Sunday, July 24, 2011

Waltzing Matilda

It's an Australian winning the Tour de France for the first time ever. Just got off the telly watching the final stage of one of the most gripping of races for many a year. On a bright sunny day in Paris, against the wonderful backdrop of the Champs-Élysées, the sight of Cadel Evans winning the Tour de France was a moment to savour.

Apologies to the readers who are not sports fans, for the second consecutive sporting post. But this was a special race and a special result that I simply can't resist posting about. The Tour de France is the world's premier cycling race. Has been so for 100 years. It is run over 3400 kms and in 22 days. One of the greatest endurance events in the world. On flat stages, cyclists clock average speeds of 50 kmph. Steep climbs have to be negotiated and on the descent, crazy speeds of 90 kmph are reached. The majesty of the towering mountains of the Alps and the Pyrenees provide the backdrop. As does the beautiful French countryside. And some gripping sporting action.

Alas, for the last few years, cycling as a sport has been hit by massive doping. Almost every rider seemed to be doping and many a big name got caught and banned. The sport seemed virtually doomed. But this year, the Tour de France was almost dope free - only one rider got thrown out. Speeds came down and it was an open open race. Any one of 6 or 7 could have won it , virtually until the penultimate day. Extremely competitive it was and every day had a plot with the outcome  not certain till Saturday's penultimate stage. Stirring stuff.

The sport seems to be dominated by Europeans. A few Latin Americans are seen. No African or Asian even rides the race. The Amercians have a peculiar situation - not many ride the race, but two great winners in the past - Greg LeMond, and the sainted Lance Armstrong, have been peerless and flown the flag for America. But the Spaniards, the Belgians, the French, the Italians, the Germans and the Dutch are seen all over the race.

But today , it was a day for Australia. Cadel Evans, almost the only Australian cyclist of note, won the Tour at last. He had finished second twice before. He is 34 and old in the sport. His time seemed to have past. But not this time.  He was very brave in Alps and his performance on Thursday and Friday was majestic. But he still wasn't in the lead going into Saturday's time trial. How he blew them away and won it with a supreme effort, will be the story of this year's Tour.

Australia may not go mad tonight, but overjoyed it surely will be. Its a great sporting nation, full of heroes. But even in that elite company, the achievement of Cadel Evans is something special. Australia is not a powerhouse in this sport and by sheer grit and dedication, and after so many disappointments, Cadel stands on top of the world on one of sport's greatest theaters.

Can I hear the strains of Waltzing Matilda in the background ?