The Blog

Chris Froome: A Fallen Hero

For British fans, given the World Cup results, Andy Murray's crash out of Wimbledon, and the minimal numbers of British champs selected for the Tour line up, this has turned out to be the 'anti-year' in British sport, the opposite of 2012.

Could the utter shock and horror of watching Mark Cavendish crash in Stage 1 of the Tour de France on home soil, just 200 metres from the finish line, possibly be surpassed? Video clips of the watching crowd at the time, which included members of the Royal family, attested to the electric bolt of lightning that shot through the collective spines of thousands of supporters, when in a moment, Cav's Tour was over, as he hit the tarmac hard while the race continued over and around him.

Well, yes it could and would be surpassed Wednesday by the equally shocking sight of the Tour de France British defending champion, Chris Froome, calling it a day and painfully retreating into the Team Sky car to head for home, after 3 crashes in 2 days. As the television commentators mused at the time, "This is a sight nobody wanted to see".

Wednesday's cobblestone stage in the "Hell of the North" was suitably preceded by frequent intonings on the air, of the unavoidable dangers and inevitable carnage the day would hold. Rain plus cobblestones equal 'ice skating on bikes' according to GC contender Alberto Contador. The wisdom of the organizers choosing such a perilous route was seriously questioned for days preceding the stage. Even the disgraced Lance Armstrong, never far from the Tour in mind and spirit, tweeted two words: "Riders. Union", presumably meaning there's a clear case for a unified riders' resistance to such situations.

However, given the horrible conditions and Froome's previous injuries, the sight nobody wanted to see, happened. Oddly enough, it was preceded by 'the book nobody wanted to read' and 'the news nobody wanted to hear'. A string of events that, this year, shook British cycling. The book being Chris Froome's autobiography, The Climb, which included his detailed account of the controversial Stage 11 in the Tour of 2012, and his less than amiable relationship with Sir Bradley Wiggins, published just weeks before the Grand Tour. Although a worthwhile read, it nevertheless gave rise to considerable discussion. Nobody really wanted the complexities of the Froome/Wiggins relationship to rear its ugly head once again, and now, of all times, as Britain prepared for the 'grandest Grand Depart' in history.

This was followed by the news nobody wanted to hear, early on the morning of the anniversary of D-Day. Bradley Wiggins pre-empted the formal announcement of his de-selection from Team Sky for the Tour by an unexpected appearance on BBC Breakfast. It was here that the world learned that the previous Tour de France British champion would 'probably' not ride the Tour de France this year, effectively dashing the hopes and plans of thousands, maybe millions, of cycling fans. One father tweeted: "No point in taking my six year old to the starting line now". It was the shock felt round the world. The inability of Team Sky and of the two individuals involved, to solve their differences and to meld their personalities, strengths and skills to work together for a 3rd British victory, was incomprehensible to the average viewing fan. But the strategies involved in choosing a winning team is beyond us mere mortals.

For British fans, given the World Cup results, Andy Murray's crash out of Wimbledon, and the minimal numbers of British champs selected for the Tour line up, this has turned out to be the 'anti-year' in British sport, the opposite of 2012. But, as Bradley Wiggins is quoted as saying through his agent: "Chris will bounce back".

They all bounce back. Chris Froome literally 'bounced' onto his feet after extracting himself from the bike and the tarmac in that last awful crash. Mark Cavendish, no less devastated after Stage 1, has said from his hospital bed, it's not so bad; the men he supports in Help for Heroes are without limbs.

After the cobblestoned hell of Stage 5 of Le Tour, still they go on, the injuries and medical list ever growing. The voiced opinion is: it was terrible for the riders, but "great viewing".

The question was recently asked, "How do we explain fallen heroes to young people?", and this in relation to the Lance Armstrongs , the baffling and troubling case of Oscar Pistorius, and so on.

The answer can be found here, at the Tour de France, where the qualities of the elite athlete are on display every day, qualities worthy of admiration and emulation, far beyond, and as distinct from, personalities and their darker sides.

Strength, courage, hard work, stamina, the power to endure and to overcome, determination, perseverance and focus, and sheer toughness. And as seen in the case of Djokovic and Federer recently on Centre Court, the ability to display graciousness in defeat, humility in victory, and dignity at all costs.

Not everyone can run a 4 minute mile; not everyone can win 17 Grand Slams, or hurtle down a mountainside at 70kph on a bike. But everyone can, in their own way and in their own life develop the qualities of courage and resilience; humility in success and magnanimity in defeat. These are universal qualities, available and accessible to everyone. In this at least, we all have equal opportunity. Tell that to the young people.

Having said that, every year is a good year in British sport. Chapeau to all the heroes.