'All the world's a stage,' or so it seems every July as the Tour de France barges into our consciousness for 23 days. The race gathers together the finest teams and riders to do battle across the backdrop of France and its bordering countries. For these first three weeks in July the world is treated to all the drama, comedy and farce that professional cycling has to offer. Every stage can be considered as a scene, complete with its heroes and villains, as the plot twists and turns (like stage 15's descent of Grand Colombier) culminating in its own unique finale.
The sheer scale of this Grand Tour never ceases to amaze us – the organisation required is epic. Year on year, issues like security become more demanding as political unrest fosters extremist violence. Crowd control (or the lack of it) gave this Tour one of its key moments when on stage 12 - the shortened Ventoux stage - a group of three chasing riders were brought down by the sudden braking of a camera bike having to avoid spectators in the road. What followed was farcical - Chris Froome, the yellow jersey holder, running sans bicycle up the road towards the finish line, desperately radioing for assistance and another bike. And who could forget the collapse, on stage 7, of the 1km inflatable banner that caused Adam Yates and (yet another) camera bike to crash?
Here come the men in black. The dominance of a single team remains bitter-sweet for us. For a while it's a mesmeric spectacle to watch, like a spider eating a fly, but ultimately it reduces the GC race to a battle for second position. As with so many other sporting super teams with big budgets it tends to dampen enjoyment and removes some of the unpredictability of the competition. At times it felt like we were back in 2002/3 watching US Postal suffocate the opposition in order for their team leader to win. Of course we acknowledge that this time round there are no drugs involved, just sheer hard work and natural ability, but that doesn't make the spectacle any better to watch.
One aspect of this year’s race that has remained with us is the fragility of cycling when pitted against the changeable nature of the elements. On stage 19 the overall standings were thrown in the air as wind and rain turned the race and the peloton on its head. To see two previous Tour winners taking each other out in a single crash highlights just how fragile cycling can be. The elements and the terrain give any bike race a delicious uncertainty, levelling out the racing and introducing a certain randomness that we all love. It reflects the human condition and exposes each racer’s depths of determination.
We relate directly to the suffering involved in pro cycling. When we witness two riders out in front on a 100+ km break battling not only a head wind but the chasing peloton we know, at least in part, how this must feel. Chapeau to the sufferers.
TdF 2016: the Simpson verdict
Best team: Movistar
Best rider: Adam Yates/Jarlinson Pantano/Romain Bardet
Best kit: Cannondale Drapac
Best stage win: Mark Cavendish x 4
Best breakaway rider: Ion Izagirre of Movistar stage 20
Best crowd chant: Bardet, Bardet, Bardet
Worst kit: Bora-Argon 18
Worst weather: Hailstones on stage 9
Worst haircut: Peter Sagan
Worst wheel/bike exchange: Etixx-Quick Step/Marcel Kittel on stage 21
Luckiest rider: Nairo Quintana