From our sofa grandstand this afternoon we watched the gripping - and I do mean gripping - Stage 18 of this year's Tour de France cycle race, courtesy of Eurosport TV. In recent years my Missis and I have become increasingly hooked by such major-league road racing for bicycles, and for three major reasons...
Firstly, these riders are either the most phenomenal athletes or simply bionic man machines - or they really are fuelled by drugs of such unreal capability why aren't we all issued with them as by right?
Secondly, the sight of wheeled competition on 'natural' roads of real challenge and majesty is utterly denied to us now apart from Irish and Manx TT motor-cycling, and while I have immense respect for all road racing motor-cyclists I am not particularly attracted to the machinery.
Thirdly, many of the classical Tour de France Stages include sections, cols and mountains which were once inhabited by very serious cars, driven by very serious drivers, not only in the Tour de France Automobile but also by many of the great European rallies - so there is real motor sporting history in them thar hills, sadly only used today by sweating blokes - and gels - in Lycra and on bikes.
Today the TdF field attacked the great Col d'Aubisque of past motor sporting fame in the Pyrenees, followed by the Col du Soulor and the Col de Spandelles before the finally bone-breaking climb to Hautacam.
For the past two weeks and more, Tour dominance has been fought out between two truly outstanding young riders; winner of the past two Tours, Slovenian Tadej Pogacar, and Danish hope Jonas Vingegaard. On today's very fast and tricky descent of the Spandelles, Pogacar was flying in the attempt to build a gap over Vingegaard. In a tight left-hander the Dane had a heart-stopping broadside moment with his rear wheel hopping clear of the planet. With Verstappen-style reflex he caught the broadside moment but lost some yards to his challenger who charged clear.
Only a few hundred metres further down the descent, the Dane re-caught the Slovenian and into another deceptively tight left-hander Pogacar slid wide, got onto gravel, lost front-wheel adhesion and crashed. Vingegaard whizzed clear and tore off down the hill. Here was his chance to add many more seconds to his leading time cushion. Pogacar remounted and charged into the pursuit, shorts torn, grazed and bleeding.
And Vingegaard looked back, and instead of blazing on he sat up, slowed and waited for Pogacar to re-catch him.
The latter offered his hand in gratitude, they shook hands, and battle resumed. Pogacar would finally break on the last climb, Vingegaard drawing out another minute to build his existing - and now possibly decisive - lead in the Tour.
It struck me at the time that such a gesture, a great competitor seeing his main rival stumble and lose time when both are locked in potentially decisive battle for a great - and extremely lucrative - prize, is something which made me instinctively think "That wouldn't happen in motor racing".
Indeed, if Vingegaard had been Stirling Moss and Stirl had just seen his main threat lose time like that he would have stretched simply EVERY sinew to take all possible advantage and maximise that opportunity to hammer his opponent into the ground! Especially if there had been a few bob at stake...
Can anyone think of similar instances - top drivers, fighting for top honours, hammer and tongs - one slips and the other - rather than pressing home the advantage of that gift - waits for his rival to catch up so they can resume equal battle?
Of course, this might have been a sublime piece of sporting psychology, Vingegaard totally doing a number on Pogacar's mind, but the first word that sprang to all the commentators' and pundit's mind was 'sportsmanship'. Extraordinary to see.
Edited by Doug Nye, 21 July 2022 - 20:06.