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The Journal

"Per Ardua"- Ned Boulting

"Per Ardua"- Ned Boulting
2021 wasn’t really supposed to be like this. Even though the populations of the world were warned repeatedly and severally by those who had studied the consequences and effects of pandemics that we would be living with the aftershocks of Covid-19 for years to come, the unsilenceable optimist within us all refused to embrace the reality of their prognosis. The trauma of 2020 could not possibly be repeated, or so we believed. Continue reading

Merci Roland Fangille

Merci Roland Fangille
Over recent days I have been gazing at the landscape of the Département du Gard unfolding behind the peloton of the wonderfully named Étoile de Bessèges, the first professional stage race of the European calendar. If your French geography needs a little light sharpening, then the Gard is right down in the south of the country, hemmed in to the north west by the Cévennes national park, which Vincent van Gogh celebrated in intense swirls of oil, and studded in the middle by the jewel that is Nîmes. Continue reading

Audiobook Giveaway- "Velosaurus" Ned Boulting

Audiobook Giveaway- "Velosaurus" Ned Boulting
The language of cycling is vibrant, sophisticated, often impenetrable and extremely French. Find yourself confused, nodding along when a rouleur relates how le biscuit was effrité (crumbled)? How today they’re feeling Angers (past caring)? Fear no more, for Boulting’s Vélosaurus will illuminate, enlighten and, frankly, mislead. Continue reading

Time for Tom Pidcock

Time for Tom Pidcock
Full disclosure: I only had half an eye on Sunday’s bizarre-looking Cyclocross World Championship, as I was actually working on a Darts broadcast at the time for ITV. But it says a lot about the weirdness of the event that it drew the curiosity of the Darts fraternity to the screen I was watching it on. Continue reading

Tour de France Polka Dot Jersey- Ned Boulting

Tour de France Polka Dot Jersey- Ned Boulting

Dear Internet,

I fear controversy, as I fear the dogs which routinely run towards me, smelling my panic (and possibly my mouldering trainers) when I am out running. Therefore I have chosen to express these strong views about a piffling thing of not much consequence on a forum of my choosing in which it is not possible to post comments that may in any way detract from my world view. Echo Chamber? You bet. Right here.

The Piffling Thing in question is the Polka Dot jersey competition, AKA “The King Of The Mountains, AKA “The Virenque Prize”.

I have been surprised by the attitude of many others (it could indeed be everyone in the world, except for me) which seems to suggest that it’s a good thing that Tadej Pogačar might win the King of the Mountains competition this year. This school of thought pre-supposes that the King of the Mountains is supposed to be, somehow, the King of the Mountains. This is cycling, though. How could it possibly be that simple.

Before today’s stage, which was always going to be the big GC shakedown ahead of the final ITT on Saturday, everyone knew that the Hors Catégorie Col de la Loze would yield double points. 40 in total, to the winner. Everyone also knew that, as is the way of things, the GC teams would probably do battle for the stage win, and not allow a breakaway to contest the points.

And so, Tadej Pogačar has taken the jersey and leads by a handsome 30 points to Benoit Cosnefroy who has turned himself inside out to defend that jersey, day after day, getting in moves, hurting himself to hang on, attacking and attacking over and over again. And in one fell swoop, better climbers than he have negated his Tour de France, nullifying his valiant efforts and reducing to rubble his cause.

It’s not just about Cosnefroy. Look at the madly various list of names in KOM contention before stage 17 came along with its heavy-handed bias to GC riders and crush all hope. It was a competition, much like the green jersey, that was brewing up nicely and offering a path to success for repeated tenacity and bravery against the odds – finer details which should never go missing from the complexity of a Tour. It’s hard to get in a break, harder still to score in a break, and even harder to do it day in day out.

The polka dot jersey is a reward for such riders. I don’t agree that it should come as a bi-product of racing GC. I didn’t like it when Froome won the jersey in 2015 as well as THE RACE. I like Tadej Pogačar, and I am certain that we’ll see him on the podium in Paris alongside Roglič, as well as in the white jersey in his own right. But he has much greater prizes ahead, and will one day wear yellow. The race structure should leave the polka dot jersey for the likes of Thomas Voeckler, for example, or Warren Barguil. It meant a huge amount to Romain Bardet.

Have a heart, for God’s sake. Don’t @ me. 😉

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Knights Of The Yellow Jumper: The Tour de France

Knights Of The Yellow Jumper: The Tour de France

It might have something to do with the fact that I am staying in a moated castle, but I think I’ve finally understood the true nature of the Tour de France. It is a three week long chivalric epic poem, in which various knights set off in vainglorious pursuit of honour and reward. The fact that they do this on bicycles is neither here nor there. The original velociped was designed to replace horses after all. So it kind of makes sense.

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Before The Flag Drops: 2020 Tour de France

Before The Flag Drops: 2020 Tour de France

Awake at 4.30.

The last time this happened on the eve of a Tour was in 2003. My very first. That night we’d been housed near Les Invalides, not so far from the next day’s finish line. All throughout the long, dark hours before dawn, an outrageous summer storm had blown in and out of Paris, a last breath of wind before a heatwave settled over France which exacted a terrible toll; accounting for the deaths of nearly 15,000. Outside my window, a rogue branch from a plane tree tapped and scratched at the glass, clawing away at my fitful sleep.

It was, as I say, the night before I ever saw the Tour de France. I wasn’t to know it, of course, but the following day would change my life. It may seem preposterous to claim that a race can do such a thing; it sounds like I’m over-reaching. But there it is: An undeniable truth.

The three weeks that followed that restless Paris night whacked me around like a cartoon fop in a punch-up. Lifted by the collar, and pinned against the wall, I was powerless to resist the succession of face-slaps I was about to receive from a series of intense encounters: Armstrong, Alpe d’Huez, a massive crash in a sprint, Beloki on the road to Gap, Hamilton, Boonen, Millar, McEwen, McGee, Ullrich, a time trial in a cauldron, Luz-Ardiden, a deluge in Nantes, and Paris again, lit up as dusk began to settle on Armstrong’s fifth win*.

Nothing had prepared me for the richness of the experience I was about to be immersed in. Nothing could. This oddity of a race stands apart from anything else which fits into the realm of normal human endeavour. It makes little sense, and yet it has a perfect shape. It maddens and disappoints in the same way that it ensnares and impassions. It is both vast in scale and deeply human. It is quintessentially French yet spans the world. Pick your oxymoron, and slot it in.

Here I stand again, at the threshold of another Tour; my eighteenth in a row. Covid-19 has of course messed with the matrix to the extent that I cannot be in Nice, and instead find myself sleeping in a grand room in the picture-perfect Leeds Castle in Kent and broadcasting some nearby studios. This plush accommodation, after years of hilariously patchy French hotels in industrial estates is at once completely absurd and entirely in keeping with the pomposity and grandiose spirit of a race which looks at the world from above and celebrates it all: trees, roads, hills, rivers, fields, villages, towns, cathedrals and chateaux. Of course I am living in a moated castle! How could I not be? It’s the Tour de France.

Too much has been written already about the main contenders. Too many column inches have been devoted to sanitized hand-wringing about how long the race can possibly last. Let’s park those thoughts and simply watch this aberration of a race as it rolls out from the Promenade des Anglais. Let the riders have their turn now. They deserve our fullest attention.

I always say that my two decades of acquaintance with this race have taught me only one thing: The only certainty is that something totally unexpected will happen. Well, 2020 has got there first this time!

With these hastily penned thoughts I invite you, alongside Gary, Pete, Chris, David, Daniel, Matt and me (as well as the dozens of staff who make this work for you) to accompany us on another journey into the known unknown.

And nothing has changed, apart from everything.

Ned Boulting

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