Why it’s time we started to warm to the running man in the yellow jersey

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(This article first appeared on the website here and is being published here with the kind permission of the author)

I’m not a Chris Froome fan; or at least I wasn’t. I’m not too sure why, but I just never took to him.

But his actions this week in racing aggressively and attacking when tradition suggested he probably shouldn’t – like on a descent or on a flat stage meant for the sprinters – and taking time from his main rivals in both instances, is starting to win me over.

Aisling called me when I was in work excitedly asking if I’d seen the Tour.

‘Of course not!’ I answered. I work much too hard to be watching cycling when I should be working. ‘What happened?’ I asked.

Froome had to run the last part of the climb without his bike, Ais went on. There was a crash or something and he had no bike and he was running up the mountain.

When I got a chance to check it out, sure enough there had been a crash with motorbikes caused by crazy spectators on the Mont Ventoux stage.

Froome was faced with a situation of having no bike, in the world’s biggest bike race.

Those he had crashed with, Richie Porte and Bauke Mollema, quickly remounted and pushed through the scrum of fans to race to the stage end less than 1 kilometre away.

But Froome’s bike was broken and impossible to ride. His Tour rested on what he did next.

The normal reaction would be to wait for a replacement but the clock was ticking and Froome’s team car was at least minutes behind him down the mountain.

I’ve seen lots of idiotic reactions to bikes letting riders down.

Tour winner in 2012, Bradley Wiggins is fairly well known for it; he fired his against a wall when it let him down a couple of years ago in the Giro del Trentino.

And on another occasion at the World Championships he flung his TT bike to the ground in disgust when he had a mechanical issue slowing, but not stopping, him.

Then he walked around looking like a spoilt kid throwing his toys out of the pram.

Chris Horner bounced his bike off the ground at the Phily Classic in the US recently and kicked it after dropping a chain.

In the Ironman World Championships Norman Stadler fired his bike into the lava fields when a mechanical put an end to his day.

Froome could have panicked and, in fairness, he probably couldn’t have been faulted for throwing a wobbly as none of the chaos was his fault.

Instead, he picked himself up and started running; yes running. At first he had his bike but then discarded the broken machine.

He stunned fans, TV commentators and the worldwide audience, with the cycling media and social media full of news stories, video and photos of the incident.

I had never seen anything like it and neither by the sounds of it had the rest of the world’s cycling fans.

I think it really highlighted his champion qualities.

He showed the desire to keep fighting and to keep moving towards the finish, either on his feet or on an ill-fitting neutral service replacement bike with pedals that wouldn’t work with his shoes.

All the while he was talking to his team on his radio, trying to get them up to him with a bike he could ride.

He kept on fighting to stay in the race; he knew he might be losing the Tour right there and then. And not because of any failing of his.

But he got right back up and did what no one expected; he did the only thing in his power. He kept on moving towards the finish line.

And at the end of the day he deservedly held on to his yellow jersey.

Our sport gets enough bad press and Froome’s actions on Thursday highlighted his champion qualities, his self control under massive pressure, his drive and fight.

And it painted a great picture of what the Tour should be; overcoming difficulties and pushing our personal limits.

I for one will try to learn from it and not have a strop the next time I puncture in the rain or if I’m afflicted with some other similar catastrophe.

You’ve gained yourself a bunch of new fans today Chris; keep on fighting.

  • The author, Rob Cummins, is a triathlete specialising in Ironman. He also owns, one of the sponsors of the ASEA-Wheelworx Irish cycling team.

Arcalis and the start of a beautiful love affair with cycling

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Brian Canty writes from Andorra and reflects on the glorious racing this small mountainous country has hosted – from Jan Ulrich in the 1997 Tour to Dan Martin ripping up the field in yesterday’s race.

Watch as Jan Ullrich rides the peloton off his wheel on stage 10 of the 1997 Tour de France. Watch him set the pace at the front, give a look back to see where his Telekom teammate Bjarne Riis is and then blow the thing apart. This clip is among my favourite cycling moments…or it was until yesterday.

There was a neat symmetry about it all this past weekend, being at Arcalis, Andorra.

It’s a climb I’ve yet to reach the summit of but I’ve watched one particular piece of Tour de France footage on it so often I feel like it’s one I know more than any other.

We all have our favourite cycling clips but for me it’s stage 10 of the 1997 Tour and that moment Jan Ullrich simply blows the field away.

Whatever he took to facilitate his performance that day is for another discussion but being back there yesterday for stage nine of the 2016 Tour was no less of an enthralling and enamouring experience.

Ullrich and co. rode a ghastly 252 kilometres there en route to the summit and for the then 23 year-old German it took an inhumane 7 hours 46 minutes.

The video appealed to me – and continues to, in so many ways; that nonchalant face of Ullrich, that glorious pedal stroke, that moment he goes back to the team car to get the word from his DS to go for the stage because team leader Riis is fucked. It was magic.

The front group was down to just a handful with Marco Pantani and French favourite Richard Virenque among those in there chasing the stage and the overall.

So too were Riis and his understudy Ullrich, the latter looking like he was out for a Sunday spin, so easy was the effort. Riis, on the other hand, was at the mercy of the young pretender who could drop him at any moment.

There was something about the video, the grainy pictures I’ve watched endless times on YouTube, the commentary I’ve listened to in at least four languages on various streams, the backdrop of screaming fans and blistering sunshine.

When on a work placement in Australia in 2007 this love affair with the video and Ullrich became particularly intense because those I was working with were Ullrich ultras.

We’d stay up until 4am to watch the Tour – always prefaced by beers and those Ullrich clips, the best of which was that magical day to Arcalis.

Those I happened to work with did a remarkable impression of the Australian commentators who were reporting on it at the time and I think, though some will disagree, my own impersonation was pretty satisfactory too after years of practice.

“He’s such an assured young maaaan….only speaks German….he had a tough upbringing and here he is tearing the Tour script to pieces….on the road to Arcalis….”

If you haven’t watched the clip, you should.

Anyway, fast-forward 19 years on and it’s an Irishman doing the inspiring; Dan Martin not exactly stomping away from the peloton like Ullrich did – and thank God for that, but no less inspiring.

“Pride drives him to the end” was how his closest follower and biggest fan put it in a text late last night.

And he wasn’t wrong, because Dan went down to the deepest, darkest recesses of what he can give and came up with just enough to save his Tour.

He might not win the race outright but one thing is certain; if there is a way Dan Martin will find it.

He’s one of the very, very few riders to have actually ridden away from the Sky train that has become all so boring and predictable in the biggest races in recent years.

The 2013 Volta A Catalunya saw Martin jump clear on the road to Port Aine – and stay clear to take stage and overall honours.

His performance yesterday was stirring at the least and inspiring for the way he fought to stay with the ‘Froome group’ that had been whittled back to five.

He was dead and buried with a couple of kilometres to go, was Martin, but he found something from somewhere to haul himself back up to the group as the rain pelted the surface and fans pleaded with him to stay in touch with Froome.

It’s too early to tell if I’ll be replaying Carlton Kirby’s commentary years from now…

Climbing Rocacorba Girona

Rocacorba: Girona’s Hidden Gem of A Climb

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Snuggled away 20 kilometres north of Girona is a monstrous climb that owes nothing to TV coverage .

You’ll hardly find it on a map and you’ll even struggle to find the road that leads up to it from the nearby town of Banyoles.

Yes, Rocacorba hasn’t the ‘bucket-list’ fame  of Alpe d’Huez or the Galibier but it’s a climb muttered in hushed tones around Girona and this stunning corner of Catalunya I am proud to call home.

“You can’t go up there,” a local man tells me when I inform him where I’m headed. “It’s impossible. There’s been rain and the road is slippery as hell. You’ll kill yourself.” They like boasting about this, I sense.

Rocacorba Climb Stats

But that last little dispatch is hard to ignore because a quick glance at the stats on this heaving mass of rock reveals;

  • An average gradient of 6.5%
  • An altitude gain of 970 metres
  • 13 kilometres of uphill torture
  • Two: Number of cyclists who have been clung by cars in recent years – just about surviving to tell the tale.

Ignorance will get me there, I tell myself and I ignore all sound advice and reason.

Getting to Rocacorba

The first problem you’ll encounter – long before you search in vain for another gear on Rocacorba, is to actually find this mound of pain.

Yes, it’s quite tricky and though it’s visible from just about anywhere in Catalunya on a fine day, the beginning of the road that snakes its way to the summit is anything but well signposted – even though it peers down from all sides.

But the people of Banyoles – famous for hosting the rowing at the 1992 Olympics – are only too glad to help those with maps and puzzled looks.

The Climb Begins

The base of the climb is gentle and undulates for about four kilometres. The road surface here is good and it is marked too – not that riders screaming against me seemed to take much notice. There’s farmland as well and more than a hint of Provence about the place. Friendly, you might say. A farmer straightens up and gives a hearty wave.

Suddenly, though 27 degrees, it darkens as trees crane in. The road worsens and a slight gust whips up, as does the road. A gentle 4% at first if you take the corners wide, 7-9% on the inside. I tell myself to take it easy and don’t race it, yet.

It’s June now and there was a heavy shower on Thursday so the road worsens gradually. Though it was fully paved in 2006, it’s broken in many parts, giving the worst sections a cobbled feel. Factor in the mud that’s washed down, the leaves that have fused into same, the grit that accumulates on corners and it augments an already steep test of ability.

It’s beginning to sting around the halfway point but there’s no let-up. Though it averages a reasonable 6%, it ramps up to 17 and 18% in parts…and that’s where I dropped it down to the small ring (haha), as my back begins to throb and chest pumps harder. My back wheel spins. My arms sting.

The beauty of Rocacorba lies in its brutality, save for two brief interludes where the road flattens.

I pass a group of mountain bikers on the road, their sun-stippled flesh and sweat-soaked faces tell something about the world of pain they must be in. I continue on.

Every kilometre you’ll be updated on your progress by modest road signs. Distance to the summit: 3k. Altitude gain: 670 metres. ‘Okay, what’s that from 980?’ I ask myself. Basic math is proving difficult. Off in the distance I can see the summit.

The wind filters through the densely-packed forest of pine trees giving this climb quite an eerie feel to it. If I crash on the descent I’ll never be found, I think to myself. I hear heavy breathing up ahead. My ears have popped but a frantic gasping for oxygen is audible above my own groans of pain. There are other lunatics here.

The steepest sections are yet to come and as my ticker snipes away at 176 beats, I calculate there’s not much more in me. I slow to 8 kph on the steepest parts and I imagine this is how I’d look on Eurosport if I was dropped. Accepting this is my level and riding at my tempo now.

The bodies up ahead are no less alive and capable. One man almost careers off the edge, only to save himself at the last moment.

Up ahead I see the sign for Rocacorba. Plain green, the letters in thick white font. But I can’t celebrate yet. It’s a rest house. Not for me. Not this close.

The Flame Rouge

The last kilometre is sheer hell as I call on myself for one last proper dig. This is where the flame rouge would be. This is where you lay down what’s left. In my case, it’s a pathetic 10-second burst before I collapse back into the saddle and haul myself up the final few leg-snapping metres. Right turn, left hairpin, right hairpin, left hairpin. Voila. There’s not even a flat section on which to freewheel at the top and I imagine more than a few have lost control here.

With my legs like jelly I make the most awkward turn imaginable at the steel gates and turn for home but not before taking in the breathtaking vista of Catalunya that yawns out before me.

There’s the glistening lake of Banyoles, miles and miles of countryside in every direction, forests and farms and castles and courtyards.

Over my shoulder I hear ‘muy bien Brian!’ It’s my car mechanic Miguel looking as fresh as I did 48 minutes ago at the bottom.

This is Girona. Warm and welcome. This is Rocacorba. A centre for suffering.

This is why we do it.

You too can suffer your way up the slopes of Rocacorba. Check out our Classic Climbs of Girona Tour to seal your fate. To find out more about this hidden gem of a climb read our latest blog on Rocacorba.