Broken bikes, Tour De France legends, the Kilburn High Road, and a new poem!

A single Tour de France is reckoned to take a year off your life. No idea how they work that shit out, but when you take into account that in order to win the race this year Bradley Wiggins covered 2,173 miles in 20 stages with only two rest days, it starts to make sense. 

Get this though. In 1926 the tour spanned it’s longest route ever – a whopping 3,570 miles, in just 17 stages. Madness. To really put things in perspective though consider that last Monday I carried my broken bike the 0.7 miles from my house to Brondesbury Overground station. More on that later.

When I first started watching the tour I was impressed by the spectacle, by the sheer scale of it, the beautiful scenery, the speed of the riders. But as I watched more and more of it each year, and read a little of the history, I began to understand the intricacies of cycling as a team sport, and to appreciate the heroic work by the domestiques that so easily goes unnoticed by the casual observer. Check out the team mates in the background of the picture below, celebrating as their sprinter Andre Greipel wins a stage. He will also know he couldn’t have done it without them, and it is these interwoven personal stories that make the tour so special – in an event that lasts three weeks it is almost impossible not to feel like you are getting to know the personalities of the riders as you watch them race.

Anyway, when I arrived at Brondesbury station I was told the no bikes on the overground policy in place over the Olympics had been extended. By one day. And they had decided that this morning. And so instead of going to the bike shop to get my bike fixed I had to carry my bike back home again. Great.

Now if you’ve ever carried a broken bike you’ll know that as well as probably making you feel very pissed off, it can also make you feel like a bit of a hero, struggling through against the odds. Not this time though. Nope. Just pissed off. I was however comforted mid-journey by a re-sparking in my brain of probably my favourite bit of tour folklore ever:

In 1913, the first man to wear the yellow jersey, Eugene Christophe, broke his forks mid-Stage – a stage which I may add saw the riders set off at 3am! Now this was well before the days of replacement bikes, team mechanics and the like, and so Cristophe had to carry his bike over ten kilometres to the next village where he set about welding it back together under instructions from the village blacksmith, as riders were responsible for their own repairs as well, and no outside assistance whatsoever was permitted. Literally hours behind the rest of the peloton he eventually finished the stage, only to find that he had still been docked time – for getting a little boy in the village to pump the bellows for him!

When I first read about this story it inspired a poem, or at least part of a poem which I was already writing… Enjoy!

La Mistral
Everything I have ever done has been for this,
every choice I ever made was the right one coz it led me here.
Bright pink frame, drop handlebars, skinny racing tyres.
Big city is my home and right now, weaving in and out of the traffic,
it makes sense. Yes. All of it. I wear my confidence, quietly.
Denim shorts, the yellow jersey, and an old school cycling cap.
You will hear my approach, la mistral
that fierce, undefeatable wind from the bald mountain.
And maybe you will see yourself, reflected in the shop window
across the street, and notice how, even at the exact moment
that I pass, your reflection still remains.
a tingle on the back of your neck,
as you watch this little hill in north west big city
become the Col Du Tourmalet, Peaking at 6,939 feet
I breathe out only mountain air,
cold enough to the strip the fear from the world
Bright pink frame, drop handlebars, skinny racing tyres.
My eyes lift up, and are the eyes of Eugene Christophe,
in 1913, as he carries his broken bike
For over ten kilometers, before welding it back together himself,
And still finishing the stage. My only conversations
are breathless victory interviews, still in the saddle.
Bright pink frame, drop handlebars, skinny racing tyres.
Wheels turning. I wear the present moment in a wedding band,
an eternity ring of right now, again and again and again.
Wheels turning. Tarmac flying by. Each rotation what it is and what it is and what it is.

Simon Mole, 2012