Human, flesh and blood, made to make mistakes

“Once we saw that Nibali had cracked at the top of the Peyresourde, we knew we didn’t have the danger of him attacking in the final so it was at that point that I knew it was pretty much over. We rode away from the rest of the field and I lost concentration. I was thinking of lots of different things at that time. Chris wanted more but the fight had gone from me at that point…All the way up the last climb I almost had tears in my eyes.”

And so explained why after accelerating up the final climb of stage 17 of the 2012 Tour de France, Bradley Wiggins looked weak, Chris Froome looked frustrated and the Twiteratti exploded largely with the British disease of knocking a guy on the verge of history. The fact of the matter is Bradley Wiggins once again showed he is human. Thank goodness for that.

For many years cycling fans have grown used to the infallable, imperial march of Tour champions. Last year’s race together with this have thrown up leaders who have differed from this script. In comparison to a certain American, Cadel Evans and Bradley wiggins have looked strong but fallable. They have not treated winning the Tour as their right, they have looked and been seen to have their weaknesses yet they have ridden through them, battled and shown courage, determination, dignity and respect. Above it all, they have not only looked human, their interviews have been human too. Witness Wiggins’ interview last week.

Last year’s winner Cadel Evans looked fragile in his win then and this year has seen his fair share of misfortune. At the end of stage 16 he sat on the steps of his BMC team bus and spoke candidly to the reports crammed outside:

I had a few stomach issues just before the race … when it’s an hour or two hours before the race there is not a lot you can do. I didn’t think it would affect me in the race, but obviously that’s not my normal level and it’s pretty much Tour de France over for me.

Anybody who has ever had “stomach issues” – and you know what we mean by that –  knows what Evans must be going through. To ride a bike any distance let alone up 4 Pyrenean climbs in the heat of a French summer doesn’t bare contemplation when you are in that state. Fallable? Foolish? Probably both but that’s what makes him human.

For Wiggins there has been a genuine humility when interviewed, shown in his respect for the race traditions, for the racing and especially for his tea. Anybody who has read In Pursuit of Glory will understand that for Wiggins the team environment matters. In the past, being in the wrong team has exposed Wiggins’ weaknesses and put him in his comfort zone on the track. Now in Team Sky he recognises the value of his team and the team ethos that has developed over time,

We are a close group and we have been all year. That’s why we’re in this position now. We’ve gone out there each day and proved on the road that there isn’t a problem.

And on Monday he praised the team for their collective efforts.

This is a star team, not a team of stars. What we do well is we race as a team. We’ve done that all year. I am surrounded by incredibly talented bike riders… We are a close group and we have been all year. We’ve proved on the road that there isn’t a problem.

Brian Clough would be proud. And in particular he singled out Mark Cavendish who has put aside his usual haul of stage wins and been a dedicated team mate for Wiggins’ pursuit of the Yellow jersey.

Mark has been fantastic these last two and a half weeks. He’s been so committed to my cause – to the yellow jersey – and he’s a great champion and a great friend.

And of the man who according to some tried to drop him on stage 11 and on stage 17 was accused both of making his leader look like a fool and of being held back unfairly from a second stage win?

Chris was super strong again today. He’s super excited. He’s been a fantastic team-mate during this Tour de France. For sure, one day, he’ll win the Tour and I’ll be there beside him to do it.

Watch the video of this interview, those do not come across as hollow words said because he should. Though the heat of the moment can sometimes suggest otherwise, there is a genuine respect by Wiggins for others – teammates, opponents and officials.

But Wiggins is a much more complex character, a man who I have identified with in the past and still do today. He’s a rider who has reached great heights already but who has a tendancy to knock himself down. A rider on who there are great expectations but who often thinks he has let people down. Sound familiar? It does to me. Here is a man on the verge of making history and who has quite understandably had a moment of shock and realisation. It’s not the invincibility we’ve seen from past Tour winners and to me that is a good sign for the sport.

One clear message from this year’s Tour is that, in the words of the late Roy Castle, dedication’s what you need. His outburst last weekend is borne of frustration at the lack of recognition of just how hard he has worked and the sacrifices he has made to achieve this. Wiggins’ quite rightly criticised the cult of empty celebrity,

It’s nice to be recognised for achieving something in life because so much of British culture is built on people being famous for not achieving anything. It’s nice in sport when people stop you in the street and respect you for something you have achieved.

These are the things that endear him to me. These make him a champion. Wiggins is human, he has faults but he is determined to succeed. He’s a family man, a dad who looks forward to taking his son to rugby camp after winning a Tour de France. A man who doesn’t mind if people don’t recognise him in Wigan. He wants recognition but he values his space.

What will I do if I win on Sunday? I will concentrate on the time trial of the Olympic Games and when all is over, I go back to my home, come back to reality and go and buy bread and milk.

Long may the humanisation of cycling continue. I can’t imagine some recent Tour winners even knowing where to buy bread. With 3 stages still to go I do not want to tempt fate but despite (and probably because of) his human traits Wiggins is looking good for the win in Paris. Whilst it will be great to have a British winner of the Tour it will be even better to have a champion who is an ordinary guy that most of us can identify with in some way. Allez Wiggo.

…but sometimes you speak too soon….

Perhaps I was a little premature in my earlier post.  Whilst still a way from being a classic, today at least saw the touch paper ignited effectively.  And whilst the determination was clear to see in the attacks of Contador, Evans and Sanchez, the Schlecks, Andy in particular, did themselves no favours at all.  I’m sure they are having an awkward enough evening already and their comments from Sunday are likely being quoted back at them across cyberspace if not around the dinner table, but today they were given a lesson in how to make attacking riding pay.  And to cap it all by, in the words of Chris Boardman, “throwing everything out of the pram” shows they are a long way from being Tour champions.  In highlighting their petulance, I can only take my hat off to Thomas Voeckler.  I did him a disservice in my previous post and his attacking style is a welcome relief in any race. To be still in yellow tonight highlights his guts and determination and is the colour that every Tour needs.  As I said to MrsAB this evening, this race is between Evans, Contador and Voeckler. Maybe, just maybe, there is hope. We’ll see.

Who says the quiet ones never win?

In the modern world it seems that those who shout loudest often get whilst the quieter ones are left behind.  It’s a dog eat dog world, so we are told (although as I remember reading on Ed Mayo’s blog, when was the last time you saw a dog actually do that?). Nice guys never win.  Personally its a problem I’ve been grappling with for sometime now and when I first had my breakdown it was one of (the many!) elephants in the room.  Am I a success or am I a doormat? Are my achievements worthy of being classed successful or are they just humdrum?  Everything is relative I suppose and, much like the notion of identity being constructed by those around you as much as by yourself, measuring your own success is influenced, if not driven, by peers, friends and family. In doing so we can often be diverted from the realistic and acceptable.

And so I found this blog piece from @39teeth interesting about the erstwhile world road champion Cadel Evans. It was interesting in 2 ways: firstly, it appeared as a rare piece of praise amongst articles bemoaning the demise of professional cycling to dope culture; secondly, the piece highlights the dignified way in which Evans has honoured the world title and reclaimed its meaning in this otherwise murky profession. For those who are unaware of Cadel Evans, he is the perpetual loser, the guy who often comes second and the victim of disaster in the jaws of victory.  Yet unlike other so-called champions he battles on.  This season I too have enjoyed his efforts in a diverse host of races, not always winning but definitely always fighting.  If we judge success on the number of wins then he is a questionable world champion in the eyes of some, yet his fighting spirit has made for entertaining racing, displayed real human emotion and I think makes for a real “champion”.  By not winning the Tour de France, Evans is often written off as an also ran.  I don’t know if he suffers from the expectations of others. What I will say is that in doing what he has done he has become a role model for me and is helping me to reshape my expectations of myself.