It was worth the wait to watch the Tour de France flash by me in Chelmsford last Monday, even if ITV did decide to cut to an ad break just as the Peleton reached me. However, I've become increasingly amazed as the race has progressed through France and one by one the superstars of this toughest of challenges have fallen by the wayside. First out was Mark Cavendish with a dislocated shoulder having crashed in a sprint to the line on the first day. Next off was Chris Froome who, refusing to let a broken wrist get in the way of defending his title, fell twice more and fractured his other hand. Even as he staggered towards a support car his team were trying to offer him another bike. Other members of Team Sky have fared little better as day after day riders have been withdrawn. Then yesterday Alberto Contador abandoned his challenge having broken his leg, but only after his doctor had made a vain attempt to strap him up so he could continue.
I watch these supreme athletes take tumble after tumble during the TdF, get back up and carry on draped in tattered Lycra with medics leaning out of cars, applying plasters, spraying on plastic skin and slapping on the ointment. I remember a couple of years ago viewing open mouthed as a group of riders were knocked off the road by a courtesy car and found themselves splayed across a barbed wire fence like latter day Steve McQueens. I gasped as, undeterred, they untangled themselves, grabbed their bikes and charged off down the road in pursuit of the leaders. Even more surprising is the way other riders, rather than taking advantage of misfortune, often slow down to let the fallen catch up with them. It puts the average pampered World Cup footballer to shame as they dive, tuck and roll at the merest brush of an opponent.
As we were listening this evening to the latest roll call of casualties and vain attempts by support teams to keep them in the race, Kate commented: 'One of these days they are going to strap a rider to his bike like El Cid and send him off down the hill.' I wouldn't put it past them. Respect.
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