Sunday, July 22, 2012

Le Maillot Jaune

When I was 11 years old the Tour De France crossed the English Channel for a couple of stages and passed within 10 miles of my childhood home in the south of England.  It was sports day at my primary school and my Dad asked the Head Teacher if he could take me out of school for the morning to go and watch one of the biggest sporting events in the world pass our front door.  The Head Teacher said that school was more important and I wasn't to miss a day, so on the morning of sports day my Dad let me sleep in and woke me up telling me that I wasn't going to school that morning.  Legend.

This afternoon British cycling stepped to the front in a sport typically dominated by Continental European countries and made some bold statements.  Bradley Wiggins rode up the Champs Elysees  wearing the coveted Yellow Jersey that signifies the overall leader of this year's 2,173 mile Tour De France (the biggest annual sporting even in the world) and became the first British rider to win the event.  In second place came Chris Froome making a British one-two (the first time that countrymen have shared the two top spots since 1984), and to top that Mark Cavendish was the first over the line.  No cyclist has ever won the final day's stage in Paris more than once, and today's win made it four years in a row for Cavendish, the "Manx Missile".  There's only 6 days to go now until the Olympic cycling road race.  You'd be forgiven for presuming that the future's looking decidedly golden for British cycling.

The start of the Tour de France borrows from lifesaving races, with a 'nose-to-the-sand' lying start followed by a sprint to the first beer of the race, then the pile of bikes.  Under starter's orders. 

I don't have any photos of the Tour De France though.  The closest that I have were shot with a disposable camera at a bike race with a slightly different bent:  The Tour de Point.  The Tour de Point was (is?) an annual event for members of Trigg Point Boardriders Club (TPB) in Perth, Western Australia, and requires participants to complete a 5km odd circuit of the coastal suburb of Trigg with periodic beer stops.  Quite a few beer stops.  And the whole thing's a race, just like the Tour de France, with last year's winner wearing a yellow jersey.  Trigg Point Boardriders are one of the more notable West Australian boardriders clubs and the core crew of members are comprised of some of the standout surfers in Perth, with the club regularly winning events against their rivals from the slightly more wave-blessed neighbours down south.  But they have problems finding a member willing to put their name to the bank account into which they can deposit winner's cheques thanks to events such as the Tour de Point.

Stage 2. 

I was gifted a wildcard place in the 2006 Tour de Point along with another Brit transplant my old housemate Ref.  I lived with a couple of pillars of Trigg Point Boardriders and managed to borrow a bike for the event.  Not that your bike really matters, because by the second or third beer stop there's a fair chance that somebody else will have picked up your bike in their rush to set off again, or you'll do the same and set off on somebody else's steed.  Once it's all done and dusted and after 5km of sprint-pedalling and skulling beer you cross the line back at the Point, with most competitors "blowing warmies" (frothy beer burps, bleurghh), the winner has to down another beer or five from the trophy and then everyone have a crack at riding their bikes down the sand dune and into the sea.  In 2006 my housemate Scott was the only person who managed it; on somebody else's (probably now saltwater corroded) bike.

Seven empty cans for the winner, and another one on the way.

In 2006 my friend Scooper retained the yellow jersey that he had held on to for several years previously.  This needs special mention, because whilst the riders in the Tour de France can lay claim to being some of the most incredible athletes on the planet (endurance or otherwise), and that's just the 'domestique' team riders, I bet most of them would struggle to down a can of beer faster than it could be poured on the floor.  Scooper is a man of considerable athletic prowess proven through years of open water swimming and paddling at a competitive level, however his ability to down beer is the talent that gave him a competitive edge that no man could best through his years dominating the Tour de Point.

A couple of evenings later and it's all back to normal at Trigg Point:  a few boys paddling around looking for a wave, and a few more sipping sun-downers looking at waves.

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