Mathieu van der Poel, superhuman Dutchman and acknowledged God of cycling, will soon be making his Tour de France debut. He will no doubt have a plan to snaffle a couple of stage wins, maybe even a Yellow Jersey. We will lap up the calf-rippling images, digest the bike-wrenching power stats, and bask in his exploits.
For a while the race will be all the better for his inclusion.
But from there we have a problem. Because he has no intention of completing the race. He will not get to Paris, instead choosing to bail out early and prepare for the Tokyo Olympics.
This was brought to my attention in a Tour de France preview on The Move; an American podcast hosted by, gulp…Lance Armstrong, and featuring sidekick, double gulp…Johan Bruyneel (Lance’s long-time team boss and co-conspirator).
Anyway. Before you cancel me for giving these dudes airtime, let me get to the point.
According to honest Johan, a still clued-up member of the European cycling scene, Van der Poel will be at le Tour for a week, ten days at most, before swanning off for a lengthy pre-Tokyo rub-down.
He has already pre-abandoned.
Now. Far be it for me to criticise the mighty MVDP (and risk my second cancellation in as many paragraphs), but that’s not good. It’s not against the rules of le Tour but it definitely contravenes the spirit.Embed from Getty Images
Because a Grand Tour is a contest between riders of all shapes and sizes over all manner of terrain with the agreement that they each have good days, bad days, and soul-crushingly awful days. After three epic weeks they finish up with a massive post-race party – Euro-DJ, bouncy dance-floor, all-you-can-eat buffet – where they slap each other’s backs, brothers-in-arms, and agree to do it all again next year.
Completion of a Grand Tour is a romantic, adventurous endeavour, not a platform for a clinical, smash-and-grab stage winning cameo. You’re either in the Tour, and you honour it, or you’re out. You don’t get to dabble according to personal whim.
That’s the deal.
Some people disagree. There are one or two stock responses to this sentimental view of mine. They may be on the tip of your tongue as you read.
First: this has always gone on. Haven’t I heard of fifty-four-time Grand Tour stage winner Mario Cipollini and his famed record of non-completion? What about Caleb Ewan, known favourite sprinter of mine, and his Giro exit but a few weeks ago?
To which I say yes, I’ve heard of them, and I think they are cheeky monkeys too!
Second: how could you possibly enforce this, you soppy eyed romantic fool?
To which I say you couldn’t, but we’d all know who was pulling a fast one and that’s enough.
I’m not suggesting a black and white application of a rule but a self-policing among fans of the sport. For example, we can tell by his facial expression that rider x clearly has a raging case of haemorrhoids so if he chooses to bail out early he gets a pass. Rider y, on the other hand, wants to save his legs for some other race and rider z just didn’t fancy the Alps this year, so we’ll rightly castigate them.Embed from Getty Images
If a rider plays truant it should fall to us fans to put a moral black mark against their name and force them to re-earn our respect.
The potential hole in this plan might be our lightweight Insta-fuelled culture.
Because earning respect in 2021 requires nothing more than a beautifully filtered viral social media post. For MVDP, public God-like status will be easily re-acquired via a well-placed hashtag and a few hundred-thousand likes and he’ll be back in our good books before you can say ‘Raymond Poulidor’s grandson.’
What’s more, plenty of people think a twenty-one-day Grand Tour is a bit much anyway in the era of Goldfish-esque attention spans and will wonder why i’m making a fuss about this.
But for what it’s worth, if he goes through with his early dart I’ll think a bit less of Van der Poel.
I might even check in with Lance and Johan to see what they think.
Now go ahead: cancel me.
(Top Image: Lieven De Cock (Digital Clickx), CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)