The Big Men Come Out to Play

by John Eustice

Geraint Thomas

In 1992 I was in Saint Sebastian, Spain working my first Tour with ESPN. I’d heard through the grapevine a couple of weeks before that ESPN was going to cover the Tour and bombarded their Bristol office with so many pleading phone calls that an annoyed Coordinating Producer, Mo Davenport, finally got on the line. In an exasperated voice he threw down, “Who are you and why should I possibly consider taking you with us?”  I took a deep breath and blurted out, “I speak French, Italian and German, know Europe like the back of my hand, was a European pro and know the sport from every possible angle – YOU. NEED. ME!” There was a pause, he kind of harrumphed, and hung up. A week later I had my ticket and a new chapter in life had begun.

With the first day in Spain came the news that the ETA (Basque separatist group) had detonated a bomb in the car park under the massive TV compound. Phil and Paul’s car had been destroyed along with Phil’s copious and meticulous Olympic notes – no cloud back then mind you – and all his clothes. I was the only one in the crew with the requisite blue blazer that national television then demanded and it was pressed into action to bail Phil out until his replacement found us somewhere down the road – which in fact took 10-days. Now, I’m 6’1” and about 185lbs, Phil…not so much. So if you ever find old footage from that Tour, you’ll see Phil peering out from my 44 long Brooks Brothers blazer that envelops him like a blue blanket. While it took me another eight years to make it on-camera at the Tour, my blazer at least, made it on the first try.

Our ENG crew, Nick, Jean-Marc and I were walking through the beautiful streets of the Basque city, astounded by the massive crowd, when we stopped to watch the jumbotron. Greg Lemond went by with his muscular style, others we knew, but then, something happened that I’d never forget. I’d raced with Miguel Indurain at the 1985 Vuelta and everyone knew then that the 19-year old was going to become something special. But the creature that appeared on the screen was so different than any rider we’d ever seen before, like a glowing apparition from the future. Seemingly a giant with perfect, incredibly powerful fast pedal strokes, Big Mig blasted through the racecourse like a missile making everyone who came before him look, old, weak and slow. A palpable exciting energy rippled through the crowd – even those with no idea of cycling knew that they were witnessing something extraordinary that had never been seen before.

I had the same feeling watching the big men race for the podium and Tour win yesterday. While I was, perhaps romantically, hoping that Roglič would continue his rise – I think the Slovenian, who had a good ride, was shocked by the performances of the top three – the truth of the big man Tour winner theory I’d posted a few days ago became crystal clear – Froome, Dumoulin and Thomas are a species apart.

Chris Froome showed the world what a champion really is. His historic attempt to accomplish one of the greatest endurance sport performances in history by winning the Tour, Vuelta, Giro and then Tour again, all within a year, failed in truth by only a small margin – but his team won the race so a triumph in the end. I’d written about his Dr. Jekyll – Mr. Hyde racing styles and Mr. Hyde was mos def in the house yesterday. Froome was magnificent, smooth and powerful as he took on the World Champion to the very end. When you finally see him stretched out, you can see that his buttocks and upper thighs are indeed quite muscular and his pedaling in fact smooth. And no little gear twiddling in the TT’s – Froome likes the big meat and his incredible strength was clear as he pushed the 5? X 11 and 12. What a champion!

Tom Dumoulin, the most beautiful rider of this generation, showed us what perfection looks like on a bicycle. I love his seething ambition that comes out in the interviews and the fact that he has no complexes in taking on the Sky machine. Still young, the Dutchman is the man of the future.

Geraint Thomas is exactly what the sport needs right now. He’s free from the baggage that’s been slimed onto his teammate, comes off as a decent bloke you’d want to have a beer with, with his breakdown into tears during yesterday’s interview capturing hearts all over the world. The Welshman is a beautiful, big gear stylist, a double Olympic champion who suppressed his own ambitions for years before becoming the mythical understudy who comes in to save the show. I hope that the UK gives both Chris Froome and him a roaring, emotional welcome as soon as they get home, which is hopefully tonight as they should get the hell out of France as quickly as possible.

This is my last post of this Tour as I’m boycotting the Champs Elysees stage. My Tour is finished. I cannot accept the idea that these two men are going to be whistled and booed in Paris and don’t want to be part of it in anyway. A couple of days ago I wrote a piece about protecting the racers, where I somewhat pompously demanded that President Macron step in to calm the waters. Turns out that he was in fact there that day, having dinner with Christian Prudhomme. That neither of them took that opportunity to say something, to make a plea for safe sport is gravely disappointing to me. Once the Orcs begin to surface and you don’t stop them, everything good can be quickly destroyed.

You must know that I love France and the French with a passion, but I also do know them very well. The French need to stop scapegoating the “Anglo-Saxon” racers (which began in 1999…) as an excuse for their relative lack of performance. Here’s what Team Sky didn’t do: they didn’t mix up their tires on the Roubaix stage the way AG2R did; they didn’t leave their best rider, Nacer Bouhanni, home because of a personality conflict with the manager the way Cofidis did; and they didn’t change their bicycle sponsor with just two weeks to the start, because Warren Baguil’s family bike shop tried unsuccessfully to force Look into giving them a huge exclusive territory, screwing that company’s established network of dealers in the process, the way Fortuneo-Samsic did. Good for Look, btw. What Team Sky did do was to win the Tour in an honorable way, using science, discipline and fighting spirit to do so. The horror of what the public put them through on this Tour is a disgrace to France and the team showed enormous character to get through it. I’m full of admiration for them.

Thank you for reading my posts. I hope that I was able to give some different perspectives on the Tour and its actors. It is the most beautiful sporting event in the world.

John EusticeJohn Eustice, is the organizer of the Thompson Bucks County Classic in Doylestown, Pennsylvania and a long-time cycling analyst who has contributed to ESPN, ABC Sports, Time Magazine, and CNN among others. The Bucks County native resides in New York City. He was a pioneer on the European racing circuit and is a two-time United States Professional Champion.