After the Gold Rush

Photos: Joe Hall

The morning after the greatest race of the year offers riders time for reflection – but not much. Tom Southam looks ahead to what remains of the racing season.

The lobby of the Hotel Concorde La Fayette in Paris is an interesting place the morning after Chris Froome’s victory on the Champs-Élysées, the epicentre of the hangover that inevitably hits the cycling world after the biggest race of the year.

Riders, in different states of exhaustion drift around, some with their wives and children, happy perhaps to be reunited at last, some wearing the pained mask of men who have celebrated too much. Some appear in their team clothes, others appear in their own off-duty civvies. A healthy sunburnt glow of three weeks manual labor in France is yet to arrive on these rider’s faces, instead their deeply ingrained fatigue gives them the air of men shuffling out of a field hospital, thankful that the war is finally over.

Rider’s suitcases are left piled up and unattended, waiting for their owners to come and collect them. A timely reminder those three weeks of being waited on hand and foot are gone. Before the riders can work out their destiny, they must pass through this lobby. Every time the lift doors open, the same burning question arises: What now? As the riders walk out of this lobby, and dodge the last remaining autograph hunters, the rest of the year has to be faced.

For those who’ve been under the greatest pressure, this is a chance to step off the gas. To them, the passage across the corridor leads to a more relaxed end of the season: enjoy some family time, a few drinks with friends, and take whatever racing is left in their stride for the next month at least.

For other riders though, the end of the Tour means the start of something else – there are plenty of big races (and UCI points) left this season, and the form that three weeks of suffering will bring them still needs to be put to use. For these battered athletes the door that leads towards the Place de La Concorde is a different kind of release. Freed of the Tour de France, they look to go forth and seek glory elsewhere.

For many, the first appointment will have been the Clasica Ciclista San Sebastian, the first of the Summer Classics. Unlike the Spring Classics or those in the autumn, the summer versions have always struggled to gain the attention of those big one day races that bookend the season. Regardless of this, the races carry their fair share of UCI points, and will be strongly contested by those riders who’ve managed to carry form through from the Tour.

For the stage racers, both the Tour of Poland and the Eneco Tour have grown in importance recently. And those who missed out on the Tour have to knuckle down and do their job. Seeing how Wiggins responds to the success of his teammate and countryman Chris Froome could be the most exciting part of the Polish race, and the media will be out in force to document his every move.

For others the post-Tour criteriums are the main draw. A little-known rider can earn up to a year’s salary in the two weeks of racing, while the big guns can earn a little-known rider’s entire annual salary in a night. As such even the riders who are desperate for a rest after the Tour’s star has burst are keen to attend.

Before any of the real action can happen though, the light of the dead star that is the Tour de France casts a trail that every rider will think about following. Most riders are also enticed by the fact that the criteriums/ kermesses are little more than exhibition events, with predetermined results, attacks and ‘drama.’ Make no mistake though, the criteriums are hard, if only for the logistics of attending races all over the low countries as soon as 24 hours after the closing ceremony in Paris.

As a result, those riders who know that a fat wallet or money for a new kitchen is more important than the remaining races will be staying with the circus for as long as possible. Something like a Disneyland Tour de France “coming to a town near you” the crits create caricatures of the riders: the bold escape artists attack and fail, the home heroes have their moment of glory, and the yellow jersey wins a desperate battle with his strongest rival from the Tour. The nights are long and late, the beer flows, and the crowds are wowed by the mere presence of such stars in their hometowns.

All of this is what awaits the riders of the Tour de France on the other side of a hotel lobby, the morning after the three weeks before.