It never gets easier, you just go faster

Bonjour Tash Appreciators,

Cast your mind back to the last time you were really out of breath and sore following some kind of physical exertion. It might be running, lifting weights, swimming – anything. 

Now make the breath harder to catch and the pain several times worse. Then make it last three weeks with alternating days of crushing pace or morale sapping climbs. In fact, let’s add some numbers and context. Imagine you were going 3,497km and climbing the equivalent of Mt Everest… thrice. 

If you can imagine that, then the picture in your head is very similar to the Tour de France. It starts this Saturday and it’s hard to be hyperbolic about just how tough it is. It’s not got the steepest climbs or longest stages but only the best cyclists attempt the Tour and so the pace is unrelenting. 

This year’s Tour is different because a British rider has a genuine chance of winning. If you haven’t noticed already, this guy is getting a lot of coverage:

That’s Bradley Wiggins, he’ll be riding for Team Sky this year and he could win it. To those not familiar with it, cycling may look like an individual sport. But it’s not. Wiggins is only 1 of 9 riders. Hopefully he’ll be the one in yellow (the leader’s jersey) but the other 8 riders (including a world champion and at least one national champion) will all be riding for him. 
It wasn’t always like this. In the past, riders used to work on their own far more than is usual now. They would have heavy bikes, hellish gears and no electronic gizmos to help them. They were hard men. 

Take Eddy “the Cannibal” Merckx – the greatest rider there has ever been. He won everything and he did it in style. On the 1969 Tour he achieved what would now be impossible – he won the yellow, green and polka dot jersey. That means he went round the 3,000+km in the shortest time, won the most sprints and climbed the mountains quicker than anyone else. Lance Armstrong, for example, only ever won the yellow jersey as overall winner. Merckx was class:

Unfortunately, riders couldn’t possibly rock a Tash on Tour. They can’t have hair on their legs and even Wiggins’ side-burns are pushing it. 

The fans, however, can. In a past Tash Friday we saw El Diablo (the German chap who dresses up like a devil and follows the Tour round) but this week’s Tash is a Merckx fan:

What struck me about this was, have you ever seen an elderly chap wearing a Real Madrid top with Ronaldo on it? Or with any other sportsperson’s name emblazoned on their clothes? I haven’t. Maybe that’s because the older generation are harder to impress and there aren’t too many genuine hard men around these days…
I’ll keep you up-to-date over the next few weeks about Wiggins’ progress.

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