How does a man even consider the notion of pedalling 3,360km around France as fast as his legs will take him? Twenty-one stages, one after the other, with only two days to rest throughout. Even though he may be a professional cyclist, the three weeks ahead of him are the lofty zenith of his métier. Does not the very idea of the challenge to come leave him quivering with fear? There will be crosswinds and cobbles, and that’s before the Pyrenees and Alps, truly a daunting prospect. Pressure, tension, sacrifice, risk and survival: he’ll face all of these in the pursuit of a moment’s glory.
Consider these brave men. Sinewy greyhounds honed for purpose, most look as fragile as the carbon fibre bikes they ride. Yet their toughness is unquestioned. Each day will bring a new test in torturous effort and the courage required to face it, over 21 étapes fraught with the dangers of crashes, punctures or, worse, not having the legs. Cruel fate, that.
Stand on the roadsides in France this July and their eyes will tell you everything. You can read their courage in their glazed looks as they pass by at 45kph. Go up into the mountains, and look them in the eyes on a climb, and that story is told more vividly still. It’s one that your television can’t fully convey; the mounting exhaustion as the kilometres accumulate and the riders fight a battle to keep going or give up. In these thousand-yard stares you’ll see the power of man being expended, pedal stroke by pedal stroke, onto the road beneath. ‘He left it all on the road,’ they say. All of it, every single ounce of coiled purpose.
Even when the riders know they are at their limits, they’ll push for more. A risky descent, an attack from afar or a gamble in the sprint. We may never fully understand what drives them but we can applaud their spirit and panache.
To wish them ‘good luck’ in the language of the host nation – bon courage – you aren’t conferring luck, but courage. After all, luck is the result of the courage within you. At the Grand Départ, 198 cyclists will look deep within themselves as they stand on the start line. Each man will have his own hopes and dreams for what is to come. Some of them will be experienced giants of the road – not that it ever gets any easier – and a talented few will try to stand atop the podium. Most will simply try to survive until Paris. So we say to them all: ‘Courage, cyclistes!’ You will need it.
The first week of the Tour has shown tremendous acts of bravery and determination. Now we’d like you to share your acts of courage with us. What will challenge you this weekend if you’re riding or racing? A climb? A corner? The weather?
Share your stories with us on Instagram using the hashtag #CourageCyclistes, and when the Tour comes to an end, a panel of judges including guest photographers will choose the best images to be featured in an exhibition..