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.
Team Sky has managed to get itself into a dreadful mess as the fallout from the Lance Armstrong mushroom cloud settles over a vast area. Zero tolerance was always a laudable soundbite but did anyone consider the immense potential for embarrassment when the gesture was inevitably revealed as hollow? John Major might have been a suitable consultant. He would surely have warned of the folly of such a ‘back to basics’ approach. Playing clever politics, being seen to be doing the right thing and positioning yourself firmly on the side of the virtuous, was akin to constructing a trap into which you could not fail to fall. There were no marginal gains here, just a pit of serpents.
Not content with annexing the Tour de France for the first time, as well as virtually sweeping the board at the Olympics, Britain, firmly in the grip of cyclomania, even provided the winner of its own stage race this year. The man who punched the air in triumph as he safely negotiated the final leg into Guildford was not a member of the sport’s established royalty but a nascent talent, flowering at the second time of asking. Jon Tiernan-Locke has not enjoyed the smoothest path to the winner’s podium but now, with a Team Sky contract apparently waiting to be signed, he finally has a shot at fulfilling his promise. The diminutive Devonian rider is reckoned by many to be a star in the making. There remain doubts though. Has he reached his optimum level already or does he really possess the qualities necessary to break into the elite?