After weeks of endless rain the sun is at last coming out and the forecast is for summer to at last arrive.
And tomorrow there will be a Brit standing on the top of the podium in the Champs Elysees.
Britain is slowly waking up to cycling. It has not historically played a large part in our sporting culture, but a combination of British cycling success at the Olympics, the ‘Lance Armstrong effect’, and an increase in people cycling to work in order to beat traffic and high transport costs means that cycling is cool in a way it has never been before. But probably a majority of Brits still do not get the scale of what is going to happen tomorrow.
For Bradley Wiggins to win the Tour (which he will, barring some extraordinary accident) is a much bigger deal than it would have been for Andy Murray to win Wimbledon. It is a bigger deal than it would have been for England to win the Euros. For non-cycling Brits the scale of the Tour simply isn’t understood. A million people will line the Champs Elysees tomorrow, and millions more have stood at the side of Belgian, Swiss and French roads these past three weeks waiting for the blur of colour as the peleton screams past. The Tour is the largest annual sporting event in the world. It is carnival and national icon and physical test sans parallel. And I love it.
The bike is a very simple machine. A small child often gets their first real sense of freedom wobbling along on a bike. A rusty old jalopy can be a helpful way of nipping to the shops. Or thousands of pounds can be spent on a race ready carbon beauty. But it is all basically two wheels suspended from a frame of two triangles. I think it is this very simplicity that makes competitive cycling what it is – that something so basic can create (in David Millar’s words), “beauty, suffering, grandeur and panache.”
When Wiggins wins the Tour it will be a moment of incredible individual achievement. It will also be a result of phenomenal teamwork. This is perhaps the least understood aspect of cycling by non-cyclists – that it is teams that compete in the Tour, and an individual can no more win the race that a lone footballer can win a game. This means that there is a psychological appeal about cycling which other sports often lack – and perhaps that is why the French are so drawn to it, whereas we more black and white Anglo-Saxons prefer more straightforward games. The politics of the peloton, with deals struck, friends and enemies made; the significance of aerodynamics; the different specialisations of domestique and climber and sprinter – all spread out over three weeks of torture and beauty make the Tour uniquely compelling.
It is because of this psychological depth that cycling has generated a rich seem of profound and painful and beautiful writing. The peculiarities of cycling seem to lend themselves to an artistry of description. (Try The Escape Artist by Matt Seaton or The Death of Marco Pantani by Matt Rendell.)
And then there is France. Probably the most beautiful country in the world – an unfolding tapestry of mountain and coastline and vineyard and sunflowers. It’s the sunflowers of course. That defining image of the Tour de France, as the peleton pours through field after field of sun-turned yellow.
Everything is turning yellow.