The Rise of Nationalism, The Demise of Races

Nationalism, nativism and populism are on the rise across Europe and beyond. Some like it, some don’t but put your take on this aside for a moment if possible because there’s sporting connection to it. Or at least there used to be. Many bike races have a long history of nationalist association, whether as expressions of patriotism or symbolic illustrations of occupying the terrain. Will today’s politics bring new bike races.

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Roger Walkowiak Obituary

Roger Walkowiak

Roger Walkowiak has died aged 89. “Winning à la Walkowiak” is a term used today for an easy win or an unexpected triumph. It’s used in cycling and beyond, a French politician can get elected à la Walko too. Walkowiak felt wronged by this label, his triumph in the 1956 Tour de France was mocked and this turned into a sadness that weighed on him for years.

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Lucien Blyau Obituary

Lucien Blyau

Lucien Blyau has died on his 91st birthday. He was one of the characters of the Tour de France and beyond, a dedicated supporter and quencher of thirst.

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Mont Ventoux’s Summit Fever

A recent geographical survey says Mont Ventoux is not as high as previously thought. The road at the top is lower than 1900m despite signs proclaiming it sits at 1911m. It’s tempting to imagine Mont Ventoux collapsing under the weight of clichés piled on every time the Tour de France visits. It’s telling that if nobody can agree the height then there’s space on the mountain for dreams, mysteries and more. No other venue seems to capture the imagination.

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Raiders Of The Lost Art

Christophe Agnolutto

The Tour de France returns to Limoges today and the city has a small niche in the race’s history as the last place where a long distance solo breakaway triumphed, 16 years ago with the victory of Christophe Agnolutto.

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The Eternal Myth of Raymond Poulidor

Raymond PoulidorRaymond Poulidor is 80 today. The perpetual underdog, he was a rider who finished second so often that he won fame and fortune for losing, earning him two nicknames: the “Eternal Second” and the affectionate “Poupou”.

But the more I read about him, the more he seems to be a misunderstood rider whose myths and simple labels mask the truth of an efficient and calculating rider with a vain streak too.

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The Sanremo Paradox

Greg Van Avermaet attacks on the Poggio as the others watch, including eventual race winner John Degenkolb. The photo doesn’t do the action justice because if you’ve been watching on TV this is a moment of almost unbearable tension.

Milan-Sanremo is the longest race on the pro calendar yet it’s so often dependent on events in the last five minutes.

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A La Walkowiak

Roger Walkowiak

They stole my Tour, they’re bastards

That’s 1956 Tour de France winner Roger Walkowiak talking about the Parisian newspapers who criticised him for winning the race. To this day “winning à la Walkowiak” is a term used for an easy or an unexpected win, often in cycling but sometimes beyond, a French politician can triumph à la Walko too. With Paris-Nice passing by the city of Montluçon today, birthplace of Walkowiak, it’s a good day to correct this phrase. What if à la Walko really meant to take an impressive win at the end of a great race?

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The Rowdy Crowd

Dutch Corner Alpe d'Huez

Much was made last summer of the hostile reception given to Chris Froome as he rode around France with reports of urine being thrown at him and Richie Porte saying he was punched as he climbed to La Pierre St Martin. Readers even emailed in to ask if the Tour de France is safe to visit (of course it is). In fact hostility from the crowd, or at least a few morons along the way, has long been part of the sport. Gino Bartali got lynched and Jacques Anquetil even named a boat after the jeering crowds.

A few incidents might still shock but the wonder is why an event that passes 12 million people with barely a barrier, tape or fence between athletes and spectators doesn’t see more trouble.

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What Would Desgrange Do?

Cycling has to change. Too many races resemble each other and don’t attract the audiences they did 20 years ago. The economic model isn’t strong enough. Teams and races are struggling. We need change.

This could be a synthesis of Oleg Tinkov’s pinot noir induced Twitter rants but it could also sum up the state of cycling over a century ago. The Tour de France was born out of desperation, the mother of all newspaper promotion stunts and the event launched by Henri Desgrange in 1903 has become the greatest asset in pro cycling. Why? Because it makes people dream.

If you’ve got the post-Tour blues, it’s normal. July is what we want cycling to be, a summer party with the best riders and saturation coverage. August reminds us what pro cycling really is, with small races, patchy coverage and the white noise of scandal and bickering over money.

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