The Way After – Day #6

Today’s route is from Zubiri to Pamplona. A distance of 21.1km.

Famous for the Festival of San Firmin and the ‘running of the bulls’, the city is the largest place and population along the Camino route.

San Fermin, or Saint Fermin, is one of the two Patron Saints of  Pamplona – the other being San Francis Xavier – who died in 303AD. One legend has it that his death was due to being dragged along the street by a bull, but this was unlikely to have been in the city itself.

Just before entering Pamplona is a village called Villava. 

This was the birthplace of five-times Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain.

He was a huge cycling hero of mine, along with Laurent Fignon and Gianni Bugno.

During or after his initial treatment – I can’t remember which – Sando got bitten by the ‘Brompton Bicycle’ bug. I couldn’t work out if he was more taken by the idea of the bike folding up or that there was a bag to put it in?

He had a number of forays out upon the roads once he had purchased one, but his pinnacle was taking part in a Brompton race in London.

It may not have been running with the bulls in Pamplona, but it was certainly more technical than motor racing with a Le Mans-style start, which in this case was unfolding your bike before setting off on the route.

He may not have won, but neither did the ‘bulls’ catch up with him.

He had made it past that first Christmas – which had been given to him as an event which he was unlikely to celebrate – and he fully intended to stay ahead of any further medical predictions.

His was ‘on the Way’.

It may not have been the route he had been expecting to travel, but he did not hesitate in passing through Pamplona and continuing the journey.

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 16.

The final week of the Tour has begun. The end is near. Expectations of a French victor – Alaphilippe or Pinot – has the home crowd on a high, but there is still plenty of opportunity for the non-French riders in the top six on GC. Team Ineos had two possible winners, with one being Geraint Thomas last year’s winner.

This stage is Nimes to Nimes. The last opportunity for sprinters before the Champs-Elysees. 177km with only one 4 Cat climb, so there will be breakaways but they are unlikely to stay away, despite those riders being very unlikely to be a GC threat.

The end of any long project can be full of mixed emotions. There is the anticipation and desire for the end, but also apprehension at the end of the routine you’ve made part of your life. You may feel that you have exceeded expectation, or that you have missed opportunities and could have done better. However, looking back you will acknowledge that you have completed a ‘Tour’ and that in itself will be a major accomplishment.

Stage Summary:

177km – Nimes to Nimes.

Caleb Ewan taking his second stage victory of this year’s Tour, coming from a long way back but making it looking convincing on the line, Breakaways did come but the riders were most 2 hours down on the GC standings, so were allowed their TV time, but the sprinters weren’t keen to give them too much of a lead. In the end they were hauled back in with just under 3k left.

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Rest Day 2.

This rest day was full of anticipation for the next five days of racing. Many commentators calling this the most open Tour probably since 1989.

Would Alaphilippe’s charisma fade as France’s maillot jaune hope only to be replaced by the mercurial Thibaut Pinot? Were Team Ineos a thing of the past along and would Geraint Thomas be usurped by the younger Egan Bernal, with the race moving into the high Pyrenees? Then what of the other riders in the top six on GC going quietly about their business, were they as serious as contenders as their times to Alaphilippe suggested?

The Tour is a bike race and a soap opera. There is all the gear and plenty of ‘oh no he won’t’ and ‘oh yes he will’. There are the riders you like to hiss at – or if you are a French supporter then you probably throw something which rhymes with hiss at Tour leaders – and the riders you like to cheer. The showman, like Sagan, and the quiet winners of the day, like Simon Yates. The glitz and glamour of famous people at the stage starts and finishes. The speed and the spills.

When the second rest day comes you know there is only a few days left of one of the greatest sports events in the world, so you better make the most of it.

What will you do in August?

No live stages, no highlight shows, no podcasts, no daily articles, a final review in the next cycling magazine, and like the Tour caravan itself, it all gets packed up until the same time next year.

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 14.

The Tour has its own heritage and legends not only in the riders of the peloton but also in the stages themselves. The HC – haut category – climbs are essentially marked as ‘beyond classification’ and are largely where the Tour de France is won or lost. The Col du Tourmalet is one of these famous HC climbs, at 19km long with an average of 7.4% – the last 3kms having gradients of 10.9%, 7.2%, and 9.8%.

As creatives we have these legends of HC’s in our field of creativity. There is the history and the stories which we learn, and fear or embrace, and against which we inevitably must test ourselves.

On The Cycling Podcast, Francois Thomazeau made the point that team Ineos appeared to be losing their control over the race and they were now not the emphatic force that they have been in the past. He further surmised that other key Tour teams have suffered a similar fate around seven years into their dominance, e.g. Banesto with Pedro Delgado and Miguel Indurain, United Postal with Lance Armstrong, and now Team Ineos with Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas.

Interestingly, these observations come after the general pundit predictions of Thomas winning the time trial stage and Alaphilippe most likely to drop off the pace on the Tourmalet. Okay, Thomas came second in the time trial and faded in the last kilometre on the Tourmalet, but also add into this that Chris Froome isn’t there – if he was here and in form then it would be difficult not to see him comfortably be in Yellow and with a decent lead. Suddenly Team Ineos wouldn’t seem so passé.

Stage Summary:

117.5km – Tarbes to Tourmalet Bareges.

Julian Alaphilippe has now got riders and pundits changing their opinions of him after today’s stage. Thibaut Pinot suddenly shot out of obscurity in this year’s Tour to justify his pre-race status as a possible podium placing. The maillot jaune came in 2nd and took further time out of Geraint Thomas. A shorter stage for this Tour but plenty of fireworks from the peloton, perhaps countering the organiser’s thinking that the longer stages were needed to make the racing more interesting. Short and punchy, making everyone go earlier, seems to have created much more of a spectacle. Chapeau to Alaphilippe for the defence of his leader’s jersey.

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 13.

Individual time-trial day. Possibly a key stage to set the tone for the GC contenders before going into the high mountains. Not a long stage or even a long time trial for that matter, but then the Tour has seemed to stay away from 50km plus time-trials since 5 times winner Miguel Indurain took 5+ minutes and more out of most of his rivals on such stages.

The ability to focus, and hurt, on an individual TT is a characteristic of all great Tour riders. Sure team radio and instructions from the team car following you all help keep you on track, but if you can’t find that will power from within, then too much can go wrong. As creatives – if you want your work to be more than a pastime – then you have to find that focus, drive, and ability to push you past the point where you would usually give in.

Focus and Push on through what is in front of you, or lose focus and become distracted, failing to achieve.

Stage Summary:

27.2km – Pau to Pau

De Gent set the early time standard which stood after many of the GC preferred riders had passed through. As expected Geraint Thomas’ times were very good and kept him in the front through the first time check, until Alaphilippe passed the same marker and had his nose in front, Thomas did put time into all of his other rivals but he actually lost time to the Maillot Jaune rider.

Day 435 – The Saturday Answer.

So The Friday Question was What single thing/event would ‘supercharge’ your creative exploits?

In thinking of the question I was influenced by the exploits of current Tour de France leader Julian Alaphilippe. He is a great rider, currently No.1 in the World Rankings, but he is seen as a one-day and short tour specialist. His lead in the greatest cycle race in the world is definitely benefiting from the mysterious powers wearing the leader’s Maillot Jaune – the Yellow Jersey – can bestow upon a rider. Whether is is that extra bit of confidence, or the thought of losing it makes you dig a bit deeper, it does push the rider wearing it to new places.

So, my answer?

Having a separate writing space. A space where I essentially ‘clock’ in and out. A place where the focus is the work of writing and there aren’t other easy distractions. A place where projects are planned and scheduled for completion.

What was yours?

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 12.

Today the Tour began, passed through, the area of Bagatelle which is an extremely deprived area of Toulouse. As part of a programme to give inspiration and direction to its young people a group were taken to see a stage of the Tour. They loved it and decided that they wanted a day of the race to begin/finish/go through their neighbourhood. Ten years of petitioning the Tour organisers paid off.

Despite the great ride from Yates and the huge breakaway which paved the way for those last three riders contesting the finish, most of the post-stage conversations revolved around the next time-trial stage, which according to the predictions will have Geraint Thomas in Yellow and Team Ineos firmly in charge of the Tour.

I’m sure that Thomas would see the stage as one he could tip his hat towards and gain time back from the current leader, but maybe they would want to leave Alaphilippe hanging out in front by a whisker and forcing his team to shoulder some of the burden of controlling the breakaways in the higher mountain stages to come.

Stage Summary:

209.5km – Toulouse to Bagneres-de-Bigorre.

Simon Yates winning from a breakaway which was whittled down from about forty to just three riders. He rode the last few km perfectly, took to the front for the last corner, and went all out to the line. Yates has now won stages in all three Grand Tours. Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe is still in Yellow, and there must be a growing sense of anticipation that he could just hang on for a triumpantal entry into Paris on Stage 23.

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 11.

Like the anticipation of any big event, the few days before are nervous and conservative. In a bike race like the Tour de France all of the GC favourites become chess players, mindful and trying to think ahead as many moves as they are able. The difference being their eventual execution of those moves will rely on their physical capabilities to match their intellectual efforts.

Any creative mind embarked upon a project will exhibit similar tendencies. There is a natural state of anticipation, nerves, euphoria, a sense of what might have been if only we had done this or that. There is a flow and ebb. We need to recognise this and react accordingly.

I’ve written already about preparation and scheduling. We are on a journey, like the Tour. Mountains and flats. Sprints and individual races against the clock.

Caleb Ewan has been there or there abouts on pretty much all the stages where there has been a main group sprint. Up until now he has not had the ‘luck’. Still he has persisted. That persistence paid off today. He is a young rider who had to leave his wife and newborn child, still in the hospital, to go to the Tour. He has a job and that dictates your life at times. I am sure he will dedicate that stage win to his wife and daughter.

Creativity can be a career or a hobby. For one you have to make sacrifices, for the other you can easily place it to one side. If you are pursuing the former it can be difficult to make that transition from the latter. Like Caleb Ewan, this is where persistence brings you the win.

Stage Summary:

167km – Albi to Toulouse.

A 4th Cat and a a 3rd Cat climb, so generally should be a sprinters’ day.

Caleb Ewan took his first major tour stage win with a good sprint from a long way out. He held onto the right wheels and made it across the line to take his first major tour, let alone his first Tour de France stage, win. The French are still cheering on Julian Alaphilippe in the Maillot Jaune. Interestingly, the French seem to be holding out for Thibaut Pinot, but evert Tour commentator which mentions him immediately follows it up with the assertion that he does not have the mental edge to win the Tour. It has been a long time sine Bernard Hinault last won the race in 1985, and maybe the French are used to wanting to win so are banking on Pinot, or probably won’t win, because they don’t know what to do if a Frenchman does actually win it.

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 10.

Commentators have been expressing the view of how invisible team Ineos seem to have been during the start of this Tour. Today’s stage showed them at the fore and how destructive they can be – admittedly with the help of Bora-Hansgrohe – and the GC contenders blew apart. Quintana is now Geraint Thomas’ closest threat.

The ITV Tour podcast were singing the praises, quite rightly, of Wout van Aert who won the stage. This is one of the great aspects of professional cycling, no matter who the favourites are, or who is leading the Tour itself, there comes to the front a rider who you just have to sit back and admire for their efforts and tenacity, and generally for being just such a decent bloke.

Interestingly the bible of cycling in the UK – Cycling Weekly – listed the impact of today’s stage on the Yellow Jersey as 2 out of 5. I think the revision of this in the stage report will jump that up to at least 4 out of 5.

I wrote the stage summary before I wrote this paragraph but decided to leave it as it was – I was right Team Ineos had checked out the crosswinds at the back end of the race. Radio 5 Live’s podcast Bespoke revealed that Team Ineos mastermind Sir Dave Brailsford had been spotted riding the last 60km or so of the course the morning of the stage.

In any walk of life commitment is rightly touted as one of the prime ingredients necessary to be successful. This is perfectly shown in the example of Sir Dave Brailsford above. He is the guy at the top but he does the work on the road as well. As Creatives can we hold our hands up to the same level of commitment? Were we binge watching series 8 of GOT or researching our latest/next project? Did we sketch or write for that ten minutes we were in the waiting room or flick through magazines which were three years old?

Stage Summary:

217.5km – Saint-Flour to Albi.

I’m sure that Team Ineos will have checked the weather for the stage and the crosswinds around that last Cat 3 climb, as suddenly the whole of the team appeared at the front, had a chat with Peter Sagan, and then worked with Bora to really split the field apart. Alaphilippe showed his character, proving he is a worthy wearer of the Maillot Jaune, by putting a turn or two on the front of help things along. Then a hotly contested sprint which looked to have gone Viviani’s way until van Aert pushed his bike forward that extra inch.

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 9.

France’s national day – known generally to us as Bastille Day – known to the French as 14th Jolliet, as the Bastille was a prison in Paris and not specifically relevant to the rest of France, despite the history books linking it with the revolution.

14th Jolliet is day of family and celebrations and, if you are in the right area, sitting by the roadside waiting for the Tour to pass by.

This year the French will be that little bit happier maybe, as the Maillot Jaune is currently on the back of a Frenchman in Julian Alaphilippe, and most likely he will pull that jersey on again on the podium at the end of the stage.

This has already been mentioned but there is some consternation in the nation about the lack of home rider finishing atop the podium at the end of the greatest bike race in the world.

Understandable.

However, one of the ways in which this problem is attempting to be resolved is through the organisers trying to engineer the stages of the Tour to suit French riders. This seems like backwards logic as the race is then being designed to suit the riders’ performance at the previous edition.

It would make more sense to help French cycling, in general, to develop the talent in riders and sports directors, much as with the developments in GB cycling.

I have little knowledge of the great French cultural icons for their National Day – I wonder if it is the same as our impression? Cyclists like Bernard Hinault and Laurent Fignon. Impressionist painters, like Monet, Gaughan, and Degas. Classical composers like Bizet and Ravel, and modern musicians like Jean-Michel Jarre. Writer, Marc Levy. A number of actors, like Marion Cotillard, Sophie Marceau, Audrey Tatou, and Jean Reno. Buildings like Norte Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and Versailles. Fashion icons like Coco Chanel, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Yves Saint Laurent.

Stage Summary:

170.5km – Saint-Etienne to Brioude.

14 man breakaway with only 2 Frenchmen in it, but having Alaphilippe in Yellow probably placed less expectation on the other riders to get out and be in the public eye. There seems to be less dominant teams this year with only 3 or 4 riders from the same team getting on the front and controlling/lifting the pace. It is difficult to know if this is because the teams are weak from the make up of the riders, or if there is a specific change in tactics. Pete Kennagh seems to think that a couple of the Ineos riders are struggling for form and it does seem strange not to see the familiar train of Team Sky/Ineos on the front controlling matters. Maybe this is the problem, the other Director-Sporteiffs came to the race thinking changing in team name but it will be the same playbook. The possibility of course is to keep riders hidden away until the big mountain stages, which might possibly be borne out by how quickly Ineos riders brought Geraint Thomas back to the main bunch on yesterday’s stage. They took a big turn and then dropped back saving energy. The other key GC teams might be doing likewise or possibly have been caught out with the change in tactics.