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Rejoice, the wait for bike racing is almost over

In-depth
8 Jul 2020
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Bike racing is within touching distance and we can no longer wait for its return

Words: Joe Robinson

Today was the day I realised I missed bike racing. I’ve managed to hold off the blues for give or take four months but today, for me at least, the dam finally burst.

We should have been entering Stage 11 of the Tour de France on 8th July. A 167km roll from the coastal town of Chatelaillon-Plage through France’s flat interior to Poitiers.

One of those meandering days where the peloton takes its time, traversing the sunflowers and field art at its own pace – a helpless breakaway composed of struggling WorldTour teams and optimistic ProTeam squads, bound to be caught in the last hour of racing.

Little would have happened until the final sprint into town. One for the purists is how it would have been described.

It would have been a tough watch, four or so hours of nothing followed by five minutes of fireworks. If I’m honest, I would have likely busied myself with other tasks rather than sit through a continuous Carlton Kirby monologue on local cuisine or Ned Boulting bumbling on about castles, switching on when I knew the day was about to end.

Instead, we will have to hold our breaths until 9th September for such stage, if it's able to go ahead at all.

As they say, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone and what I would give for even the most boring of race days right now. I’d even take the first 200km of Fleche Wallonne or any stage from the UAE Tour, I am that desperate for a fix of live bike racing, and I would hazard a guess that you, dear reader, are too.

I have to take my hat off to both ITV4 and Eurosport who, in the absence of any live action, have retold the stories of previous years eloquently and with rich insight.

The classic Giro d’Italia stages were nostalgic – in particular the retelling of 2014’s Monte Zoncolan ascent through the eyes of the unfortunate Francesco Bongiorno. The old editions of Paris-Roubaix were memorable; who can ever forget Mat Hayman’s 2016 heroics. While the previous Tour de France races have been truly inspiring; long live Thomas Voeckler.

Apart from the glaring absence of any previous women’s racing – who wouldn’t want to relive the 2018 La Course? – it has been pitch-perfect. They’ve done their part.

And in lieu of any racing, I have even taken to riding my own bike much more. In fact, I’ve ridden more in these four months of lockdown than I ever have my life. I’m fitter, stronger and faster. A swing to the roundabouts of lockdown.

But I’m ready for professional cycling to return and it feels as if it is finally within touching distance. Small Belgian Kermesse racing made a comeback last weekend and normality was restored with a victory for Deceuninck-QuickStep.

Pro riders are flocking to the Alps for training camps at altitude or to recon stages of the Grande Boucle. The peloton’s South American contingent is inbound to Madrid and the Australians are catching Qantas flights back to Europe, too.

Bike racing was brought to a grinding halt in March for a grave reason. A devastating once-in-a-century (we hope) pandemic that placed the world on hold, not least our sport’s silly WorldTour calendar, and it has still to leave us.

I realise that life is much bigger than professional sport, not least one of its most niche outposts. It’s just that life is made worth living with the little pleasures that fill it and for me, the chief pleasure happens to be bike racing.

I’ve never looked forward to Team Ineos inevitably dominating the Tour de France, much to the despair of us fans and their bitter rivals, as much as I am right now. I will never take an Annemiek van Vleuten 100km solo breakaway victory for granted again. I promise to never call Liege-Bastogne-Liege dull as dishwater and I will even resist calling Tom Dumoulin a boring bike rider.

The suspense of a sprint photo finish, the desperation of a day on the cobbles, the jubilation of the winners, the despair of the losers and every minute story of emotion in between. I am waiting with my arms wide open, ready to re-embrace bike racing, warts and all.

As, after all, in the paraphrased words of former AC Milan football manager Arrigo Sacchi: Cycling is the most important of the least important things in life.