Monday, July 16, 2012

Tour a-tacked

When you have just finished climbing a mountain with gradients as high as 20% and you are looking forward to a nice downhill run to the finish, the last thing you need is a puncture. Not that I have ever tackled a hill anywhere near as tough as the Mur de Péguère you understand but I have experienced punctures and on every occasion, a fair way from home. When, I was cycling seriously and riding longer distances, I carried both a repair kit and a spare inner tube, tools for removing the tyre and of course a pump. 

In the early days of the Tour de France, riders had to replace the tyre themselves just as I had to replace the inner tube on my bike. These days, they call up the service car and get a spare wheel or, in the case of a race leader, swap bikes with another member of the team.

In my case, most of the punctures were caused by local councils pruning the thorn hedging at the side of the road. Yesterday though, the punctures were a deliberate act of sabotage by a spectator who threw tacks on the road just before the peleton arrived. 

Thankfully, Bradley Wiggins, who also suffered a mechanical problem, slowed the peleton down to allow Evans to catch up. It is an unwritten rule amongst riders that they do not capitalise on misfortune, something that Alberto Contador forgot when Andy Schleck lost a chain last year.

As it happened, the race director neutralised the stage once it was clear there was a problem affecting many riders but he did praise Wiggins and the Sky team for taking the initiative and so has the French press.

The problem is that, unlike most other sports, the spectators get close to the action in cycling. The road up the mountain yesterday was very narrow and with spectators either side, there was barely room for two riders to pass through.

There have been a number of incidents involving spectators all ready this year; some think it is good to run alongside the riders, others wave banners in front of them, they throw water over the riders or push them. Already we have seen spectators with flares, one burnt Wiggins arm and jersey. When they throw tacks in the road though, that is dangerous especially when the riders are about to descend. It used to happen a lot years ago, let’s hope it stops right now.

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