Welcome to Exhibit A, the death of cycling which was the 1950 Tour. Successive Italian wins, by Fausto Coppi and the old curmudgeon Gino Bartali, had unleashed a wave of you-know-what amongst the natives. Achille Joinard, the (new, French) president of the UCI, had inherited a “sport in crisis”, and promised to upend the applecart. Before the race a meeting had been convened, with all eleven teams and a gaggle of influential journalists invited to attend. The teams were advised that riding as… well… teams was no longer permissible. Instead they were to compete, unfathomably, as single entities. There would be no tactics, no domestiques and, with the exception of trying to win the thing, no common purpose. Rather they would conduct themselves as men who just happened to be taking part in the same race and who happened to have nationality, off-the-bike fellowship and a jersey in common. The Italians saw it for what it was – infantile sloganeering. They helped themselves (and one another) to stages two, three, five, seven, nine and eleven.
When they installed one of their own, Fiorenzo Magni, into yellow, the dam of French hauteur broke spectacularly and definitively. A fanatic assaulted Bartali near the summit of the Aspin, whereupon he, a double Tour winner, cut expertly off his countrymen’s noses to spite French faces. The Italians left the race forthwith, the Swiss Ferdi Kübler galloped into Paris with the maillot jaune, and the Tour was left looking not a little ridiculous.
(In the event the sport didn’t die, and the mob never quite managed to reinvent it. What they did reinvent, over time, was Gino Bartali, public enemy number one. That, in case you missed it, is entirely the point. He was the blueprint for Froome, and these days he’s Righteous Amongst the Nations. He’s the saviour of Italian Jewry, because history will have its way).
Welcome to the 1964 Tour de France, won by another of the Froomes. The mob had Jacques Anquetil down as a thoroughgoing wrong ‘un; arrogant, greedy, almost completely devoid of feeling. He so ran the gauntlet in defeating Raymond Poulidor, the housewives’ choice, that he felt it necessary to recluse himself from the 1965 edition. To Jacques’ immense delight Felice Gimondi won that Tour, with Poulidor second. Jacques is long gone now, but the utter tedium of the Tours he won has long been reimagined. It transpires his reign of terror wasn’t so abject after all, but rather the high watermark of the French pastoral. Jacques was the greatest, and the venom of the roadside public nought but playful jousting.