all the communications whilst we were away and still managed time to ride the Corsican stages.
Phil Deeker – who was simply a colossus. I have no idea the total mileage that Phil cycled, his fitness, strength and knowledge was truly awe inspiring.
Sarah – I have no idea how Sarah managed to pull the whole thing off. Everything that mattered went like clockwork, and if anything did go wrong, it was resolved without breaking stride. The logistics of the Tour must have been mind boggling, I cannot begin to comprehend. But not only this she had to deal with literally hundreds of tired, crabby cyclists moaning about the most insignificant issues.
I tip my hat to all of you. A grand chapeau and a most sincere and heartfelt thanks.
I could not have done this without you and my achievement and all of my fellow cyclists is your achievement.
Truly standing on the shoulders of giants.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Stage 21: Auld Claes and Purridge

The sun sets on La Tour and Le Tour

‘It takes 20 years to become an overnight success’

Eddie Cantor

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Daffodils, William Wordsworth

As I stood in the Montparnasse tower and looked down on the sun setting over the Eiffel tower I was minded of the story of the writer Guy de Maupassant. Of whom it was said, took lunch every day in the Eiffel Tower. When asked why he replied.
‘Because it is the only place in Paris where I cannot see the Eiffel Tower’
As I drank in the view of the sunset, I had precious little sympathy for that point of view. With champagne flute in hand, it was a wonderful vista. Bastille day Paris was laid out infront of us, and from our vantage point all was still and peaceful in the gloaming.  As the sun dipped beneath the yard arm, the City of Light was just beginning to illuminate.  The sun was setting on both La Tour and Le Tour. It was a fitting end to a wonderful journey.
And so that is it. We have finished.  Everything is now in the past tense. There is no stage tomorrow. No early rise to contend with, no huge breakfast to eat. We rode into Paris a fortnight ago now. What a journey, what an experience... but what a come down.

I can see the pub from here...
The ride into Paris itself was easy enough. Just like for the pros, it was nothing more than a procession.  We rode on l’Autobus Ecosse for the last time to Versailles. Sharing banter and a joke, riding like old friends, even though most of us had never met three weeks previously. A number of my family and friends were in Versailles and we stopped briefly to share hugs and hand shakes. As we moved closer, the Paris the neighbourhoods became more and more built up, until there was a non descript sign telling us that we had made it into the city limits. It wasn’t long until we rounded a corner and all of a sudden there it was. The Eiffel Tower. I will leave aesthetic judgements to others, but there surely there cannot be a grander finishing post?

Je suis fini
My mood was strangely melancholic, however. There was obvious elation at having finished the Tour, satisfaction of what was a fantastic journey but sadness too. Sadness that the journey was now at an end. It had been the most fantastic experience, the most fulfilling and satisfying three weeks of my life. But, alas, it’s now in the past.

The 'Lifers'

There was a sense of anti-climax too. When my flat mate had first suggested that he fancied riding the Tour de France all those years ago. I had mocked him. That, I said, was the hardest sporting event in the world. That, I said, was impossible. Well it wasn’t impossible. If truth be told I didn’t even find it that hard. Deep down I was confident that barring technical or physical misadventure I would make it. Any lingering doubts evaporated on the Ventoux and it was there where emotions were at their most raw. It was there that we had tasted that heady elation and on reflection Paris was always going to be comparatively flat.
You see, the achievement was not getting to Paris. No, the achievement was getting to Corsica strong enough to make Paris. The achievement was unseen, it was the long rides in the rain and wind during the winter and suffering the snow in the spring. The achievement was getting a kicking every Saturday from the Anniesland Bunch and every Monday from the North Side Chain gang, but still going back the next week, knowing what was in store. The achievement was all the crashes and the interminable hours on the turbo. The achievement was getting to Paris and wanting to ride my bike the minute I got home.  The achievement was winning my first race back only two weeks after finishing the tour. Paris was just gravy. As Eddie Cantour alluded to, this achievement had been a long time in the making.

The Gales take Paris.
With the metronomic Lee Vernet. Dig in.
The re-integration into normal society has been tough. It is hard going back to auld claes and purridge when you have been dining from the king’s table.
When I am in vacant or pensive mood, my inward eye flashes back to the high Alpe, or the Pyrenees or the Ventoux, or any of the my myriad of mental photographs. When I should be concentrating on the task in hand I often find my mind wandering to what the next challenge I will take on. There has to be something to sustain me through the next winter and the innumerable kicking’s meted out my Glasgow’s cycling hardmen. I have found my heroin and I need to get my next kick.
It is almost two weeks ago now that I cycled into Paris. I have tarried in writing this blog post. I have started it a few times, but I haven’t had the heart to finish it. As if, somehow, the writing of ‘Stage 21’ would properly signal the end of my tour. However, I am glad that I have procrastinated a while. It has given me time to reflect. When de Maupassant ate his lunch in the Eiffel tower it was the only place in Paris he could avoid the view. Whilst I don’t agree with the overall sentiment, there is something in what de Maupassant said. My Tour was wonderful whilst I was in the throws of it. We lifers called it ‘the bubble’, so wrapped up were we in the experience that we had little notion of what was happening outside of our little world.  In a funny way the only place that we couldn’t fully appreciate what was happening on the Tour de Force was in the Tour de Force. With a little distance and time to reflect I have been able to stand back and admire the view, as it were. It has been possible to appreciate just how magical those three weeks were.  And, ultimately, who cares about the size of achievement, anyway? I had the three best weeks of my life. I loved every second of it. I allowed myself the greatest indulgence possible: I was allowed to ride my bike for three solid weeks, that would have been enough. But not only that, I was allowed to do it in Corsica, in the Alpes, in the Pyrenees and on the Ventoux. I did it in the shadow of the greatest edition of the greatest sporting event in the world. And to cap it all, the sun shone endlessly from an azure blue sky.
And as time passes, the memories will fade but the mountains will doubtless get higher, the views more breathtaking and the sky a deeper bluer. 
Unlike de Maupassant, when I finish my lunch from the king's table, climb down from my Eiffel tower, and turn to look at the view, I will love it more each successive time.

From Glasgow, via Paris,


Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Stage 20: The Beginning of the End

Donald, pulling Phil and I up a hill.

But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You sieze the flower, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white--then melts for ever;
Or like the borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place;
Or like the rainbow's lovely form
Evanishing amid the storm.--
Robert Burns – Tam O’Shanter

John – you’re immortal now’  
Bill Shankly to Jock Stein, Lisbon 1967.

It is a curious anomaly. There are 21 stages in the tour and the tour organisers do everything to try and make sure that the race stays alive until the very last moment. In many ways all the stages are just a warm up (or a device to tire out the riders) for a final show down. Except the final showdown is never on the final day. The last day is just a procession, a chance for the riders to sup champagne and pose for photos en route to a party in Paris. There is an agreement that the last stage is neutralised, until the riders enter the Champs Elyses, then it all goes hell for leather and the sprinters get their chance to go crazy and gain a coveted win on the final stage, but by then the race for the Malliot Jaune is all over. That is decided on the second last stage and this year the organisers have tried to ensure that it is resolved on the very last hill of the second last stage.
On paper today’s stage looked pretty easy. A few categorised climbs, but nothing to get overly stressed about. Certainly nothing compared to the leg breakers of yesterday. The pros will probably ride today’s stage all in the big ring, until the final climb, an HC up to Annecy-Semnoz.
We had a short transfer to Annecy, this morning, which must be one of the most beautiful towns in the world. Build around a large lake of glacial turquoise and surrounded by towering Alpes. The sun was just rising as we rolled out and cast a golden sheen on the water. The peleton was in relaxed, almost jovial mood as we meandered along to the first feedstop. Todays was a short stage, so we only had three as opposed to our normal 4 feedstops. The sun was high in a cloudless sky and, in my mind at least, all was good with the world.
I sat towards the back of the bunch to the first feedstop. Big Donald had struggled on the long stage yesterday and I tried to help him as much as I could over the first few hills. Giving him a wee push when needed.
‘But pleasures are like the poppies spread…’
There were a few tired limbs in the group and some grumbles that they just wanted to get this stage finished and out of the way. I must confess to having mixed emotions. After yesterday, I am completely sure that I will ride into Paris. But now it is here, I don’t want it to arrive. In a way I am dreading it, but at the same time really looking forward to it. I have had the time of my life the last three weeks and I don’t want it to end. It’s a strange feeling. I have trained so hard for this, I have visualised the Eiffel tower so many times, but now it’s the last thing that I want to see. So, I wanted to savour every last moment of today’s ride. I suddenly realised today, that the trip has started to merge into one. I cant for the life of me remember, or distinguish, one stage from another. It’s just a morass of cycling, eating, chatting and laughing.
 I am also getting jaded by all the stunning scenery that we are seeing in the Alpes. It is hard to continue to be impressed when every time you turn a corner you are presented with another picture postcard scene. I have to remind myself at every corner that this is not normal. Individually each of these images are stunning and deserve to be marvelled at. When the dark winter nights come and I am struggling for motivation then I should be storing these images in my minds eye.

The view from the top of Mont Revard. Worth the extra k's.

There was a short detour to the top of Mont Revard. Only 3km there and back. A number of the guys decided that they would skip the detour, they just wanted to get finished. I decided to go up, and by god I am glad that I did. I was rewarded with perhaps the finest view we have been treated to this trip.
All too soon 106km had been frittered away and I was at the bottom of the final climb. I stopped to take a deep breath and a picture of the sign at the bottom of the hill. I tarried for a while, pausing to reflect for a moment or two. Postponing the inevitable. To start the climb, would be to begin the end of the tour. It felt all to ephemeral. I didn’t want it to end.
‘Nae Man can tether time nor tide
The hour approaches Tam maun ride’
Then I clipped in and went for it. I pushed my pedals hard, for the first time on the tour I went as hard as I could go, as if Cutty Sark herself and all her bogles were at my heels. I stepped into my pain cave and left everything out on the hill. I loved every second of it. Within a minute perspiration was coursing off my brow and sizzling on the handlebars. The corner of my eyes started to sweat, the snotters started to flow. I am sure it wasn’t an edifying sight, but it felt good. I flew up the hill and past other riders, I didn’t have the breath to say anything, but I waved and they shouted encouragement. I felt strong and I didn’t want it to end. But all too soon I was at the café just below the summit, there was a roar from other riders who had already finished and were enjoying a beer, one last kick and I was at the summit.
It felt good. I stopped a while and had my photo taken. Hand shakes and hugs were exchanged, there was emotion, but not like at the top of Ventoux. Today confirmed what we already knew. That we were going to make it, that everything was going to be alright. Today was not a tough day on the bike. Not like yesterday, not like the Ventoux. When we were in Provence we had suffered more and success was not a given. I think that was the point that we knew that we would all make it. It not only gave us belief but determination and a huge amount of confidence. Today there was satisfaction on Ventoux there had been pain, elation and exhaustion and that is a heady brew.

At the top of the final climb. Elated and yet, disappointed.

I rolled back to the café where my drouthy neebours sat bousing at the nappy, getting fou and uncou happy.
We sank a few beers in the sunshine and we reflected on the long miles that we had come.
As more riders finished they were each given a round of applause to push them up the final couple of hundred metres. As the crowd at the summit grew in number and grew more inebriated, the roars increased in volume and enthusiasm.
Then Donald crested the rise before the summit. Most of the faster riders had long departed back to the hotel; more’s the fool them. They missed, in my mind, the enduring image of the whole tour.
The bar stood as one, and gave Donald a standing ovation and a rousing cheer. After 3 weeks of displaying great courage and integrity, the last of the lifers had come in.  Forget the view from the top of Mont Revard or any of the other Alpine, Corsican or Pyrenean vistas, the smile on Donalds face reflected his courage, integrity and I hope, pride in what he had achieved. That will be my enduring image of the Tour. It will be that which will inspire me through any number of dark winter nights.
Burns was right. Pleasures are fleeting, no sooner are they here than they are gone. But I will remember that smile and that achievement for the rest of my days. For it far outweighs my achievement or that of any of the other ‘stronger’ riders.
So in a sense, Donald - you’re immortal now.
Well done that man.
From Annecy,

Friday, 12 July 2013

Stage 19: Paris Calling

It is becoming a much worn refrain: It is late, I am tired and I have to be up early and do it all again. So I am afraid, out of necessity this will be a brief entry. I will come back and update it later, however, as there are stories a plenty to be told.
Today was tough. By god it was tough. But there is the rub. It WAS tough. Past tense, you see. It is tough no longer. It is in the past, put away in the locker. Completed. And that, essentially, is all that matters.
Two of the hardest hills we have climbed, tackled almost as soon as we got out our front door. Possibly the two hardest climbs in the Alpes, the Glandon and the Madeleine. Then three more Cat 1 and 2 climbs, on a stinking hot day, with a head wind, and over 200kms of riding. When you mix that all together, you get a stinker of a day.
My over whelming emotion tonight, however is one of pride. Not for myself, but for the guys that I have been riding with on and off over the last three weeks. John, Chris, Trevor, Peter, Lee, Marianne, Phil, Nick, Matt. We christened ourselves, somewhat depreciatively, l’Autobus Ecosse. With the exception of John and Lee, none of these guys consider themselves ‘proper’ cyclists. We have trundled along over the last three weeks going at our own pace. Never first back to the hotel, but never last. Always there to look out for each other and sharing more than a few belly laughs along the way. 
Yet today, on the hardest stage of the tour all of these guys were amongst the first riders home. They weren’t racing, they just continued to trundle along. Perhaps others haves slowed, I don’t know. I do know that every day these guys have got stronger and stronger. When I looked at some of the faces at dinner tonight, there were some broken bodies. L'Autobus? Some of them looked like they had just come back from a stroll in the park.
The Glandon, The Madeleine, Col de Tamie, Col l’Epine, Col de Croix Fry, over 200km and 5,000m of climbing, in one day. When you add in past conquests of Ventoux, Port de Pailheres, the Alpe x2, plus countless other climbs, it’s a mighty impressive feat.
You may not have been proper cyclists on the 22nd of June. But some time between then and now, you changed. There is now no way you can consider yourselves anything other than bona fide masters of the velocipede.
I am deeply impressed by each of you.
Chapeau, indeed.
From Le (not so) Grand Bornand,

PS I have had some fantastic support from both near and far over the last three weeks. None more so than from my Auntie Linda. It’s her birthday tomorrow. Tomorrow sees the last proper hard stage and hopefully we will be supping some champers. I will raise a glass to you, too Linda.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Stage 18: The Alpe Deux Huez

Today was a good day. A tough day, but then all the days are tough. But I loved it. Twice up the Alpe. All 42 hairpins. I found my lost legs and nailed the climb, not once, but twice. They burned but it felt good.
Another glorious day to be on the bike. It was hard, but frankly the Alpe double pales into insignificance when you compare it to infamous Tak and the Crow double (Polar Bears in the Campsies).
The stories will have to wait until another day, however. Tomorrow is a monster of a stage. It has the potential to be the hardest day I have ever had on a bike. Over 200ks, The Glandon and the Madeleine, two giants of the Alpes, both before lunch. Then the Col de Tamie, Col de Epine and the Col de la Croix Fry all cat 1 or cat 2. Fingers crossed my legs dont go AWOL again.
Get through tomorrow and we will be able to finally think about Paris.
I have heard that you can see Paris from the Col de Croix Fry. Metaphorically at least.
I'm dog tired and it is late, but all is right with the world. I need my sleep. I will bid you an adieu.
Until tomorrow, from Alpe d'Huez,

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Stage 17: Searching for my mojo

Italy is slowly disappearing under France. I like Italy (as I have already mentioned in previous posts), and under normal circumstances I would see this as a problem. The Scottish diet might have been better off without the Italian influence, however life as a whole would be disproportionately poorer. This is nothing to be particularly alarmed about, however, the timescales we are talking about are on the geological scale. Italy is not going anywhere, well, not quickly anyway.
This is, infact, something about which we should all rejoice. You see, as Italy meanders under France it is gradually, although determinedly creating the Alpes. It’s all to do with plate tectonics, you see. Basically, as the two continental plates collide earth buckles and the Alpes are pushed ever skyward.
I had never been to the Alpes until today. We took a short bus ride to Embrun for the second individual time trial of this years Tour. And what a belter it is. From the moment the shoveraffer shoves you aff, you are out the saddle climbing, high above Lac Serre-Poncon. The view from the start is stunning, but as you push ever skyward the view just gets better. If being breathless from the exertion of the climb wasn’t enough, the view steals any semblance of breath you might have had left. The colour of the lake is the deepest green, like someone had crushed a million emeralds. Screeching precipitously skyward are the Alpes soaring through the clouds and scraping a sky of the deepest blue.

Then you plunge downward through a fast, sinuous, exhilarating and frightening descent. Tight hairpins and shear drops on either side of the road.
No sooner have you hit the bottom of the climb than you are bounced skyward once again, up another steeper and longer climb through wild flower pastures, before summiting with another vista over the Lac. Then there is a shallow, fast descent down into Chorges.
A simply majestic way to spend a couple of hours on the bike. It's not a normal time trial, given the amount of climbing, infact there is scarcely any flat on the whole track. This is one for the grimpeurs rather than the roulers. I doubt, very much whether Tony Martin will complete a double time trial stage win in this years tour. Mark Wednesday 17th July in your diary, however. This stage is going to be incredibly exciting. It was a stunning course to ride, but not one that I would like to race. The downhill’s are technical and there are likely to be a few misjudged corners. I would not like to defend a lead on this course, its not one to be ridden conservatively. Having said that I wouldn’t like to have to chase too hard either as any risks that don't come off could be costly, and may not just be counted in lost seconds. Its going to make for fantastic racing.
I loved the stage today. I went hard on both the climbs in an attempt to wake my legs from their slumber, tomorrow will tell whether this has worked, or has made the situation worse. Fingers crossed that I am feeling strong tomorrow as we head into the Alpes proper. The next three days and the next two in particular are possibly the toughest finish to the Tour in many years. Tomorrow sees us climb Alpe d’Huez twice in a day. Then Friday. Friday is a stage to bust balls and break hearts. I am going to need all the form that I can muster. I simply cannot wait to get on my bike tomorrow and stamp on the pedals. I love the hills and with the Alpe, the Glandon and the Madalaine all on the menu it’s going to be some feast.
The pros cycled the first TT to Mont St Michel today. Their times were around 34 minutes ish averaging an eye watering 54kph. I did the course in just over an hour. I didn’t go full gas, but I was certainly pushing hard. Admittedly our weather conditions were not particularly clement, but it fills me with awe what the pros can do. I suspect Chris Froome et al will not bother stopping to take pictures whilst doing this mountain TT. However, I suspect again they will half my time.
Well, I guess compared to Italy, at least, I was moving pretty damn quick.
From Gap,

Stage 16: They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

‘We are not cyclists we are professionals’
Jacques Anquetil (?)

Back in the old days. The not so good old days, the Tour de France was a war of attrition. Henri Destrange, the founder of the race, said that his ideal Tour would be where only one man finished. The early tours were designed with this in mind. They were made so difficult, inhumanly difficult, so that it would be last man standing.
Stages were hundreds and hundreds of miles long, over mountain passes that were little more than tracks cut into the hill by sheep. Stages could last upwards of 24 hours. There are tales of riders quitting the race because they were so scared of being attacked by bears in the mountains.
Riders rode fixed wheel bikes, the road illuminated by candle lanterns on their forks. They had two gears, to change gear they had to flip the back wheel round. To call it tough would be an understatement, it was sadistic.
It is little surprise that the competitors were pretty much exclusively drawn from the lower echelons of society. Why would you put yourself through that unless you absolutely had no choice?
It is little wonder that when faced with such a challenge riders would resort to what ever means that would get them through the race, some early winners were disqualified when they hopped on a train during a stage, others banned when they were caught being towed behind a car. The car had a tow rope with corks on the end of it so that the riders cold hold on with their teeth.
Then there were the drugs. Drugs weren’t banned in those days. Although they weren’t so much performance enhancing as performance allowing. Forget any Corinthian spirit, these guys were putting themselves through hell, not for glory, not to seek fame, not for some idealised notion of sporting endeavour, but through their pain and through their sweat they hoped to earn enough money to raise themselves out of poverty. They were in it to win it and would do whatever it took.
The Tour has always been a commercial endeavour. It was originally founded to boost sales of a failing newspaper, L’Auto. The famous yellow jersey comes from the colour of the pages of the paper.
It has improved through time, but even on the day that Tom Simpson died on the Ventoux in 1967 riders were not allowed more than 2 bottles of water. They had a team around them and part of the responsibility of their domestiques was to go on bar raids – ride ahead of the leaders and literally raid bars to try and get whatever drinks they could, often only alchohol was available. When Simpson died, he had a cocktail of amphetamines and alcohol coursing through his blood. He was badly dehydrated and that was only partly due to the stiflingly hot Provencial sun, one of the last things he supped on was a bottle of brandy.
There is something mawkish about us, the spectators glorying in the suffering of the athletes. We (and I use ‘we’ advisedly) demand ever more difficult courses to encourage drama and produce excitement.
I can’t, and I would never condone drug taking in the peleton, but having ridden these hills (ridden and not raced, mind you, and there is a huge difference) and cycled day after day, I can certainly understand the need for a helping hand, whatever its source. And what if your livelihood, and those of your family depended on your performance?
As soon as you introduce money into sport you remove all that is good and noble about it. To think otherwise is naive. You cease to be sportsman when you become a professional.
We are now in the closing stages of the tour and the thing that has struck me is how it ebbs and flows. Although I have a confession that I am not sure the difference between an ebb and a flow, so I am never sure if we are in an ebb or if we are in a flow.
We started in Corsica with three tough stages, then the pressure eased as we back to the mainland then gradually increased until we reached the Pyreneees. Where it built to a crescendo. Then we had the TT and the long flat stages to the Ventoux. Again the tempo of was gradually increased until by the time we hit the slopes of ‘The Giant’ we were at fever pitch again.
Then a rest day, a transition stage today and a time trial tomorrow, slowly building once more until we hit the mountains once more for an Alpine triple whammy. These promise to be the three most difficult days that I have had on a bike.

Today was a gorgeous stage. We climbed back out of Provence, the fruit groves being replaced by lavender fields then pine forest as we progressively climbed higher. Looking back we were treated to spectacular views of the Ventoux, before descending once more through the most magnificent gorge and then the Alpes loomed into view. Rising snaggle toothed, from the valley floor.
Today was supposed to be an ‘easy day’, a transition from Ventoux to the Alpes. However, I felt terrible on the bike. Perhaps it was the rest day previously, perhaps the after effects of the Ventoux, or maybe the oppressive, thundery atmosphere, however for the first time my legs felt heavy and I could not get comfortable on the bike. I felt tired, lethargic and could not wait for the stage to end. There was a climb at the end of the stage where I tried to ride my legs back into form, by going hard. Did it work? I guess I will find out tomorrow.
I will tell you this though. Had someone offered me something to get me through today, to ease the pain in my legs and the discomfort on the bike, I wouldn’t have taken it, but I would have thought about thinking about it. It’s just as well my bad day happened on an ebb rather than a flow, or maybe it’s the other way round…
From Gap

This kinda encapsulates what I was trying to say above.