It’s back! It might be -20 outside, with huge snow piles lining my driveway, but in Australia the sun is beating down an the cycling season has formally begun, with the first stage of the Tour Down Under. This feels like the first hint that Spring might one day return.
Cycling might be a terribly tainted sport, and it has certainly suffered a ridiculous number of scandals over the past few years. The Tour de France records no official winner for the years 1999-2005. And even laying aside the well-know doping habits of Lance Armstrong, many, many other names from that era are also tainted: Levi Leipheimer, Floyd Llandis, Tyler Hamilton, David Millar, Bjarne Riis – the list goes on and on. I sometimes think that the only good think to come out of that decade was the book The Secret Race, by Tyler Hamilton, which documents in-depth the length that competitors felt they were forced to go to to remain viable competitors.
And yet, despite all that, I still love the sport. I love the spectacle of it, I love the many-races-in-one format of the Grand Tours, I love the interpersonal dynamics of the racers, as sprinters and climbers and GC contenders make alliances of convenience and conduct diplomatic negotiations at sixty kilometers an hour; I love the thrill of the twisting descents of the final kilometers of Milan-San Remo, I love the mud-splattered brutality of the Paris-Roubaix, I love watching the peloton snake its way through the Flanders countryside I used to live in, and I love the rare occasions when I get to attend a race in person and feel and hear the hum of derailleurs inches from where I’m sitting.
I can hope that with the introduction of the biological passport, and with new leadership at the UCI, that the sport is slowly becoming a place where athletes can genuinely contend on their own merit, and I can also hope that the UCI adopts the egalitarian spirit of the International Olympic Committee and re-instates a Women’s edition of the Tour de France.
But for now, enjoy some highlights from the first stage of racing of the year.