Pushbikewriter

Pushbikewriter

Following the Australian riders of the 2014 Tour de France

Orica Simon Gerrans, fresh from winning the Liege-Bastogne-Liege race in April, will be competing in this year’s Tour de France. EPA/Nicolas Bouvy

The 101st Tour de France is just around the corner, with Stage 1 of the three-week race due to start in the Yorkshire town of Leeds on Saturday July 5.

Twelve Australians have been named so far in provisional team lists, which equals the largest number of Tour starters from this country set in 2012.

The final start list from “down-under” could yet be the biggest ever, with a number of other eligible Australians currently riding on professional teams in the 2014 Tour – Team lists will be finalised in the coming days.

Australia and the Tour

Australia’s connection with the Tour de France dates back 100 years, when Iddo “Snowy” Munro and Duncan “Don” Kirkham rode in the 12th edition in 1914. Our oldest living Tour rider is John Beasley from Footscray in Melbourne, who rode the Tour twice in the 1950s.

Australian cyclists have done particularly well in the Tour de France over the years too:

  • Cadel Evans won the race in 2011
  • Six yellow jersey wearers (race leaders), including Phil Anderson (1981, 1982), Stuart O’Grady (1998, 2001), Brad McGee (2003), Robbie McEwen (2004), Cadel Evans (2008, 2010, 2011) and Simon Gerrans (2013)
  • Green jersey points classification winners (Robbie McEwen 2002, 2004, 2006; Baden Cooke 2003)
  • 29 stage wins by 10 Australians (Phil Anderson, Baden Cooke, Cadel Evans, Simon Gerrans, Heinrich Haussler, Robbie McEwen, Brad McGee, Stuart O’Grady, Allan Peiper and Neil Stephens)

With Cadel Evans not riding in the 2014 Tour, Australia is without a serious contender to win the race, or perhaps even trouble the general classification. But there is still plenty for Australian cycling fans to look forward to.

The Orica Green Edge team has had a stunning lead up to the Tour, with a number of the named provisional start list in excellent form – namely Simon Gerrans, Michael Matthews and Simon Clarke. Matt Goss and Brett Lancaster will also have important roles and goals.

Beyond the obvious interest that the Orica Green Edge team will hold for many, the other Australian riders named for the 2014 Tour are worth following too. Riders such as:

Some of these riders will be visible in support roles for their team leaders. Some are more than capable of pinching a stage win, or getting ‘TV time’ in a breakaway. And some will be burying themselves behind the scenes day-in-day-out for as long as they can manage.

Following the Tour de France

Apart from actually being there in person, the main way most Australian Tour de France fans follow the race is through the coverage provided by SBS. This year SBS will broadcast every Tour stage live starting with Stage 1 (Leeds – Harrogate) from 8:30pm AEST on Saturday 5 July.

Excellent analysis and news updates are also available through other mainstream media coverage (journalists such as Sam Lane and Rupert Guinness), and various online sources (such as SBS Cycling Central and Le Tour official). And the Cycling Tips blog and Orica Green Edge Backstage Pass updates are also worth a look.

From time to time the spotlight shines on the Australian riders as they win stages, wear the yellow jersey, get in a breakaway, or (unfortunately) crash out. But we still only get to see and hear about the Tour experiences of but a few of them.

This is a shame, because for all of the Australians, getting a start in the Tour de France represents the achievement of a childhood dream that many cyclists share but few experience – it is the biggest race of the year and probably of a career.

All of the Australian Tour riders this year will have their own stories to tell.

Looking beyond the Tour on TV

In this age of social media, there are many more possibilities to look a little deeper behind the TV images, and the mainstream media reports, and go straight to the source – the riders themselves.

Most of the professional peloton use social media of some sort, the Australian riders included (and the people around them). Growing numbers of these riders tweet, post to personal blogs, write columns for established outlets, and use other social media during big events like the Tour de France.

Indeed, the digital technology around now means that the possibilities here are quickly evolving – as the recent discussion around the potential use of on-bike cameras in professional racing shows.

To be fair, social media being as it is will not always provide the rich pearls of wisdom or insightful analysis of the day’s stage that you might be looking for. You can get that elsewhere.

But there is something humanising about seeing the day-to-day musings of these world-class elite athletes in the context of the enormity of what they are attempting – some 3,664km over three weeks, riding at limit for a good portion of that. And following along on social media can enhance the viewing experience, and take you deeper into the race and the environment around it.

So, if you’re planning to follow the television coverage of the 2014 Tour de France, why not take your spectating a step further this year? Take a look at how all of the Australian riders in the peloton this year are doing by tuning into social media. They’re all connected.

Perhaps even take the time to send them some words of support and encouragement. Even if they’re not the stars of the future, you can be sure they’re giving it everything.