The Tour de France: a vicious cycle
We often read about what it's like to have ridden the Tour de France. But what about something a little more... relatable? Our man Adam Blythe offers a unique perspective from the pro ranks as well as the commentary booth, looking back on his time racing.
The Tour de France. Where do I start? I wanted to ride this bastard race since I realised I was good enough but sadly, it never happened. Am I upset about that? Kind of, but not necessarily because I had a deep emotional connection to the race, it’s because l missed out on a lot of money - c’est le metier!
Maybe I’d think differently if I’d ridden it. It’s a race everyone knows, right? Ask Joe Bloggs on the street to name a bike race and he isn’t going to say Gent Wevelgem, is he? Everyone... everyone knows the Tour.
Whether I did that lap around France or not, I’m sure, even now, I’d still be more proud of my National Champs jersey. Okay, so it's an easy thing to say having not been there, but I think that it’s true. Winning the National Champs means more to me than riding down the Champs (Élysées).
From 2014, I’d decided I was good enough to win the Nationals. I came sixth in that years race on the Lincoln GP circuit - a really tough course. The guys who beat me weren't bad racers either, I was had by by Pete Kennaugh, Cav, Stannard and Swifty, letting Scott Thwaites ride off on the last climb because I couldn’t be arsed sprinting for fifth up a 300m climb. Grim.
Anyway, my point about this little story, and how it links to the Tour, is that everyone who I was up there with - apart from Scott - went to the Tour de France that same year. I didn’t train hard enough for the Nationals and still did alright, so from then on I thought I'd give the race a really good go in the hope that I’d win it. But also, in the back of my mind, hoping that winning the National Championships would be my ticket to a ride at the Tour de France.
Roll the clock forward to the following year and I became National Champ. I was f#$&!ing flying that day... I'd nailed all my training, without the support of a power meter. My program consisted of going hard on every little climb and going hard on every flat. It was pretty simple really - I was just going hard. Every day. And it worked! Eddy Merckx never used a power meter and he did alright, didn’t he?
That day I spent 100 miles in a break of four: we got caught with 6km to go, at which point I sat on the wheels until the last 200m. With Cav in the group, I knew he was the only one to beat. And so I did... I nailed it, no one was beating me that day. Sidebar for the number geeks: I held a 325w average power and 1342 w max that day and I weighed 68kg.
What made my victory sweeter is that Cav went on to have his most successful Tour that year. I’m sure I could’ve been up there on a Tour stage if I’d been given the opportunity to go, but anyway, it’s hypothetical; Ifs and buts. I didn’t go and that was probably as close as I was going to get to riding the Tour de France.
So, why do all riders want to ride the Tour de France? It’s the biggest race in the calendar. If you were to ask Joe Bloggs again, by the time it’s taken you to read this he’s probably remembered something about the winner having a yellow top and that some kid with sideburns from Kilburn once won it. The Tour is financially beneficial, too... There’s a lot of prize money if you win, or if one of your teammates wins. And, of course, there’s also a chance that if you do win a stage yourself, you'll get a big bonus, and most likely, a higher contract for the following season and beyond. You’d be a Tour de France stage winner. A hitter. A piece of history written into the races rich tapestry.
The year I won the Nationals in 2015 and almost went to the Tour, I had a £50k bonus for winning a TDF stage written into my contract should I have gone. You can just imagine then what someone like Sagan gets (£150k minimum) for each win he chalks up. And then there’s the green jersey; maybe another £300k. Who knows? Money is big at the Tour. F#$&!ing big. Life changingly big.
Then there’s the kit. It’s not a reason to ride the Tour, but it’s a nice little bonus. This may be our job, but who doesn’t love new bike day? Most sponsors bring out new stuff in time for the race and you’re the first to use it. The best of the very best new kit! If you don’t ride the Tour, you might be lucky, and I really do mean lucky, if you get to ride the new stuff in a race after July.
Riders get treated a little better within the team if they’re down to ride the Tour, too. Usually if you ride it, or are even down to, your race programme at the start of the year is clear. You don’t get moved into different races at the last minute. You get clear objectives... Le metier, remember? But if you get put into random races, you never really get the chance to peak for anything. It’s a vicious cycle. You go to a race to fill numbers rather than go to a race in your best condition and actually stand a chance of doing something. If you’re going to the Tour, though, you can’t have any excuses when you get there aside from illness or injury. But go and your contract is secure for another year at least, which is handy.
I wish I had ridden the Tour de France, especially as I now commentate on it. The commentary has given me a fresh perspective on just how huge the event is. The riders were my colleagues last year, but at the race, they’re more like celebrities or rock stars. Cycling fans are there to see them perform.
I've done the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España and also been in the same team as Peter Sagan when he was World Champion, winning races like the Tour of Flanders. That’s as close as I got to being surrounded by the same amount of fans outside our team bus as at the Tour. When you’re a rider, though, all you think of is getting back onto that bus and putting your feet up. You don’t take in the thousands of people that are there to support you. You’re tired. You have your blinkers on. It’s odd, because I’d imagine if I was a singer, I’d want to perform for as long as possible. I think. Or would I? Or does perforing at Glastonbury become just another job after you’ve done hundreds of concerts in your career? The Tour de France is cycling’s biggest stage and to perform there rightly deserves applause.
Do you believe in fate? If did go to the Tour, I might not be here now with three amazing kids and my beautiful wife, Kelly who’s sitting next to me while I’m writing this. And that’s an achievement bigger and better than anything I’ve ever accomplished on a bike.