Saturday afternoon marks the beginning of one of the most iconic sporting events of the summer, and an edition that’s set to be one of the most intriguing in recent years.
But it may also be the biggest sporting event you have no intention of actually watching this year.
The Tour de France begins in Brussels this year before making its way on a convoluted route through France, taking in the Alps, the Pyrenees and 3,460km of epic scenery before finishing on the Champs Elysee in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe.
Team Sky – now renamed Team Ineos – have dominated the tour in recent years and will be looking for their sixth victory in seven years, since Bradley Wiggins triumphed in 2012 just weeks before winning Olympic gold in London, too. In that Men’s Olympic Road Time Trial, Wiggins’ Sky teammate Chris Froome took bronze, and both men would become household names for cycling in a country that has never traditionally associated itself with the sport at an elite level.
From a British perspective, that set the scene, and cycling saw a boom after the 2012 Games. Team GB saw massive success on home soil in most of the different track and road disciplines, but despite the fame of Team Sky over the years, that hasn’t penetrated into a wider appreciation of the sport of road cycling at the elite level among the British public (at least, not watching it), even if it’s become infinitely more popular as a participation sport.
This year, with Froome unable to participate in the Tour having suffered a horrific crash at the Tour of Switzerland last month, suddenly this year’s competition takes on a very different look. Ineos will take to the road in Brussels with two leaders, last year’s winner Geraint Thomas and the youngster Egan Bernal. Meanwhile another Brit, Adam Yates, will look to win his first yellow jersey assisted by his twin brother Simon – a great story in anyone’s book.
And yet, none of the names above could be considered household names – even Thomas is an understated presence, despite being only the third Brit to win the yellow jersey in the race’s history.
But there are lessons to be learned here about the power of personality and amplification. No matter how thrilling or technically elevated the sporting action is, people need to be exposed to the characters on display.
— Richie Porte (@richie_porte) June 27, 2019
Cycling, theoretically, has no shortage of that. It has riders with personality, and many who are much more approachable than Premier League footballers, for example. So relatable are they that using an app like Strava, you can pit yourself against them across some of the most difficult roads you can pass on a bike. In terms of actually competing against your heroes, there aren’t too many sports that can compare.
Perhaps part of the charm of cycling is that it is not a mainstream commercial sport, and much like distance running and golf, its fans are actual participants. But there’s real potential for this sport to grow in the eyes of more casual fans who are more interested in watching than playing.
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