We live in the age of information. As a cycling fan, for three weeks in July, if something momentous happens on a stage of the Tour de France it’s almost impossible to avoid hearing about it before you catch up with the evening highlights show.
I watched the Bastille Day stage on Mont Ventoux live on TV this year. After an episode like that it’s hard to describe how tricky it is to then bump into a fellow cycling fan, post stage, knowing that they don’t want any spoilers.
“Now then,” your friend chuckles, “don’t you go spoiling today’s stage for me before the highlights. I expect it was an exciting one today, eh?”
“Oh-my-god-I’ve-just-seen-Chris-Froome-running-up-Mont-Ventoux…” you want to reply.
But you don’t.
During July, every text message I get begins with: “are you up to date?”
If I were a bit younger this would surely have been shortened to “ayutd” followed by a bike emoticon and a raised eyebrows smiley face. But I’m not, so it’s usually written fully and properly punctuated. My friends and family are thoughtful like that. I imagine they think, “ahh, bless ‘im, cycling’s the only interest he’s got, let’s not spoil it for him.”
Except sometimes they do.
I reply “no!” and they return with “oooh, it’s a good one! I didn’t see that coming…I think you’ll enjoy it, that’s all I’m saying.”
All you’re saying!?
You’ve just given me a world of information to go at. Once I’ve spent the two hours between now and the highlights show decoding what you’ve just said, and mulling over the variables, I’ll have a better grasp of what unfolded today than you have.
And I haven’t even seen it yet.
Towards the end of the 2016 Tour de France, when they reached the Alps, once I knew rain and thunderstorms were forecast I just dropped the whole charade and kept tabs on the race minute-by-minute from my desk at work. If Chris Froome has slid off the side of an Alp in the rain, or Alejandro Valverde is tirelessly working hard for a team-mate with no thought of how he might then turn it to his own advantage, then I need to know.
I cannot sit and wait for the highlights show with the possibility of such momentous events hanging in the air, known to others but not to me. The collective body language of a whole section of social media would be imploring me to figure out, through osmosis, exactly what has just happened out there on the roads of France.
So I followed each alpine stage, moment by moment, and what happened?
Not much, really.
There was the odd frightening descent from Jarlinson Pantano in the rain, and Chris Froome rode one particular alpine climb on Geraint Thomas’ bike after a crash, but after the drama of Ventoux this stuff was run-of-the-mill, and par-for-the-course.
What I really need is a trusted yet unemployed friend, with nothing better to do with July than sit in front of the telly watching every passing moment of the Tour de France on my behalf. We could have a system worked out so that when something truly bonkers is happening – Sagan pulling a wheelie up the length of Alpe d’Huez, for example, or Nairo Quintana dropping his slightly tedious poker face and cracking a smile mid stage – my mate could text me and suggest I should really keep an eye on the action.
‘You need to see this,’ he might text, or ‘yntst…smiley face, smiley face, big thumbs up.’
If it’s all playing out for a bunch sprint then I’ll watch Cavendish win on the highlights later.
Alternatively, I could just get the sack from my job and watch bike racing full-time instead. To be honest, if I spend much more time following the race live from my desk on a variety of slightly ropey websites, that option might happen whether I like it or not.