WHY I LOVE THE TOUR (IN SPITE OF LANCE ARMSTRONG)

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Following the Tour de France over the years has been an emotional rollercoaster for Fan Park Ambassador Claire O’Brien, as she explains:

I used to live in Paris in the ’90s and the Tour de France would be background television in my flat throughout the hot July, writes Claire. I remember nothing about the races. The viewing involved some charming French TV personality interviewing the mayor of each town that the Tour passed through. There would be dancing, local customs, wine making, cheese making, extraordinary cycling sculptures made by farmers out a bales of hay. It was all about tourism and human interest. Lance Armstrong? Who was he?

Back in Britain, I became a Tour de France fan before I became a cyclist. I was given It’s not about the bike, so beautifully ghostwritten by Sally Jenkins. I went on to read Every second counts, which she also ghostwrote for Lance Armstrong, although her name did not appear on the cover.

This was July 2006, and I read every book I could about Lance Armstrong. I was captivated by stories of triumph over illness and injury, religious ideas of suffering up mountains like Christ on the cross, and tales of heroism and valour.

My favourite rider was a cyclist called Floyd Landis who took determination and toughness to a new level. He was odd. He was different. He was an outsider. I liked him from reading a chapter in 23 days in July, I think it was. I decided to look online and find out how he was doing. He had just won the Tour! He had just been busted for testosterone use. Then the pathetic lies and excuses started. The scales fell off my eyes for both Floyd Landis and his mentor Lance Armstrong. The Tour was a sham.

I started to follow the Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis scandal as if it were a thriller. I couldn’t get enough. I could see that all the information was out there on the net for anyone to see. Then I moved to the scandal of the UCI Chief Executive Pat McQuaid. More lies. Yet all the cycling press, TV commentators,and professional cycling teams carried on as if nothing was happening. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. I felt as if I were in the audience in a pantomime screaming ‘Look he’s behind you!’ as the villain hides on stage. There was doping, bullying, corruption and litigation.

In 2010, I made a pilgrimage to the Tour de France by cycling in an informal group of six family and friends from London to Paris. We cycled for four days and rode 352 miles. We enjoyed the final day of the Tour at the Flamme Rouge (the one kilometre marker) at the Rue Rivoli. We were thrilled to see Mark Cavendish power to another victory on the cobbles of the Champs Élysées. It was a fitting end to our own cycle to Paris.

Every year since then, I have been glued to the newsfeed online and the ITV4 coverage of the Tour for the whole of July. All the rest of my life has to be planned around the race. My son competes with me on the fantasy league, and we have huge discussions over the breakfast table about our choices. Our knowledge of the Tour is vast, and we are interested in the lowliest domestique in case he is in the breakaway that day.

Lance Armstrong. Who is he?