Hair got me into cycling. I know it sounds ridiculous – the leap from barnet(1) to bicycle is not an easy one to imagine – but it’s true. The ponytails of firstly Robert Millar and then, and more importantly, Laurent Fignon bewitched me more than any lofty mountain pass or low-profile time trial machine. Who were these sportsmen who exhibited such flair with their hair? It is said that the aero disadvantage of Fignon’s follicle affectation cost him the 1989 Tour, which he lost to the tousled golden locks of the American Greg Lemond by just eight seconds, but (and I realise that it would have been scant consolation to the distraught Frenchman) it won my undying admiration.
Fignon and on and on.
We all know the facts: Belgian soigneur Willy Voet is stopped by customs officers on his way to the 1998 Tour de France start in Dublin. In his car are a massive amount of performance enhancing drugs, destined for the riders on the squad that Willy works for and by which the ensuing scandal will be known. Festina. The lid on organised, team-wide doping is lifted and the Tour comes close to collapse as, over the following days, police raid rooms and haul riders off to cells. Teams are thrown off the Tour and reputations are ruined. But the Tour somehow survives this three week evisceration with Marco Pantani winning but the writing is on the wall for a generation of dopers. Well, it is until the following year when it all starts all over again on an even bigger scale..
—– STOP PRESS. The Whitecloth Gallery are having a silent auction of the prints shown in this exhibition. Check out the details here WHITECLOTH GALLERY and email email@example.com to place your bid. Deadline is noon 21st July. PS – please don’t bid on Sizzling Feet.. I want it! TJP —–
Cycling is a sport well suited to written reportage but Graham Watson’s ‘Eyes on Le Tour’ exhibition near Leeds rail station is about as good a counter argument to this as is possible. History is not writ large inside the two medium size galleries at the Whitecloth Gallery so much as Kodachromed large in the dazzling array of prints from his long and illustrious career at the heart of the pro peloton.
With so much focus in this country on the Grand Départ it has been hard at times to remember that there will be a further 18 days of racing after the world’s biggest cycling cavalcade leaves our shores. I have been as guilty of this as anyone by focussing my thoughts almost entirely on the opening two stages in Yorkshire and the Stage 3 run from Cambridge to London. Everyone is talking about the ‘destiny ‘of Mark Cavendish to win the Maillot Jeune in his mum’s home town of Harrogate and wondering how much damage the fearsome Côte de Jenkins Road will do in the final few kilometres into Sheffield the following day. I think we are suffering from a touch of yellow fever that is clouding our ability to see beyond this weekend. It’s fantastic that we have so much to discuss about the short time the Grand Boucle is with us. But what of the rest of Le Tour?