Today as the riders headed for the Champs Elysees there was a relaxed air of school holidays about the peleton as they rambled along towards those eight laps when the real racing began.
This year there was much for Irish cycling fans to be proud of. Dan Martin finishing ninth on GC is the highest placing since his Uncle Stephen won the Tour in 1987. He animated the mountain top finishes and fought with dogged determination to get the result that he so desired. In the years ahead he is capable of a top five and maybe even a podium place overall on the race.
The other Irish rider in this years race, Sam Bennett was hugely inspirational in the way that he fought through the suffering and pain of a broken finger and a bruised and battered body after that dramatic crash on Stage one. Sam was always enormously popular amongst Irish cycling fans. A genuinely nice guy with time for everyone, no matter how much pain he was in, his personality really shone through as the race went on. He has now grown onto the international stage in a way that only athletes who go above and beyond the normal boundaries of human suffering and pain can reach.
Whilst Chris Froome may have ridden 21 stages Sam will have ridden the equivalent of 22 stages. He had to fight through mountains and rain, through torrents of pain. Each day he had to get to the finish within the time limit, which on occasions was a battle very hard fought.
How did Sam do it ?
He let his inbuilt hardness and true grit deal with the pain and then broke the race down into sections. Make it to the first rest day, then make it to the next. Today he completed then final section and made it to the finish.
It reminded me of the advice a famous Carrick on Suir developer gave to a Carrick lumberjack at the bottom of Alpe d’Huez on a charity cycle one year. As the lumberjack looked towards the sky and the direction of the summit he asked ‘How the f**k am I supposed to make it up there?’ The developer replied ‘Do it the same way that you’d ate an elephant, one bite at a time, or one hairpin at a time, now drive on ta f**k’. The lumberjack said that the advice worked and he made it to the summit.
The riders receive their finishers medals at the start of the tour but Sam can now proudly display his from the 2016 Tour de France.
Riders who share rooms throughout the season often form strong friendships. They also sometimes tend to share similar characteristics and outlooks. Sams’ room mate and best mate is Shane Archbold. AKA The Flying Mullett. Archbold likes to have his name pronounced Arch-bold although most Irish people call him Archy-bald. After his grittiness at this Tour he may now be known as Archyballs. Crashing at 70kph, breaking your pelvis and then telling your mechanic to ‘pull me up and give me the f**king bike’ and then riding on to the finish whilst struggling to even turn the pedals takes pure hardness, true grit and the heart of a lion. Sam and Shane go back a long way, and are well matched.
The friends even have their own space on the team bus :
Professional cyclists are the hard men of World sport. They are as hard as steel nails. You can bang them into concrete and they just keep on going!