Tour de Past, Stage 19. 2011, Little Tommy Voeckler.

The last Frenchman to win the Tour de France was Bernard Hinault way back in 1985 when he won his fifth Grand Boucle. He came close the following year to making it a record six titles, in ’87 his supposed heir Jean-François Bernard finished third and Laurent Fignon was runner-up by the smallest of margins two years later. Through the 90’s Richard Virenque podiumed twice but never really looked like winning, the following decade countless ‘New Hinaults’ came and went and now it is 32 years since ‘The Badgers” success.

At times things have been desperate for French racing fans but their appetite for some home success in their race has never wavered. That hunger may soon be satisfied but the closest I have come to seeing a French Tour victory was in 2011 and the nearly man was Tommy Voeckler.

He was a popular but unlikely source for plenty of excitement on the roadsides during that Tour. After he wore the yellow jersey for 10 days in 2004 his high status among French fans was assured  for ever. Stage wins in 2009 and 2010 and his natural attacking style only added to his esteem. But his highest finish in the Tour de France was 18th, during that 2004 edition, and in his seven other entries in the race he never got close to the top 50. He wasn’t a GC man.

His reputation outside of France is a little more mixed. Some love him, some get feelings of angry annoyance as soon as they see him. He is old-school, not interested in heart-rate monitors and power files. He races on instinct which makes him entertaining to watch. But he also tries to be too entertaining at times. He loves it when there is a camera trained on him so he can show us through various facial expressions how he is feeling, desperate for the viewer to understand that though he is winning he is suffering terribly which makes what he is doing heroic. In the days before television races would be explained by reporters in the various newspapers. The days events would be told in epic terms, with the truth often embellished, to keep the reader interested. The character of Thomas Voeckler could easily have been lifted out of the pages of L’Auto.

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Giro 100. What? No Team Time Trial? And The 1912 Team Race.

2017 will be the second year in a row that there will be no Team Time Trial at the Giro d’Italia. This comes after a decade of them being a regular feature in one of the first five stages of the race. As someone who enjoys a team time trial I’m hoping they make a return in future editions. You used to be able to count on one being in the Giro and Tireno-Adriatico which was good as the Tour de France and shorter French stage races hardly ever bother with them.

I enjoy them for a number of reasons. Firstly, they are incredibly photogenic. Lines of colourful riders on shining TT bikes is to me top class bike porn. Watching the lines break up as the riders start rotating can also be quite mesmerising to watch. However you can quickly snap out of this meditative state as any rider who crashes will often take down a number of his teammates with him.

This sense of it being a team event is another thing I like about the team time trials. A rider with ambitions for the GC will only get the same time as his teams fifth fasted rider so everyone has to pull together. When they do it presents an opportunity for one of the lesser riders to get a great reward. Usually gregarios grind themselves down in service of their leader and have little to show for it. If their team wins the time trial though they can get given the chance to become race leader. In recent years Svein Tuft, Salvatore Puccio, Ramunas Navardauskas and Marco Pinotti have benefited from being allowed to be the first across the line of the fasted team thus donning the Maglio Rosa the next day.

There was one edition of the race where the riders finishing time contributed to who won the race in every single stage.

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Giro 100. The Giro Start in Sardinia.

Later on today the 100th running of the Giro d’Italia will start in Alghero on the island of Sardinia. As this is the centenary edition the race director Mauro Vegni wanted as many regions of Italy to be visited as possible. Sardinian cycling fans must be delighted as it will be only the 4th time that the race has come to the island. The first visit in 1961, which was the year the Giro was celebrating 100 years of Italian unification, saw a short short stage beginning and ending in Cagliari. It was another 30 years however till the riders returned. At least this time the islanders saw four stages (over three days) when Olbia staged the start of the race and there wasn’t as long a wait till the next sighting of the Maglia Rosa in 2007.

The fact that the Giro has only visited one of it’s regions four times seems odd, especially when you consider that the race has started in the Netherlands three time. This reason for this is mainly down to the North-South economic divide in Italy which shows increasing poverty levels as you head from the top of the boot, down towards the toe and over to the islands.

The Giro d’Italia was set up and run by the Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper which was located in Milan which meant many of the early editions started and ended in Milan. And as the race was created to publicise and increase sales of the newspaper much of the racing was at the top of the country. There has always been more money in the industrial North so the population would be more likely to buy newspapers.

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Ripwell Reports. What’s In The Jiffy Bag?

It has been almost three months since the Fancy Bears international hack team leaked the medical documents which showed Bradley Wiggins had received three highly questionable medical treatments during his days as a Grand Tour contender. It has been two months since the revelation of a potentially sinister package being transported across Europe by Team Sky employees. It seemed for a while that Wiggins and Sky’s worlds could come crashing down. The one man who could have helped the situation, David Brailsford, has remained fairly quiet, possibly wanting the whole thing to blow over. After a period of relative respite that tactic may have been working but things will start hotting up again as on Monday the 19th of December Brailsford will need to appear in front of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in Parliament.

With the story being quite a mess and so many unanswered questions I sent my undercover reporter, the well known historian and cyclist, Giles Ripwell on the case to summarise what has been going on and try to answer the what everyone wants to know.

Ripwell Reports. What’s In The Jiffy Bag?

It has been over a year since I last rubbed shoulders with the fellow going by the name of Mr Bradley Wiggins-Sir. I was riding for his side TEAM wiggins in the Tour de of Britain and remember having jolly good chats with him during the stages. Since then I hadn’t heard much from him. Apparently the British weather had finally got to much for him in his old age and he would only cycle on the indoors roads doing Olympic Pursuits. I thought he had forgotten his old pal Giles until he called me in July. He was very emotional and explained to me through sobs that the dastardly Mr Chris Froomes had won another yellow jersey. A couple of months later I heard from him again but this time he was in much better spirits. Jingos! He had won another Olympic gold medal and told me it was now Wiggo-Sir 5 FroomesDog 0. Since then, as you might have heard, he has been involved in a touch of controversy and I was sent on the case to find out was has been happening. I tried contacting him to see if he could give me any information but I was told that he’s only talking to his new best friend, some fellow going by the name of Mr Andrew Marr. So with Mr Wiggins-Sir gone quiet I had to figure out what has been happening myself.

The whole situation started in September when some Russian computer buffs started a fancy new website where you can go and look at medical files of athletes that have been in the Olympics. It caused quite a stir to begin with until everyone realised that most of the athletes medical information was stuff we already knew or contained information on drugs and medical practices which everyone has agreed for a while should be more tightly monitored. Unfortunately for Mr Bradley Wiggins-Sir his information was among that of a small group of people who’s information raised some alarm bells. Three of Wiggins-Sir’s courses of drugs looked highly suspicious and one of those was just before the Tour de France which he won against Mr Chris Froomes. I have complete faith in my good friend though and firmly believe that those drugs were taken for genuine medical reasons and not to enhance his performance. There would be no need for him to dishonestly take any drugs to win the race as I’ve been told of an unsavoury character calling himself Mr Sean Yaytes who would have brought harm to anyone trying to beat Mr Wiggins-Sir, including his team mate the scoundrel Mr Froomes.

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Digger and the Twitter Doperati.

Following any sport closely can be an emotional business for its fans. There can be highs but at times feelings of disappointment and anger will rise out of nowhere as you watch your football team lose a penalty shootout or you see an umpire makes a bad call against your favourite table tennis player. For fans of professional cycling things are slightly different. We get the same emotions but they often come a good time after the action has finished. There’s the disappointment that our favourite riders and their feats we’ve enjoyed have been aided by banned (and legal) substances and anger at the UCI, cycling’s governing body, for their inability to introduce the reforms that could help ensure fairer and safer competition. Although we encounter these feelings time and again we continue to follow the sport because it’s so entertaining. Because of this murky and frustrating history and the regular promises that things will change for the better three groups of cycling fan have emerged.

The largest of these combines are the ‘Optimistic Pessimists’. They still love the sport but watch things with a heavy dose of scepticism. They have been fooled in the past by cheating and don’t want it to happen again. Instead of celebrating an incredible performance the reaction is now “Mmm, not sure about that”. The UCI are still infuriating but in terms of racing things do seem to be changing ever so slightly. A few riders are now willing to speak out against doping instead of being part of the omerta which protects dopers and their feelings are that much of what they see during races seems to be credible. They watch racing in a different way now. As well getting immersed in the tactics and team dynamics, at the back of their minds they are analysing things to work out if what’s happening is believable and clean. It is obvious that doping still goes on at some level but they’re thankful that the eyebrow doesn’t get raised as often as before.

The eyebrows of are the two other sets of fans don’t move at all and they are very much at opposing sides of the “Who is doping and how much of it is going on” debate.

The first lot, the ‘Deniers’, are either gentle souls, who perhaps only follow a few races a year and are just not interested in whether doping happens, or diehards who will always defend their favourite rider or team against allegations of cheating no matter what actual evidence of malpractice is shown to them.

The last bunch of cycling fans are the Deniers sworn adversaries, though they actually make themselves enemies of anyone who doesn’t agree with them. This restless gang of ‘Truthers’ believe that everyone is on the juice and are very vocal about it. Instead of saying “Mmm’ not sure about that” their mantra is “Yep that’s dirty”. They spend plenty of time proselytising and will end up frustrated then angry if you’re not brought round to their way of thinking. Their arguments to back up their beliefs range from sarcastic coughs to elaborately formed concepts which contain ‘secret inside information’. Some say they resemble conspiracy theorists and I’ve even heard people call them a cult. If you use Twitter and follow cycling you will have seen them pop up on your feed from time to time. They are the Doperati and their illustrious leader is @Digger_forum.

Who is Digger?

My introduction to Digger came in 2011. It was the time of the federal investigation into Lance Armstrong which proved to be the prologue for the big mans fall from grace. Floyd Landis was the main witness in the case but was at that time still coming to terms with his own downfall as well being in the process of being investigated for computer hacking. There was also the question of the nearly $1 million raised for the ‘Floyd Fairness Fund’, money that I believed was donated by people being sold a lie. I decided to hit twitter to see what my 20 or so followers made of my opinion by suggesting that Landis perhaps wasn’t the most reliable of witnesses. Not long after I got a reply from someone who, if I remember right, was calling himself Big Tex Is Going To Jail or @Digger_forum for short. I was quite excited because he wasn’t one of my followers. “Wow” I thought, someone must really value my opinion. They’ve taken time to ‘engage’ with me. Dreams of commenting on pro cycling for a living flashed through my mind. Then I actually read the tweet:

“Charming” I thought. I tried to clarify my point but after becoming aware that my new acquaintance was arguing against a point which was different to the one I was trying to make I decided to finish things as it was becoming a waste of time.

As I became more familiar with twitter and started using it to follow professional cycling I set up a new cycling specific account (@JamesRannoch), mainly so my friends wouldn’t get annoyed by me adding pictures of men in Lycra to their timelines. I saw Digger get mentioned now and again and I occasionally dropped in on his profile and followed some of his ‘conversations’. He seemed to have some pretty extreme theories but to me it looked like were built out of suspicions which he was taking as fact. I didn’t disagree with everything he said, he raised and highlighted some important issues, but I held back from engaging with him when I did. It was obvious that there was no point in arguing with him because his mind wouldn’t be swayed by anyone else’s opinion. But the older I got, the grumpier I became and the less I was able to suffer him gladly. His infuriating debating style should have been scarring me away but it was drawing me into his world of accusations and innuendo. I started to become a little obsessed with disproving some of his more ridiculous theories. I felt that it was morally wrong throwing out proclamations about peoples integrity with flimsy evidence and cowardly to do so from behind an anonymous twitter handle. This would be fine if he was just prattling away in the corner of a pub somewhere because we could just nod or tut at the right moments but he was stating, as fact, things which could effect innocent people on public forums. There is also a fair amount of anger and venom whipped up among his followers and that anger and venom has been joined by spit and whatever else and is now getting directed at the condemned riders from the roadsides of the world. I’d had enough and ended up doing something I am not very proud of. I became a twitter troll. I was going to satirise this so called Digger and my shield of anonymity would be @Borer_forum.

First I tried to find out who this faceless keyboard warrior was, to see exactly what I was up against. There are many theories about his identity and background but after extensive research I could only find one reliable description of him and a photo which surfaced online a few years back.

Next I would employ my arguing skills to take apart all his theories. Unfortunately it didn’t take long for him to block me. There would be no late night debates about hidden motors as we smoked cigars. I wouldn’t receive scented jiffy bags containing long agonising letters about the differences between intramuscular and intravenous. I tried wooing him back with poetry…

….but alas, to no avail.

So I was reduced to taking incessant screen-grabs, much like the great man himself, of his more ridiculous tweets and posting them to the Borer account. Very quickly I found that following him so closely wasn’t good for my blood pressure and general happiness so I decided I would write a blog about Digger, put Borer into retirement and enjoy my life again. This has taken a lot longer than I’d hoped for thanks to the Fancy Bears but here’s what I found:

(Some of the screen grabs are straight off his time line so read from the bottom to the top.)

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Giles Ripwell from the final stage.

Stage 8. London to London.

My recap of the final stage of the Tour de of Britain comes a day late. TEAM wiggins had cause to celebrate after the end as our rider, a certain Mr Owen Doull finished third overall and ended up on, what they call in cycling competitions, ‘The Podium’. And by by jingos! Mr Wiggins-Sir can party! He introduced me to a concoction called a ‘Yager Bomber’ and after 2 of them I was quite worse for wear!
The route went round and round and round London taking in many of the tourist structures of the town. As well as piccadilly circus, now closed after revelations of cruelty to some of its performing animals, we went passed Whitehall, The Strand and The Trafalgar Square. The Trafalgar Square commemorates a decisive battle in the Boer War won by the British army lead by a sea-faring fellow called Mr Horatio Nelsan. A nearby statue, called Nelsans column, was built to honour him and it is one of the biggest erections in London.
Mr Bradley Wiggins-Sir told me that he won an Olympic gold medal in London and made sure I was aware that Mr Chris Froom had never won a medal of any description.
Eli Viviani won the stage after my good friend Andrew Greipel was disqualified and Eddie Bosan-Haggen won the competition overall.

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Tour of Britain report from Giles Ripwell.

Stage 7. Fakenham to Ipswich.

Today saw us ride through Suffolk and Norfolk known as the farming capital of England. The area produced the food for the Pharaoh’s of the country in the olden age. The gradual undulations in the terrain had quite a calming effect on me and I was about to dirft off as we passed near Banham Zoo when, ?!What the blinking jingos are those furry things looking this way and that?! I decided to ask the animal expert of the peleton, a German chap going by the name of Herr Andrew ‘the gorilla’ Greipel what they were. He told me that they’re called mere cats. When I enquired after their unsettling neck movements  he told me, in his best English I’m sure, “They are pray to other animals”. They should probably dispense with such superstitious nonsense and remain stiff necked like the rest of us! Mr Wiggins-Sir told me that Mr Froom used to feed cute little mere cats to his pet snake when he was younger.
The finish town of Ipswich is the birthplace of one Mr Geoffrey Chaucer said to be the inspiration of modern day novelist and nobel prize for literature winner Mr E.L.James.
The man I mentioned before, Herr Greipel, won the stage and Mr Hagen still leads overall.

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Stage 3. Cockermouth to Kelso.

Stage 3. Cockermouth to Kelso.

Today we went from Cockermouth to Kelso. The less said about the start town the better don’t you think? It sounds like some of the words Mr Wiggins-Sir has been calling Mr Froome! Soon after leaving that place we passed the house of famous new romantic lyricist William Wordsworth and headed for Carlisle. Before going into Scotland the route roughly followed the path of a wall built by a roman gentleman going by the name of Adrian in the late 20’s. With concerns about the local salmon population, and some knowledge of walls, I asked fellow rider and fish expert, a certain Mr Taylor Finney, whether there was a fish ladder on Adrian’s Wall. He said, wuite abruptly “That’s a damn wall you’re thinking of”. “Well this is a ruddy well wall!” was my reply. Honesty, the language in the peleton is straight from the gutter at times. After a few small climbs late on the stage finished at Floors Castle which was originally built as a Quick Step showroom by one Mr Patrick Lefevre when he took some time off from blaming other people from his teams woes.
Eli Viviani won the stage, his second, and John Lobato took the overall lead after Pete Vucak crashed late on.

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Stage 2. Clitheroe to Colne.

Today’s stage took place mainly in the Pendle district of England. Famous for its mint cake, Pendle is also known for ‘The Pendle Witch Trials’ know locally as ‘The Race of Truth’. This quite macabre tale tells of 10 local folk being found guilty of practicing witchcraft! Pah, it’s all hocus pocus if you ask me! Seriously though, Mr Bradley Wiggins-Sir said that Mr Chris Froomes good wife should have probably be tried as a witch. By jingos! What a way to talk about a lady!
The day had three climbs. The first, called Nick O’Pendle, was where a certain Mr Chris Boardman won the national hill climb championships in 1988 and the last was named Pendle Big End in his honour.
After yesterday’s victory for Eli Viviani I decided to ask one of his team mates what were the reasons for Team Sky’s  recent successes. He told me it was because there was no I in Team Sky, and then muttered something about “since Paris Roubaix”.
The finish town of Colne is famous for its cotton industry as the climate is perfect for the growing of cotton.
Peter Vakoc of EQS won the stage, John Lobato was second and Edward Bosan Hagen of MTNQ was third. Vakoc leads the GC.

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