Le Tour De France Heads For Switzerland With Tissot Behind The Wheel
As a lifelong road cycling fan, visiting the Tour de France is just about the biggest sporting treat I can imagine. The idea of “taking part” in a mini-stage with my fellow journalists is a privilege far beyond any station I could believe to be mine. Hanging around the finishing area, waiting for our bike-mounted heroes to arrive so we can interview them is a dream I never dared dream. And all this is possible thanks to the event’s major timing sponsor Tissot. Here’s a look ahead to the race and what we can expect from this year’s edition of Le Tour and the historic Stage 8, which will see the peloton wend its way to Lausanne where it will find a very happy Fratello representative awaiting its arrival…
Anquetil. Induráin. Hinault. Merckx. The names of the event’s greatest heroes echo down the ages. Following the now-dismissed years of disgraced American superstar Lance Armstrong’s dominance, those four men remain the only ones ever to have stood atop the top step five times. No one, now that Armstrong’s record seven victories have been scrubbed from the record books (despite the vast majority of his peers either having tested positive or at least been implicated in doping scandals themselves), has ever won the race more times.
Since Armstrong’s departure from the limelight, the sport has been through a period of redefinition. For a few years, the Tour de France title bounced around with no man winning more than two titles until Chris Froome, who dominated the race during an era of British superiority, won four out of five between 2013 and 2017.
A chequered decade
The past decade has seen two Colombian false dawns, with compatriots Nairo Quintana and Egan Bernal promising much before their chances seemingly evaporated with a total of zero wins for Quintana and a single triumph for Bernal in 2019.
Before the Brits got their act together with the nation’s first-ever win in 2012 going to Sir Bradley Wiggins, we enjoyed a short but sweet rivalry between the never-adored Alberto Contador and the plucky nearly-man Andy Schleck, who, although credited with one win in 2010, never actually got to experience victory in Paris. Instead, he was denied it by a doped-up Contador who, more scandalously than any kind of substance he may or may not have ingested, broke the unwritten rule of attacking while the race leader was suffering a technical problem (Schleck’s chain came off, ultimately resulting in him falling 39 seconds behind Contador in the standings — the exact same amount by which he ended up “losing” the race, before Contador’s positive sample handed the crown back to him).
…the sport has a new golden boy.
But now, after what seems like an age of instability and oddly unpopular champions (notice how “Sir” Bradley Wiggins and the universally beloved Welshman Geraint Thomas receive titles and plaudits aplenty while four-time winner Chris Froome seems to have left in his wake more of a smudge on the page rather than the towering legacy his achievements on the road deserve), the sport has a new golden boy. A man, who by the age of 22 had bagged two Tour titles already — the explosive, unflappable Slovenian, Tadej Pogačar.
The man who would be king
Two years ago, entering the 2020 competition, there was one name on everyone’s lips: Primož Roglič. The former ski-jumper-turned-world-number-one-road-cyclist was Slovenia’s finest-ever export, and he threatened to bring home the country’s first gold from the Champs-Élysées. Having won the Vuelta (the Tour of Spain) in 2019 (a race he has gone on to win twice more in 2020 and 2021), he was the hot favorite. And, until the penultimate stage, he seemed to be living up to expectations. And then Pogačar happened.
A victory no one saw coming
Yes, Le Tour finally had a Slovenian champion (something nobody realized we needed as badly as we obviously did). But it was not the name we expected to see engraved on the trophy that found itself glinting back at us under the Parisian sun. Roglič was understandably shell-shocked, bereft at the loss of his dream. I had the chance to speak with him a few months after that devastating loss,shortly before he added the Olympic time trial gold to his Palmarès. He was outwardly recovered, focused on the next crack at the tour (which would end in retirement following injuries sustained in an early crash from which he never fully healed), and talking philosophically and with great humility about the defeat.
…compartmentalized centers of rage and revelry…
But anyone who has spent any amount of time around professional athletes will know that as good as they can appear at dealing with the most despairing losses and how many of them are able to turn that pain into fuel to stoke the fires of future competition, it will sting today, tomorrow, and forever more. Whether overcoming the demons this race now holds for the great Roglič, who is undoubtedly one of his generation’s finest, and taking home the spoils would be a salve for the wounds of 2020 or whether the two events, one grand and one ghastly, would exist independently of one another, compartmentalized centers of rage and revelry is impossible to say.
It is probable that even Roglič himself could not answer that question. The best one can hope for one of Tissot’s most respected ambassadors is that he finally breaks his duck and makes the Tour de France 2022 one to forget for his younger rival, Pogačar.
Can he threepeat?
And what of the boy wonder? Never has a man of such years been in such a position. Two wins already. The Tour’s “young rider” classification (for which the winner receives the White Jersey) classes a rider as “young” if he is under the age of 26 on January 1st following the edition of the Tour in question. Amazingly, Pogačar begins his second title defense on the bounce at the age of 23. Given his birthday is September 23rd, 1998, he could actually win the Tour four times before he becomes ineligible for the White Jersey. His two contemporaneous Yellow Jerseys and White Jerseys are already a record. If he wins this year, his three Whites will match one-time winner Jan Ullrich for the most of all time.
Roglič will need to harass Pogačar early and often…
Perhaps those stats illustrate exactly what Tissot frontman Roglič is up against. Roglič will need to harass Pogačar early and often and hope that his young rival folds under the pressure or falls back several notches from the blistering pace he’s set in previous years to have a chance. But the window for Roglič to claim the title he most desires is still open ajar. If only a crack…
I will be attending Stage 8 of this year’s Tour in Lausanne as a guest of race sponsor Tissot. After riding the mini-stage full of journalists (and hopefully “winning” with a memorable sprint finish despite having not ridden a bike seriously for years), we’ll be waiting in the finishing area for the real riders to arrive, at which point I’m sure they’ll be absolutely thrilled to have the microphone of a lifelong cycling super-fan shoved under their noses and their brains forced into gear by challenging questions such as, “How do you feel?”
“Tired, mate. Very tired. It’s the f***ing Tour de France.”