ECHO reporter Ryan Goad is a massive Tour de France fan. We sent him down to Chelmsford as the Tour passed through Essex on stage three to get his views on the amazing spectacle.
I WAS just six years old when I first became addicted to the Tour de France.
Every year since then I’ve had 21 days a year where I’ve managed to get my fix of what is the biggest annual sporting event in the world.
I’ve come to know almost every area of France from the Tour, I’ve seen some of the best sporting drama of my life during those weeks in July when the Tour takes over. But only ever on television.
I’d always thought I’d have to travel to France to see the race live. Never in a million years did I expect the race would come to me, that I would get to see the riders thread their way through my own home county.
Well it did yesterday, and I’m still pinching myself that I was there to see it.
I can pinpoint the day the addiction started, July 22 1987 and the 21st stage of that year’s Tour when Stephen Roche produced one of those awe-inspiring, unforgettable moments that only sport can give you.
The Irishman and the eventual winner of that year’s Tour looked to have blown his chances of the Yellow Jersey when his main rival Pedro Delgado rode away from him on the Alpine climb of La Plagne.
He had been completely lost by the cameramen and commentators until a figure was spotted just metres behind Delgado as they reached the summit and finish line.
“Just who is that man coming up from behind?” Questioned commentator Phil Liggett – who was the voice of ITV’s coverage of yesterday’s stage through Essex – in a piece of commentary that has gone down in legend. “It’s Stephen Roche, it’s Stephen Roche,” he screamed frantically as the grainy pictures became clearer.
Roche then collapsed on top of the mountain and had to be given oxygen as his exertions, his sheer will to win the Yellow Jersey forced his body to the very brink.
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And that was it for me. I was a full-blown addict. I was only six too, sat in a front room in Basildon watching this amazing, quintessentially French piece of sporting drama with my dad, my mind suitably blown.
Since then I’ve watched every Tour without fail. Every year it has got more popular in this country. I know this from a very simple formula – there’s just more people to talk about it with.
During the early years I couldn’t find anyone to talk about this slightly idiosyncratic, very French sporting event. Boy has that changed. You’d struggle to find anyone in Essex who didn’t want to talk about the race yesterday!
Now it has become so popular that our county turned into a little corner of France for the day yesterday, as thousands of Essex folk lined the route to get a glimpse of the riders. It was both a surreal and a real snapshot of how far cycling in this country has come.
I was in Chelmsford as the riders swept past – first the two breakaway riders Jan Barta and Jean-Marc Bideau and then the rest of the peloton – and OK, it may not have had the drama of being on one of the Alpine passages or beside the cobbles in northern France, but it was special because it was the Tour de France in my home county and I never thought I’d say that.
The crowds were 15 to 20 rows deep at some points and ranged from the very young to the very old, from hardcore cycling fans to those experiencing the sport for the first time.
And given the amount of children on the road-side yesterday, you would think cycling in this country can only get bigger still.
But the Tour de France is more than just cycling, it’s a sporting endeavour that every sportsperson can relate to.
I never got into cycling competitively, running was more my thing as a kid. But what the Tour de France taught me, what the riders taught me, was that you will never succeed at anything unless you push yourself to the absolute maximum. Until every little bit of effort has been squeezed out of your body.
That applies to every sport and if even a few of the children watching by the roadside yesterday become hooked on the Tour like I did, and realise that sporting truth, then the next time the Tour comes back to these shores we may well have a few of the Essex generation of 2014 in the peloton to cheer on.
Stephen Roche's amazing comeback on La Plagne in 1987