All posts by Guy WR

Vuelta adventures in prose

The Vuelta field was like the crew of a pirate ship. It was cobbled together with unmotivated riders who’d been pressganged into racing, riders who’d been injured earlier in the year, and a decent smattering of desperadoes and mercenaries to boot. There was no middle ground; either riders didn’t want to be there, or they were desperate to perform. The rate of rider abandons was staggering as teams sent troupes of exhausted riders to compete with Spaniards who wanted to plunder the race as quickly and violently as they could.

Throughout the race I started to feel like I was so focused on my own goal of survival that I wasn’t even really there. I was oblivious to everything else. I kept up to date with what was actually happening in the race by reading La Marca each morning, and often I was genuinely surprised to see the results. I was so far from being in the action that I had no idea what was going on in the actual race.

– Charly Wegelius in ‘Domestique’ on his experiences at the 2002 Vuelta.

Near the summit, the names of cyclists that were painted on the road have worn away with time. They tell the story of a race and mark a generation. Heras, Mancebo, Ullrich. Their names are fading like their results. Years ago, they stormed the climb in front of tens of thousands of fervent fans who had crossed the continent to see them ascend. Like ghosts their names now haunt cycling; they inspired with their heroics and disappointed when those performances were proven to be drug enhanced. But their inhuman performances still endure. Stories of their elegant force are forever told.

– Michael Barry in ‘Le Metier’.

Vuelta1

Another race for desperadoes this year? (pic from the official Libro de Ruta)

 

Summer reading

1. One of the themes in the novels of Cormac McCarthy deals with how the main characters are often at the mercy of larger forces that shape their lives. They think they are in control of their environments and that their choices will lead to certain outcomes. But their fates are tied instead to the actions of others (usually more powerful characters) or to larger historical forces that they are powerless to resist. It is almost as if they have no real free will and must accept their fates, just like Agent Smith says in ‘The Matrix’: “You hear that Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability.”

In one of the final scenes in the book of ‘No Country for Old Men’, the mysterious villain Anton Chirguh confronts the wife of the (anti-hero) Llewelyn Moss, Carla Jean, and before he shoots her explains the inevitability of their meeting.

I had no say in the matter. Every moment of your life is a turning and every one a choosing. Somewhere you made a choice. All followed to this. The accounting is scrupulous. The shape is drawn. No line can be erased. A person’s path through the world seldom changes and even more seldom will it change abruptly. And the shape of your path was visible from the beginning.

Mad ravings of a psychopathic killer? Yes! But McCarthy seems to be making a larger point that choices get made and these determine directions and outcomes, but these become lines and these lines intersect with others in ways that we cannot know. These ideas are echoed by the narrator of the book, Sheriff Bell, who seems to be struggling against the inexorable march of history. “You can say you like it or you don’t like it but it don’t change nothin’. I’ve told my deputies more than once that you fix what you can fix and you let the rest go.”

The idea of choice and freewill comes up again when Moss talks about starting over, which, in his view, is impossible. “You think when you wake up in the mornin’ yesterday don’t count. But yesterday is all that does count. What else is there?”

2. We live under the illusion that we have free will and that everything involves a choice that we can make. We are masters of our fates due to the choices that we can make. Without straying too far into a philosophical discussion, we likely have much less free will than we think; many of our choices we make without thinking about it, based on our inbuilt reactions to stimuli, historical experience, and the nature of who we are (including social conditioning). Luck and probability play a huge role. And even if we have choices, we might – as McCarthy suggests – have imperfect information about where those choices will lead.

David Millar was a fan of Cormac McCarthy, as he recounts in ‘Racing Through the Dark’, and one wonders whether he himself ever thought that he was in some way prisoner to the inevitability of doping. Critics of his, and of those like Michael Barry and David Zabriskie and others, always say that they had a choice whether to dope or not to dope. They could have walked away.

But could they? If we replayed the crucial moment over again when they all decided to take EPO the outcome would probably not be any different. Maybe, given the forces that were shaping and directing their careers, there was no choice – only the illusion of choice. This is not necessarily to defend them, although it is a kind of defence, but simply to argue that what we as external observers see as choices might just be paths that cannot be changed. There are larger forces at play that drive individuals along these paths. (The idea that Bruyneel is a psychopathic figure like Chirguh is certainly an intriguing one.)

3. Perhaps your author is reaching somewhat here to draw some parallels. But one of the attractions of McCarthy’s novels is that there are no heroes. They are more like anti-heroes who are doing their best, perhaps trying to adhere to a heroic code, in the face of the greater adversities arrayed against them. They inevitably fail, but show us something deeper in the trying and the failing than in a heroic success. “Then he just stood there paying the brim of his hat slowly through his fingers. The posture of a man perhaps who has just buried something. I don’t know a damn thing, he said.”

Or perhaps it is just the writing; the mix of the lyrical and the philosophical. A search for meaning amidst the summer reading.

He stood there looking out across the desert. So quiet. Low hum of wind in the wires. High bloodweeds along the road. Wire grass and sacahuista. Beyond in the stone arroyos the tracks of dragons. The raw rock mountains shadowed in the late sun and to the east the shimmering abscissa of the desert plains under a sky where rain curtains hung dark as soot along the quadrant. The god lives in silence who has scoured the following land with salt and ash. He walked back to the cruiser and got in and pulled away.

Call it! Should Bruyneel have given his riders a coin toss to dope or not to dope?

Call it! Should Bruyneel have given his riders a coin toss to dope or not to dope?

I am a cyclist

1. Recently, dear reader, as part of a workplace ‘wellness’ programme, your author undertook a fitness assessment. Not a test for elite athletes, mind, with stationary bikes and VO2 maxes and so on, but a basic test for the general population. After a body composition assessment there were various exercises – a step test to measure heart rate recovery, push ups and sit ups, a vertical jump and others. The results were interesting.

With an afternoon resting heart rate of 60, 14% body fat, blood pressure 116/71, and tipping the scales at 144 lbs, your author’s metabolic age was close to half his chronological age. Cardio and general strength were all ‘excellent’ (the highest rating), while vertical jump – a measure of power – was ‘good’ to ‘very good’ (must work on that sprinting). In short, pretty much in the top bracket for overall health and fitness for the general population. Except…

…the flexibility test. The assessor set up the tape measure on the floor mat and it was immediately clear that with the big numbers starting from where one’s toes were placed that things were not going to go well. Seated, legs out, your author was given two tries to reach as far forward – and down the tape on the mat – as he was able. The result? Not good. Worse than not good, officially ‘below average’.

It was not that hard to interpret the fitness assessment overall. Cardio fitness, endurance and strength, check. Flexibility, fail. That lower back might bend like a kevlar beaded tyre, but those hamstrings are like carbon tubes on a Madone. Yes, your author is a cyclist.

2. On Sunday’s Seymour hill climb, which has been mentioned in some detail previously on this blog, your author posted 45:58. Not a new personal record (45:44), and not the sub-45 mins that still gets dreamed about, but well in the ballpark and the fastest time he has posted in several years. The legs felt good. After trying various bikes, gears, and strategies over the years, with different numbers of miles in the legs and weighing different weights, there have not been any strong correlations. There has been no magic formula. There is probably such a formula of weighing less, riding more, and an optimum gear/cadence, but that combination might be elusive given the time required to achieve it.

Still, in some ways it was satisfying not to achieve a dream time. As a popular philosopher once wrote, “dreams transform desires, drive you when you’re down.” It will be good to have something to aim for next year.

The PB from 2008 still holds. For another year at least.

The PB from 2008 still holds. For another year at least.

Pinning on a number

1. How do you pin on your number? Are you insouciant, with the minimal four pins, one on each corner, lower right on the jersey? Or perhaps you are more careful, with the economical five pins? Or are you fastidious with the six pins to ensure no possibility of it detaching and flapping in the wind? Or maybe you’re the individualist, pinning your number at a rakish angle across your back, making it nearly impossible for the race organizers to read it, but demonstrating your disdain of conformity?

Are you careful about how you pin it? Maybe it goes like this: first pin on the top left, into the seam of the right side of the left pocket; second pin in the next seam; then the third pin in the corner of the right pocket. Repeat along the bottom. Why so careful?

Pinning on a number feels like an important ritual; it feels like it must be done carefully, properly. It is partly out of respect to the organizers, volunteers all, to make their job easier. But it also seems like even taking part in an industrial park mid-week crit is part of something larger; we like to invest it with additional meaning.

2. We love our cycling and we often enjoy our racing, small scale as it might be. We might ensure our bikes are extra clean, we have our best kit, and that we’re prepared with a bag full of supplies and extra clothing. There may be other rituals – a special bag for shoes or helmet, a special order for packing everything, a special plan to ensure glasses are not left behind.

Racing can be stressful. We are often riding with strangers, unsure of their ability at speed, and sometimes uncertain of our own abilities when the going gets tough. We are not professionals, so we have an extra fear of crashing and having to limp home to our families. We supposedly are doing this for fun.

Racing is stimulating, but it is not always fun. It is a rewarding challenge. But you have to be in to win; you have to push yourself to make it seem all worth it. If you simply want to lurk down the back, you’ll spend your time chasing wheels and not feeling part of the action. This is not fun, it’s just a workout. Sprinting for a prime, chancing one’s legs with a breakaway, chasing down the escapees, or even contending for the final sprint – this is the point of turning up. This is what makes it worthwhile.

3. Your author has been struggling with enthusiasm for competitive events this year. The local crit series moved closer and at a manageable time, seeming to offer ample opportunities for high-intensity training or even a little stretching of the legs in a sprint. But initial races didn’t seem all that fun – an unfamiliar course, race rustiness, and then other riders managing unexpected crashes all conspired to dilute the experience. A $5 sprint suddenly didn’t seem to be worth effort. What should have been an interlude from work and family became more like a chore rather than a homage to the pinning on of a race number. So when the hour of the start time was brought forward, making it impossible for your author to get to the line on time it was more of a relief than disappointment. ‘Race to train’ is one mantra, but maybe it’s better simply to train instead.

Hill climb events are approaching, however, and your author will be attempting to best some of his personal records. Short, high-intensity climbs have been mastered but the longer, steady efforts are still proving elusive. A glance back over times from previous years, done on different bikes with different gears and under varying conditions reveals only one correlation – performance is directly related to the volume of riding. Long climbs are a function of strength and endurance and the latter appears to be lacking. Race day will perhaps shake out some further conclusions.

It has been a satisfying summer season of riding so far, but some niggling pains and injuries have been lurking since the spring, leading to frustration. Train hard, they say, and rest harder – but sometimes work and family obligations can make the latter difficult. One should not complain; indeed, one should be grateful for all that one has, and to be fit and able to enjoy the pleasure that is bike riding – whether recreation or racing. But pushing yourself that little bit more, raging against the slow dilution of one’s capabilities, can he exhausting work – physically and mentally.

Rituals like pinning on a number, or the other rituals we have with our bikes and our riding, add meaning and purpose to our endeavours. Otherwise, our insignificant attempts to scrape seconds off our race times or to crack the top 100 on Strava evaporate into futility. Rituals give a comforting illusion of action. And without action we have only contemplation. As the author Joseph Conrad wrote: “Action is consolatory. It is the enemy of thought and the friend of flattering illusions.”

Needless to say, Monsieur Stephen's power figure is a long way north of your author's.

The Mt. Seymour hill climb. Needless to say, Monsieur Stephens’s power figure is a long way north of your author’s.

The three best paragraphs

Did you enjoy the Tour this year, dear reader? There was Chris Froome’s scintillating victory on Mont Ventoux, intense team rivalries and machinations, a riveting competition among the sprinters, and a truly ‘epic’ stage where Alpe d’Huez was ascended twice. There were enthusiastic crowds, truly breathtaking scenery, and a plethora of information sources – tv, blogs, tweets, podcasts, – to allow total immersion in the complete Tour experience. There really is nothing else like it. Dramatic. Sweeping. Breathtaking.

Or did you find it a bit pedestrian? A Tour where one team (Sky) mostly dominated and one rider (Froome) looked untouchable in the mountains and on the flats. There were some great sprint and mountain-top finishes, to be sure, and a few new riders that lit up the proceedings (Quintana, for example) but it was mostly a lot of long, hot days of riding with not much happening of particular interest except for the highlights captured in a post-stage package or ‘how the race was won’ montage.

The Tour, dubbed chess on wheels, can often be as exciting as the board game – not very. Thrilling shouts punctuated by long silences that can only be filled by endless helicopter shots of sunflowers, rivers, chateaux, and fan constructed tributes (postcard snapshots of a France that exists more in the minds of tourists than in reality). Cycling is one of those sports where the action can be intense, but this is not always a given. Unlike football/soccer, say, or basketball or other fast-paced games, the action does not always speak for itself (until the final few kilometres). It might be more akin to baseball, or cricket, or even boxing. Which is perhaps why cycling and the Tour is such rich fodder for writers (a bit like baseball, cricket and boxing) because there are gaps that can be filled by the skilled prose stylist that add background, colour and meaning – the personalities, the hidden tactics, the small details and the larger machinations. Meanings are not explicit and we crave more from those with keen insights and flourishing pens.

With cycling, we sense that there is something larger going on, some deeper layers that are not always evident from the action on the road. We know that it’s brutally hard – even if it doesn’t always look that way on tv – and we know that there is more going on at different levels of the race than is immediately apparent. And we understand that it is historically rooted in a European context and we crave that background and culture and exoticism.

This is why there has been such a rich mythology that has grown up around the Tour (and pro cycling). There is much less mythology these days, as we have all become jaded and skeptical and cautious with our enthusiasm. We are not sure whether to re-embrace pro cycling or to push it away. As we search for meaning, we can again count on those skilled prose stylists to help us find our way. This post proposes, therefore, that the following excerpt, shamelessly copied from ‘The Cycling Anthology: Tour de France Special Edition’, which you can read more about here, might just be the best three paragraphs written on the Tour de France. Thank you, Mr. Jeremy Whittle.

The Tour is complex, grandiose, overblown. It is wayward, beautiful, sordid and sometimes demented. It is an anachronism, struggling to come to terms with corporate commitments, lurching uncertainly to meet new ethical expectations. In truth, perhaps we shouldn’t expect too much of an event that has more in common with the ritual cruelty of the Coliseum than chess on wheels.

The riders come and go, the scandals come and go, the sponsors come and go. The race remains, the landscape unchanged and timeless, the seasons weathering rural roads that are baked in the summer, frozen and cracked through the winter.

In the end, though, it’s just a bike race. At the moment, the British are doing well, like the French, Italians, Belgians and Spaniards before them. It will pass and, soon enough, other champions will be along to replace them. Try and keep hold of that thought, when, as they inevitably will, all the intoxications of the Tour, the sound and the fury, once again get too much.

Quintana celebrating his stage win and the return of the Colombians (pic from inrng.com)

Quintana celebrating his stage win and the return of the Colombians (pic from inrng.com)

The dangerous summer revisited, again

1. Last year your author revisited an original post on The Dangerous Summer with an interlude that considered Hemingway, heroes, and the golden age of cycling. Re-reading it, there seems much that is still pertinent to the current debates in cycling, if your author doesn’t say so himself. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, one might say. This might be even more appropriate given that it would appear that the French senate will release a report on doping at the 1998 Tour during this year’s Tour itself. Pro cycling again tarnished by past transgressions.

Robert Millar readily admits that he is not a neutral observer, but he is certainly more than eloquent on the subject of past doping. There will no doubt be some skeletons coming out of closets if the report is indeed released and is as inflammatory as all expect. But will we be surprised? Would you, dear reader, be surprised if every single top rider at the 1998 Tour was taking EPO? One would hope not. Would you be surprised if every single Tour winner from 2006 backwards (with the likely exception of Greg LeMond) took something at some point in their career, whether it was EPO and transfusions or a little cortisone or a dash of testosterone? Prior to the EPO era, one did not need drugs to win the Tour, but it certainly could help – even if it was a bit of ‘hormone re-balancing’ at the start of the season or ahead of a major stage race. We might conclude that not all Tour winners doped during the Tour, but was any past winner completely in the clear for their entire career?

Doping was le metier for many, many riders; perhaps at the very least only a few amphetamines to get through the post-Tour criteriums, but doping nonetheless. The substances and the methods changed over time – amphetamines post-WW II, then cortisone and testosterone, followed by other steroids and transfusions, then EPO and a variety of micro-dosing and micro-transfusing techniques. Discussion was never far from the surface. Here is Robin Magowan in the widely-read, 80s classic Kings of the Road, talking of muscle growth from steroids and its strain on connecting tendons: “Watching ‘superman’ Fignon flail away day after glorious day on the Tour one felt that sooner or later something was bound to give way.” Which it did. Or on Hinault: “Coming upon Hinault in 1983 after not having seen him since his Tour ride in 1978 I remember being struck not only by the new hairiness, but by the hugely knotted calf muscles, the knots extending even into the lower thighs; legs more like that of a wrestler than a rider.”

Magowan might not have been correct in his assessments, literally accusing Fignon and Hinault in English-language print of doping, but such discussions were common place at the time. Would we be that surprised, though, if he was correct? Post-Armstrong, nothing is surprising any more. This does not diminish cycling necessarily, as we cannot go back and change what it has been for much of its history – a beautiful, captivating, gruelling, and desperately hard sport not for the faint of heart. Surely we’re ready to put the past behind us, unless there’s some materially beneficial to the current anti-doping regime that will come from further enquiry.

Post-1998, it should have all changed. But it did not. In Yellow Fever, his book on that Tour, Jeremy Whittle quotes an unidentified English-speaking professional. “Only the naive would now think that doping isn’t part of the sport, especially with the financial rewards now on offer, But it’s up to me to decide what I do and whether I cross that line. Right now I want to be competitive without going beyond it, but I can’t say that I’ll always feel that way.” The equation has changed now. Not the rewards – as high as ever – but the mood in the peloton and the absence of pressure to dope just to be competitive.

But human nature is tricky. At the end of Yellow Fever, Whittle eloquently recounts passing a young fan by the side of the road, a boy about six years old, “wide-eyed and expectant”, waiting for the riders of the Tour to pass and “waiting for his dreams to be fulfilled.” Whittle feels the guilt of the passive observer to the debacle that has been unfolding. “I wanted to stop and talk to him, to try to explain; to tell him that men are weak and greedy, and they grow old and faithless and forget their dreams… I wanted to tell him that I was sorry – that we were all sorry for the lies and the silence, for the cynicism and the loss of innocence. I wanted us both to believe again.”

It is a poignant soliloquy. But why should Whittle be sorry? Sorry that human nature is as it is, capable of so much but also so little? And just what would he have them both believe again? There are not any miracles now, thanks to Armstrong, if there ever were, thanks to a parade of others. As John le Carré has one of his characters note in A Delicate Truth, “What the gods and all reasonable humans fought in vain wasn’t stupidity… it was sheer, wanton, bloody indifference to anybody’s interests but their own.” It is all ultimately just self serving. There was not and cannot be a golden age of cycling. As Ken Dryden says, “The golden age of anything is the age of everyone’s childhood.” Cycling is no different. Once the innocence is gone it is gone for good. You can’t just believe in it again somehow.

But the Tour de France is still captivating. One does not want to overcook it with the quotes, but let us have one more. “If you can control your emotions, chances are you don’t have many,” says Douglas Coupland. The Tour pulls us in, sick and depraved that it is. Heroes and villains all. The glorious excess. We cannot look away. We need not look away. That innocence is long, long gone but the sheer excitement remains.

2.

Summer has arrived just in time for the Tour, it would seem, ushering in the hot, hot weather of early morning or evening rides punctuated by barbecues, cold beer, and chilled G&Ts. Reckless – even dangerous – plans are sometimes hatched in the heat; whether they come to fruition or not is another story.

Just recently, your author signed up to the Rapha Rising challenge on Strava, which is to ride 7,235 vertical metres of climbing (the equivalent of the Peyresourde, Ventoux and Col de Sarenne) in 8 days. For someone who counts three rides in a week as a luxury, this would indeed seem a worthy challenge. Your author’s intention was to start with Mt. Seymour and additions, good for 1,700 metres in one ride, followed by – later in the week – le parcours de Virenque, good for around 2,600 metres (perhaps closer to 3,000 with any luck). That would have left a rather significant <4,301 metres to knock off. With the space on the calendar, just not possible. It is with some disappointment, then, that this challenge has been opted out of.

Not to worry. One does what one can in the time available, keeping the fun aspect to the fore rather than worrying about the numbers. Those hills can be re-ridden in slower time, and perhaps savoured a little more. Anyway, your author counts himself lucky to have ridden the actual Ventoux as well as the Col de Sarenne. The latter included the ridiculous descent on the other side, followed by the Les Deux Alpes ascent made famous by Marco Pantani in 1998 (want to put an asterisk next to his name – the Tour de France is one continuous asterisk), before riding back up Alpe d’Huez. That was a long day out, but then – being on holiday following the Tour – what else was one to do.

3.

Summer is also the perfect time for reading. The 100th running of the Tour has produced a plethora of new and updated titles but one really wonders whether yet another Tour book is really necessary. The history of the race keeps getting re-written, at least officially it would seem, so anything now is simply going to be a snapshot of the times. Still, safe hands seem to be producing all the titles so you really can’t go too wrong if additional titles are to your interest.

Along with the inevitable Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy re-reads, perhaps with a little James Salter and Julian Barnes (who has written quite eloquently about the Tour in Something to Declare) thrown in, there will be some cycling specific titles on the list (again, always way too ambitious) assembled by your correspondent. The good editors of The Cycling Anthology have produced volume 2 just in time for the Tour and, like the first volume, it is a little treasure trove of great short pieces on the race we can’t walk away from. The format, a small paperback that will fit most jersey pockets, is a reminder that the printed book is far from dead and that any decent cafe ride deserves a little reading material over one’s coffee. If you lean towards the e-reader, however, do check out The Bicycle Reader, deftly and economically presented by Jack Thurston (from the Bike Show podcast) et al and well worth the price. Two editions are out now and are little gems.

No summer reading is complete with an appropriate beverage. Let one hereby offer what might be dubbed the ‘Bimini’ as dictated by Hemingway in the first part of Islands in the Stream: “Where Thomas Hudson lay on the mattress his head was in the shade cast by the platform at the forward end of the flying bridge where the controls were and when Eddy came aft with the tall cold drink made of gin, lime juice, green coconut water, and chipped ice with just enough Angostura bitters to give it a rusty, rose colour, he held the drink in the shadow so the ice would not melt while he looked out over the sea.”

Magic. If you can’t get fresh green coconut water (which is pretty much a given), try the ubiquitous coconut water than is available in a multitude of varieties pretty much everywhere. As we know, the hydrating powers of coconut water have been vastly oversold, but it’s somewhere in between plain water and a good sports drink for its cycling application so you can pretend it has at least a non-deleterious effect if you are sampling it after a ride. Use the coconut water in place of the tonic as if making a (tall) G&T and add the lime juice (fresh, add the wedges afterwards) and bitters in quantities to whatever works best for you.

You can then ponder that Hemingway himself was probably the sort of character that would earn a Wiggins-esque expletive, but he could sure mix a drink and construct a sentence. He may have been a mean old drunk, but he left a written legacy larger than the sum of his character. Those Tour riders for the last 100 editions might have been mostly a bunch of dopers, but they did more than that and they did the same: races that gave cycling the history and mythology that keeps us captivated today. The new peloton is cleaner and more exciting than ever, but it doesn’t exist separately from this. The Tour is as glorious as it is base. In many ways, that’s why we celebrate it.

Pastis at Les Deux Alpes. Vive le Tour!

Pastis at Les Deux Alpes. Vive le Tour!

A Tour grimpeur to watch for

While many eyes are justifiably on the Colombian rider Nairo Quintana, expecting him to shine in the mountains of the Tour, a perhaps overlooked contender is the French rider Romain Sicard, riding for Euskaltel-Euskadi and making his Tour debut. Indeed, a few year ago Sicard was touted as France’s up-and-coming star. In 2009, in his first professional year riding as a junior for the Orbea team, Sicard won the junior World Champion road race (beating Quintana into second) and the Tour de l’Avenir overall (beating Tejay van Garderen). This was the start of a four-year French/Colombian hold on the Tour de l’Avenir with Quintana winning it in 2010, then Esteban Chaves in 2011, and Warren Barguil in 2012 – with Juan Ernesto Chamorro in second.

It would seem, though, that Sicard has struggled in subsequent years to make his mark. There have been impressive performances, such as at the Dauphine in 2010 (coming close to a stage win), but a hip alignment problem saw much of his 2011 season affected. He was 5th on the tough Bola del Mundo stage at the Vuelta last year, but has had no recent victories of note.

Sicard is rated as a climber and this is where he has shone in the past. Euskaltel-Euskadi will be stage hunting in the Tour, particularly in the Pyrenees and hoping to secure their fifth Tour stage win. Yes, despite their constant presence in the pro peloton for the Tour, wins have been hard-fought for and difficult to secure – Roberto Laiseka (2001), Iban Mayo (2003), Mikel Astarloza (2009) and Samuel Sánchez (2011).

Sicard climbing the Bolo del Mundo (pic Bike Race Info)

Sicard climbing the Bolo del Mundo (pic Bike Race Info)

Sicard was born in Bayonne and lives in Hasparren, in the French (or Northern) Basque Country, hence his professional association with Euskaltel-Euskadi. He is only the second Iparralde from this part of France to ride for the team, following on from Thierry Elissalde, also from Bayonne, who rode the 1995-95 seasons. According to reporting, when not living the on-the-road life of a professional cyclist, the 25 year old lives at home with his parents.

His build-up this season, according to reports, has been cautious and steady, with a few injuries now behind him, and Sicard is looking to make his presence felt, especially in those mountains close to home. “J’ai envie de me montrer acteur, surtout à l’occasion des étapes de montagne dans les Pyrénées,” he said. There will be plenty of opportunities for him to show himself as a player and the Pyrenees start on stage 8 on July 6 with the stage from Castres to the summit of Ax 3 Domaines. A five-climb monster for stage 9 follows the next day. As Jean Francois Pescheux, one of the Tour’s directors, notes for stage 8, “…the Spaniards will be ready. They are heading into their terrain…” Not just the Spaniards; the Basques too will be ready.

Before Peter Sagan, Sicard already has his finish line moves sorted, here winning the junior worlds (pic AFP)

Before Peter Sagan, Sicard already has his finish line moves sorted, here winning the junior worlds (pic AFP)

Some other Basque posts you may enjoy:

Samuel Sánchez has no shoulders

A political history of Orbea