Guest Article: Let’s be Friends

The Tour Peloton
A relaxed Tour peloton

@wiscot reminds us, things have not always been this way. He is a historian of the sport and it’s always useful to be reminded of how the Tour de France arrived to the here and now. The Tour used to be the last grand tour of the season; a way for some to get fit for the World Championships two weeks later. It was the French Vuelta. Could a team as green as the 1986 7-Eleven bunch get a wild card slot now. I don’t think so.

Yours in Cycling, Gianni

The Tour de France is huge. It dominates our sport like a colossus. The Giro and Vuelta try hard to compete but, despite their best efforts, success at the Tour is the goal that every top rider and team aspire to add to their palmares. The recently established Pro Tour means that for teams and sponsors, getting a spot on the Tour starting line is critical to their season’s plans and continued commercial viability; it’s no coincidence that Belkin is taking over sponsorship from Blanco beginning with the Tour. The competition for inclusion is fierce: no Tour spot? Who are you again? Over the years the tour has grown to the point that this June 29th twenty teams are invited and 200 riders will take the start. It wasn’t always this way.

Way back in ancient history, or 1980 to be precise, the Tour was a much smaller beast. For sure, it still had the #1 status it continues to enjoy, but coming out of the Merckx/Thevenet years and on the cusp of the Hinault era, the tour was in a bit of a transition as it was in the 80s that the sport transformed itself technically and commercially.

The 1980 edition began with 130 riders from 13 teams. Italian teams effectively sat out the race, having focused on their domestic grand tour in May. Kelme and Teka showed up for Spain, but remember that in 1980 the Vuelta was held in April/May, before the Giro; the September switch was made in 1995. In essence, the three Grand Tours were compressed into a late April – end of July time slot. So scarce were pro teams ready and willing to sign up for La Grande Boucle, that the organizers did something unimaginable today: they cobbled together a motley team of six Frenchmen (Phillippe Durel, Ferdinand Julien, Jacques Osmont, Phillippe Tesniere, Patrick Thevenard, and Alain Vigneron), two Belgians (De Kayser and Benny Vermeulen), one Dutchman (Jan Jonkers) and an Austrian (Erich Jagsch), found a couple of sponsors to bankroll the enterprise and invited them to the party. The name of this rag-tag outfit? Boston-Mavic-Amis du Tour. Boston made refrigerators, Mavic bike components. The jersey was plain blue and white with virtually no logs bar the Tour’s official one. Of the ten who started only four finished. They won no stages and the highest placed finisher was Julien in 23rd place.

There’s something wonderfully sweet and almost amateurish about this scenario, and I’m as guilty as the next cycling fan of donning rose-tinted glasses and adopting a “wasn’t it just better back then?” attitude. In many ways it wasn’t. Riders were paid peanuts, equipment and support (by today’s standards) were woeful. Riders were expected to ride for almost the entire season and not cherry-pick their race programs. Long transfers and split stages were the norm. (Lemond and Hinault had profound positive influence on both of these last two criteria; the former raising the salary and technology bars and the latter threatening, or actually leading, strikes in protest about riders being treated like circus animals). But for a moment, let’s go back 33 years to celebrate a bunch of misfits who got invited to the big show. They undoubtedly had dreams of glory that were ultimately unfulfilled, but they were there, they competed, and they can say “I rode the Tour de France.” We should be so lucky. Salut les amis!


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17 Replies to “Guest Article: Let’s be Friends”

  1. We always look to the past with longing whilst we turn the pedals on 6kg bikes that are so far superior to the equipment of yesteryear, training as if we were pros with programs that yield far better results (with what it has to work with) per hour spent on the bike.  We are a curious lot – we pay homage to the past and might even be “retro grouches” (disc brakes anyone) yet reap the benefits of technological and sociological advances.  It is a double-edged sword our sport.  Part of me wants cycling to be the most popular sport in the world and part of me wants it to be the quaint sport that it was.  Do we really want the giants of the sport making tens of millions of whatevers a year?  That would mean paying 50 bucks to stand on the side of the road to get a 15 second glimpse of the peloton.  That would mean no more walking up to Jensie and saying “Would you say ‘Obey the Rules’ while I video you?”  I think I would rather have it like it B.C. (Before CotHO) and not A.D. (After Doping).  If cycling goes the way of the big professional sports we’ll be a sad lot.  I can guarantee it.

    Nice article @wiscot.


  2. Looks like a fun tour, here they are on the way to Morzine

    Love the

    • Puch-Sem-Campagnolo kit
  3. The Tour may not be the intimate affair that it once was, but increased popularity for the sport of cycling isn’t all bad.  With more people participating, local cycling clubs become more viable.  I recently noticed that the cycling club in the small town that I grew up in has reformed in the last few years after a hiatus of around 10 years.  It’s great to see.  After all, watching cycling on TV will never be the same as participating in it yourself regardless of your level.

  4. If only there were a responsible group of folks in charge.  Seems to me that putting some sort of cap on the cyclists wages might stop it getting out of hand, I don’t know, just starting a debate.  Once they start getting agents who push for a bigger share of the sponsors funds (cos folks are paying to see my client) then it just escalates.  Look at what the idiot footballers get paid, I hope cycling never goes that way.

    Thanks @wiscot for another interesting article.

  5. Great article @wiscot. You don’t wee much of this anymore for sure:

  6. You don’t wee much of this anymore for sure

    True…. I think Sagan took his gloves off when he did it.

    BTW, what’s going on with the cap the Panasonic rider is wearing? Looks big enough to land a helicopter on.

  7. Great article, I however want it both ways, I want to ride my modern bike with technically advanced clothing whilst watching cycling by the pros circa 1980, not too much to ask is it?

  8. @The Grande Fondue

    You don’t wee much of this anymore for sure

    True…. I think Sagan took his gloves off when he did it.

    BTW, what’s going on with the cap the Panasonic rider is wearing? Looks big enough to land a helicopter on.

    Pretty sure it’s from the final stage so they’re having a bit of a laugh before they get to Paris

  9. Nice work, Wiscot! I had no idea about this edition.

    Apropos as well. I love ice hockey and have always followed it, never minding that it’s largely ignored by most Americans. The recent Stanley Cup drew a record number of watchers this year. That always worries me, as I wonder if it’ll slowly creep towards NFL or NBA-status, two sports I think are a farce and depressingly corporate, strange, and un-sporting. I also played lacrosse growing up and in college. I’ve largely turned my back on that, as it has finally gone “mainstream” and started to grow nationally but the product, and what is emphasized is style over substance. It depresses me. I guess this is how surfers felt when Gidget hit?

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