Forget the World Cup and Wimbledon, there’s a far more exciting event on the sporting horizon. What is it? The Tour de France of course.
This year’s Tour kicks off in Leeds on Saturday. It’s only the second time in the event’s 111-year history that it’s started in the UK and it’s going to be big.
Around three million spectators are expected to line the route, Bettys, cake makers par excellence, have created gorgeous fondant fancies to celebrate and the University of Sheffield has gone as far as painting a giant hillside bike in a field.
The aim is to encourage more people to cycle on a regular basis (there are apparently 270,000 bikes rusting at home in the UK alone) and scores of Yorkshire children will act the part of molecules to show how the body turns food and oxygen into the energy needed for exercise. It’s called the Krebs cycle – named after Nobel Prize winning scientist Sir Hans Krebs, whose work revolutionised experts’ view of the metabolic process and enabled endurance athletes to push themselves to “their absolute natural limits.”
I’ve been a fan of The Tour for years – ever since I took my children to London’s Victoria Palace Theatre in 2007. As we left the show there was an extra – and very unexpected – treat in store. This is what I wrote at the time:
A flash of metal spokes, a brief glimpse of a fluorescent pink helmet – and that was it. The cyclist had rounded the corner at death-defying speed and disappeared before we had time to blink.
We emerged into the afternoon sun from Billy Elliot to see something equally breathtaking unfolding before our very eyes. We watched awestruck as the race’s 189 cyclists whizzed along Buckingham Gate on the prologue sprint trial – reaching speeds of up to 44mph (fast enough to trigger speed cameras!) This was the first time the Tour de France had ever started in England in its 104-year history and the whole crowd knew we were witnessing something special.
I first became captivated by the Tour de France when we stayed in Provence a few years ago. One afternoon we drove up the long, winding road to the summit of windswept Mont Ventoux.
Halfway up we spotted a small stone memorial littered with water bottles and cycling paraphernalia and realised it marked the spot where the legendary Tom Simpson died of heat stroke and heart failure during the 1967 Tour. His career was marred by his admission that he’d used banned drugs but 40 years later he still inspires awe and affection for his amazing endurance and will to win. His last words are said to have been “put me back on my bike” and they sum up everything about the Tour de France.
Courage, stamina, endurance, drama – there’s no doubt about it, the Tour has got the lot.