DEPENDING in which era you were born the following names may mean something to you;
Fausto Coppi, Jaques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Tom Simpson, Miguel Indurain, Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche, Greg Lemond, Lawrence Fignon, Chris Boardman, Graeme Obree, Sir Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas. These men are considered as the giants of cycling.
As a boy growing up I have seen most of them grace the TV screen during summer months and often gone off on the roads around West Wales to emulate what they might have been going through as they powered across the countryside of France in blazing heat. I attempted the biggest climbs I could find in West Wales going out early in the morning and covering around 130 miles as a lone figure dressed in the team colours of Colnago on a bicycle as close to lightweight as those times would allow. These were the 1980’s when cycling was not the mass popular sport it has become today in Wales. It really was the poor relation when it came to Top Trumps compared to rugby players or footballers.
It was a sheer delight to catch any coverage at all on television. Usually the highlights on Channel 4 but it was enough to motivate and inspire more riding and more pain. Everyone has their favourite from their era of cycling. Mine were Stephen Roche, Sean Kelly, Pedro Delgado and Miguel Indurain. I remember being in tears as Stephen Roche topped La Plagne and collapsed. Thankfully Roche recovered and went on to win the 1987 Tour de France.
Cycling has become a massive growth industry and is now as popular as any sport in Wales. Who could have imagined that a young Welshman would come along and set the country alight with his wonderful win in this year’s Tour de France?
The two Team Sky riders battled it out and there was huge speculation amongst the pundits as to who should take the lead role. Chris Froome was the number 1 contender who was destined to win again. As Geraint came ever closer to demonstrating his ability to win the tour there must have been dilemmas circulating within the team management. There was a desperate desire from the media to get inside the head of Sir David Brailsford for a definitive answer. Was Geraint the man to win and for Froome to support now? His answer was that Sky had not one but two possible winners within its ranks. The rest is history. Chris appeared to lose some form and suffered from a couple of incidents, which cleared the way for Geraint to go on an win in such a dignified and masterful manner. The tour was marred with the abuse Chris Froome suffered. In what other sport would this be acceptable? Throwing urine, a physical attack at one point and unmentionable expletives hurled in his direction as he gave his all. This was the ugly side of cycling and something we hope never to see again.
Geraint’s homecoming in Cardiff was electric. Every man woman, child and their dog turned out with Geraint stating that he believed that only a few people would turn up. The announcement that he was to ride in this year’s Tour of Britain was a welcome one, not least because the start of the tour was on home soil so to speak.
Never in a million years would this writer have believed that one day these giants of the road would be gracing the roads of Carmarthenshire. The champions of champions in the cycling fraternity whizzing along Pembrey flats, powering up Bethlehem hill and topping the Brecon Beacons. Even more surreal was to be unknowingly driving behind the Bentley of Sir David Brailsford on a hill in Llanelli. It was only when we parked almost side by side that I realised the identity of the driver. A quick chat resulted in an arranged interview with the man who has masterminded the tour wins for Sir Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas. Life doesn’t get much better.
Oh but it does. While waiting for Sir David both Froome and Thomas made an appearance. Here they both were larger than life, two of the greatest cyclists of this decade here in my hometown. What an absolute honour to meet them both and witness how gracious they were in posing for pics with some youngsters.
As the cyclists make their way through this lovely scenery we have on our doorsteps on Sunday they will no doubt hear cheers of encouragement and support whichever team they ride for, whichever country they represent. After all, each and every one of them is a giant in cycling or they would not be in the peleton.
True to his word Sir David Brailsford appeared for an interview. As unexpected as it was it was an absolute pleasure to finally meet the man behind Team Sky.