Did this herald a new beginning for cycling? If Paris is the most romantic city on earth, its familiar landmarks, bathed in the gloaming, were now rekindling a tempestuous affair. The Arc de Triomphe, illuminated against the night sky, the sequins on the maillot jaune shimmering as a gentle breeze drifted down the boulevard of broken dreams, it was easy to be lost in the moment. And what a moment. Chris Froome, a second successive British winner after a century in which les rosbifs failed to get it. An African heritage too, an inspiration to all those Kenyan children pedalling battered old mountain bikes on roads to nowhere. A time to look forward to a multitude of possibilities. The Tour de France is a venerable institution, so many cherished memories but so much it is desperate to forget. The podium oration of its latest champion struck a poignant chord. Standing the test of time; it is an expression grappling with its own limitations.
I’m enjoying the Tour de France. There, I’ve admitted it. The euphoria of a first British success twelve months ago could only partially mask the fact that it really was a rather dull procession. Not this time; we have another home rider out in front but a little more precariously so, despite what might seem and should prove to be an unassailable advantage going into the crucial last few days. Of course you don’t want it to be easy, you want to see Chris Froome suffer all the way to Paris. But not predominantly for the spectacle itself. You want to see human frailty, weakness and fluctuating levels of performance as that’s how you feel it should be. On Mont Ventoux the ghosts were all around, and not just because Tommy Simpson breathed his last on its slopes. He killed something that Armstrong bloke, and what he killed was innocence.
The Tour de France is a harsh and unforgiving test of stamina so it is spurious to make outlandish predictions before the highest summits range into view. It is, however, difficult not to get just a little bit excited that Britain could be about to provide the winner of this great race for the first time. Bradley Wiggins, already a national cycling hero for his previous exploits on the track, is resplendent in yellow on the resumption following a rest day. Not only that, but his lead over rivals including last year’s victor Cadel Evans suggests he may not be headed again before Paris. There is another possibility here though and it is one that few had anticipated. Current form and recent history point to an intriguing subversion of the anticipated plot. Team Sky will be doing everything in their power to secure top place on the podium, but the first British winner of Le Tour might just not be Wiggins after all.