Cycling has always been a reasonably multinational sport, even if largely confined to the first world. Professional teams mix nationalities and there are major races in all the big European countries. This year has seen the emergence of Team Sky. Or more accurately has seen the coalescing of a nucleus of British riders in Team Sky, that has led to the triumph of Bradley Wiggins in the Tour De France.
Most years you could blink and miss the news coverage of the Tour. Not this year. This year a Brit won so the Tour De France became a big event. Wiggins won the race and the two time trials, Mark Cavendish weighed in with a couple of stage wins and his fourth win on the Champs Elysees in four years. David Millar doesn’t ride for Sky but he’s a Brit and won a stage. The Brits had it all sewn up. All that was left was for them to turn up at the Olympics and lead Cav up to the Mall where he would blow away the opposition and claim gold.
The BBC had the man for the job. Hugh Porter, by far the most hapless, clueless commentator on the BBC’s books. He consistently misidentifies riders, calls tactics wrong and shows an all round level of incompetence. Admittedly he wasn’t helped by the shambolic organisation of information for the race but there wasn’t a fact he couldn’t mangle. It was possible to sense Chris Boardman’s embarrassment alongside him and Boardman’s the weakest of the ITV4 team that cover the Tour. The scene was set, there would be a couple of breakaways by attention seeking foreigners before they were reeled in by the all conquering Brits and the Manx Missile was launched.
Even as it became clear that the script was not being followed, Hugh doggedly stuck to the pre-determined narrative that had Team Sky (as he amusingly identified them more than once) always on the brink of catching the breakaway. Even when Chris Froome sat up and stopped trying a long way out, even when Wiggins decided to save himself for the time trial, Hugh was desperately looking for ways that Cavendish could win. Even he had to give up when Alexandre Vinokourov and Rigoberto Uran Uran gave the breakaway the slip and had the first two places sewn up.
Grudgingly the BBC began to concentrate on the sprint, which Vinokourov predictably won with ease. Hugh then came into his own. As the breakaway arrived he couldn’t be arsed figuring out who had come third, musing aloud ‘was it a Spanish rider, or a Dutch rider maybe’. It turned out to be a Norwegian rider, Alexander Kristoff. Hugh then got all excited by what he described as ‘the sprint for fourth place’ won by Andre Greipel. This turned out to be the sprint for the coveted 24th place. Exhausted by his mental exertions, Hugh handed back to the studio. Here, the fun really began. A lanky streak of piss whose name, in the style of Hugh Porter, I can’t be arsed finding out declared ‘that was not the result the British public wanted’.
I beg to differ. Tanni Grey Thompson (that well-known cyclist – Ed) was then brought on to explain how Cav’s shock defeat was down to the other countries inexplicably failing to help him win. I’ve no doubt Tanni is a fine athlete but she doesn’t appear to understand team sport. The other cyclists are not supposed to help Britain win. That’s why they are in other teams. It’s what sport is about. An odd woman called Jill then managed to get an interview with the winning rider Vinokourov, ignoring the fact he’d just ridden a hundred and fifty miles to claim Olympic gold to ask why was ‘everyone riding against Cavendish today’? Because it was a fucking race.
Streak of piss was then joined by Sue Barker in an effort to restore a modicum of professionalism. The mask slipped when we were able to hear voices from off-screen, presumably the producers, displaying their impressive knowledge of the sport. ‘Gold to Kazakhstan, silver to C O L, what’s C O L?’ Fucking Colombia. where did you think, Colchester? ‘Where’s Sagan, he’s supposed to be famous, wasn’t he meant to be one of the main ones.’ Yes, but so was Cavendish.
As for Cavendish. Well in previous years he had impressed me, always sharing the credit with his team at HTC, comfortable with the European cosmopolitan aspects of his life. Then he joined Sky. Under the influence of the uber-nationalist Dave Brailsford, he has become a Little Englander bore. Brailsford’s lauding of Team Sky’s win in the Tour spoke only of British success, a smack in the face to the likes of the Australian Richie Porte and the Austrian Bernie Eisel who did phenomenal amounts of work to get Wiggins on the podium.
All year Cavendish spoke of limiting his own ambitions for stage wins to ensure Wiggins achieved a ‘British’ victory. The pay off was that Cavendish would follow up his world championship win with an Olympic medal. Oops. Cavendish’s post-race interview was a shocker. Full on toddler tantrum. It was everyone else’s fault, the other teams were against the British. Erm yes, that’s how sport works. In particular he blamed the Australians for not helping him. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that either this is because they are English-speaking white fellers or because he is that used to having Australian lackeys at Sky that he’s having trouble adjusting. Australia had Stuart O’Grady in the breakaway, an elementary precaution that any team with nous would take. Spain managed to have three riders in the breakaway.
There was no need for the Australian team to work to bring back the breakaway, O’Grady was their best hope for a medal in the circumstances. (He eventually finished 6th.) But Cavendish knows this, he knows it far better than I do. This was imperialist whining at its most blatant. Didn’t these foreigners understand that the finest team of British road racers ever assembled were entitled to a gold medal in London? They didn’t have to win, they just had to turn up. The result meant cycling won, maybe the Brits just needed to try harder and be more tactically astute.
Oh, and of course the churlish news announcers were quick to point out that Vinokourov was a drugs cheat. An epithet not used to describe British team captain, David Millar – banned for the same amount of time for the same offence as Vinokourov – and never, ever used to describe Linford Christie. And of course it doesn’t really explain away the other 27 riders who finished in front of the ‘unbeatable’ Cavendish.
Ed’s note : of course all this could change by this afternoon (1st August) as ‘Wiggo’ carries ‘the hope of a nation’ for that elusive gold. Watch out people, the BBC are about to explode!! Pity we had to watch the Tour on ITV fucking 4!