On This Day in the Tour……1998

11th July 1998

The 1998 Tour is of course infamous for the Festina affair – which is a shame when you consider some of the amazing performances that were completely overshadowed by scenes of riders tearing off their race numbers and staging a sit down protest. It was also a shame for Dublin, as Ireland played host to the Grand Départ for the first time in the history of the race. What should have been a huge celebratory affair for the city of Dublin instead became reminiscent of a bizarre movie, filled with police raids, tearful denials and dramatic arrests.

Amidst the chaotic scenes which greeted the Tour, there was the small matter of a race to be ridden. The French team Festina had arrived in Ireland, prepared to roll up to the start line. This seems surprising in hindsight – as any fan of pro cycling knows, the Festina soigneur, Willy Voet, had been arrested at the Belgian border after trying to cross into France on his way to the Tour. A search of his vehicle revealed an immense stash of performance enhancing substances. As well as vast quantities of syringes, EPO, growth hormone, testosterone and amphetamines, Voet was also carrying the infamous ‘pot belge’, a mix of illegal drugs particularly associated with the dark side of the cycling world. The exact constitution on pot belge seems to be interchangeable, but substances generally used include cocaine, heroin, caffeine, amphetamines and other analgesics. Voet’s possession of pot belge as well as EPO and growth hormone provided a startling glimpse into the dark underbelly of some sections of the pro cycling world in the 1990s.

Set against this ominous back drop, the race organisers pressed on with the Tour as planned. The Prologue kicked the Grand Départ into action on the 11th July 1998, with a 5.6km individual time trial through the streets of Dublin. The race route saw the riders set out from Trinity College University, ending the day on the opposite side of Dublin’s River Liffey in the famous O’ Connell Street. Dublin city centre – home to many a true Irish bar, bedecked in green and gold, was now coloured red, white and blue in honour of the French tricolour for several days leading up to the Prologue. With large sections of the city’s roads sealed off, local politicians were talking up the positive nature of public transport, and bars, restaurants and cafes were serving special French-themed menus. Over 40 gendarmes in full uniform were on hand to help the Irish police to not only cater for residents and tourists, now in festival mood, but also the vast Tour de France travelling circus, which included almost 200 riders, 2000 team staff and race officials, 1000 members of the press, and 1500 vehicles. The Tour’s visit to Ireland marked the 14th time the race had started outside of France, and the Irish were proud and honoured to be hosting the Grand Départ, determined to showcase their country well, whilst refusing to allow the snowballing Festina issue to overshadow the racing. During those first few days in Ireland, the full extent of the Tour’s unravelling was yet to have been realised.

A full complement of nine Festina riders were present at the Prologue and ready to race, despite the rapidly mounting evidence of systematic team doping. Voet may have been partial to pot belge, but an entire pharmacy worth of EPO and testosterone? The favourite for the Prologue was Briton Chris Boardman, who was cheered loudly from the road side as the adopted home-hopeful. His own home in Cheshire wasn’t far as the crow flies, and Dubliners – with their welcoming attitude and willingness to thoroughly embrace a trier – were only too happy to claim Boardman as their own for a day.

Image result for chris boardman 1998 tour de france

Completing the course in 6 minutes, 12 seconds, Boardman secured the maillot jaune, wearing yellow after the Prologue for the third time in 5 years. His average speed over the short distance was 54kph, keeping any competitors out of the running for the win. Boardman’s nearest rival, Abraham Olano, powered to the finish line 4 seconds slower, with Laurent Jalabert – the World TT Champion, rounding off the top three, 5 seconds back from the newly crowned race leader. Boardman kept the yellow jersey for the following day’s stage; a 180km flat stage won by Belgian sprinter Tom Steels, and started the third day of the Tour as race leader.

Sadly for Chris Boardman, his Tour de France never actually reached France, as he suffered a devastating crash whilst wearing the leaders’ jersey on the road to Cork during Stage 2. Boardman’s front wheel clipped the rear wheel of the rider ahead, ending his Tour 50km from the finish line of day three. The British rider received medical assistance at the road side, after reportedly asking if he could continue his race. He was withdrawn by the race doctor, due to his inability to remember the incident. This lead to a precautionary brain scan at Cork University Hospital.

Boardman’s 1998 crash followed a pattern that had been established over the course of his Tour de France entries. Remarkably, he’s won the Prologue and worn the yellow jersey on his ’94 Tour debut, yet he was unable to complete the race. ’95 saw a dramatic exit from the race after a crash in the Prologue. His 1997 Tour saw Boardman take the Prologue before crashing in the mountains and sustaining injuries which meant that he was not present for the last week of the race. By 1998, Boardman had only completed one Tour de France, in 1996, and his crash on the road to Cork once again saw his swift exit from cycling’s biggest event.

Thrills and Spills?

Freewheeling Opinion Column by The Girl With The Marco Pantani Tattoo

9th July 2017

Today I watched in absolute horror as Richie Porte rode off the road, saved himself from cycling off into a ravine, before careering into the path of fellow riders, hitting a brick wall, and then being run over by Dan Martin.  I’m pretty sure it was the worst crash I’ve witnessed live on TV.  I was too young to have seen Fabio Casartelli’s terrible crash on the descent of the Col de Portet d’Aspet in the 1995 Tour de France, and unable to watch the live coverage of the Giro in 2011 when Wouter Weylandt came down during Stage 3.

What I do know about Wouter Weylandt’s crash was the absolute stomach-churning horror as the cameras stayed on him, when it was plainly obvious that something beyond terrible had happened. David Millar writes in his second book, The Racer, about the telephone call he received from his wife immediately after he finished Stage 3 of the Giro, on a ride which took him into the race lead. Having been on the road chasing the dream of wearing the pink jersey, Millar was not aware of what had happened when he took the call. “There was a missed call from Nicole. I called back immediately. She was crying when she answered ‘why are they showing it on TV? They can’t do that….there was blood everywhere and he wasn’t moving’. I’d rarely heard Nicole so upset. ‘They wouldn’t stop filming it. Why would they do that? I don’t understand why they’d do that. What about his girlfriend?’” .

Those words flashed through my mind as I watched today’s horror crash. The camera stayed on Richie as he lay on the road, lingering far too long. What if his family are watching? At that point – and even to some extent now, as I write several hours later – nobody had any idea if he was okay. I couldn’t tell if he was conscious, or if he was moving. I couldn’t watch any more. If I felt like that, how must his family feel? The crash was replayed and replayed – real time speed, slow motion….how many times did we need to see it? Each replay made the accident seem more hideous than the last. I had to look away.

Then there were shots of the Tour’s medical officer attending to Richie, a moment that was incredibly intimate and therefore rather disturbing to watch. Richie having a neck brace fitted, Richie being lifted into the back of an ambulance by a team of paramedics. You realise later that someone was standing there, camera in hand, letting it roll to capture images that will be beamed across the globe. Does viewing the scene through a lens make you feel apart from the situation, detached from reality? Does it make the whole thing seem like some crazy film or video game with HD graphics? Well I watched it at a true distance, through a screen, and I didn’t feel at all detached or apart from what was happening. I just felt sick.

Crashes were numerous today, on Stage 9 of the 2017 Tour de France. Are incidents such as that involving Richie Porte really ‘entertainment’? Cav’s crash earlier in the race was also too painful to watch, and is still playing out over and over again in various vine loops and GIFs on social media. At what point do the viewers and fans say ‘enough is enough’? Like David Millar’s wife Nicole pointed out, these racers have family members and friends watching. Is it right that Wouter Weylandt’s Mum, Dad, and friends had to watch, helpless, as their son and best mate lay on the road, clearly in a terrible situation?Where is the line drawn between entertainment and real life in the world of live sport?

On This Day in the Tour…….1978

7th July 1978

The 1978 edition of the Tour is perhaps best remembered as the race which announced the arrival of a certain Bernard Hinault on the world stage.  Hinault was already well respected by cycling fans and riders, yet his star rose infinitely higher the day he stood on the winners’ step on the podium in Paris in ’78, for the first of what would become five visits.

The 1978 Tour started without an overwhelming favourite – Merckx, Gimondi and Poulidor had retired after the 1977 season, and the winner of the 1976 Tour, Lucien Van Impe, was recovering from a broken collar bone.  Hinault, riding for Renault – Gitane – Campagnolo, was considered by some as the man most up for the task, although Joop Zoetemelk was also highly regarded, as was the Belgian National Champion Michel Pollentier.  Ultimately, Pollentier was thrown out of the race at the centre of a doping scandal after he won Stage 16 to Alpe d’huez, clinching the overall lead as well as the stage.  Pollentier was caught attempting to falsify a urine test by trying to pass off a clean sample as his own via a system of tubes worn under his jersey at doping control.

On the 7th July, almost ten days before Pollentier’s unceremonious removal from the Tour, the riders arrived in Saint Émilion, ready for an individual time trial to Sainte-Foy-la-Grande.  Of the men considered most likely to win the yellow jersey, Hinault was regarded as the best bet to perform well in time trials.  An all-rounder, Hinault not only excelled in TTs, but could maintain any advantage this skill provided him with by riding well in the mountains.  His all-round style even stretched as far as race types – The Badger won Grand Tours, Classics, World Championships…his talent was prodigious, and awarded him a deserved place in the history books.


Photo: Hinault wears Yellow 

On the 7th July 1978, Bernard Hinault secured the first of many victories at the Tour de France, storming to success in the individual time trial that made up Stage 8 in 1 hour 22’01, a full 34 seconds ahead of the second place rider, Joseph Bruyère.   Bruyère had done enough to secure the yellow jersey, but The Badger was busy laying the foundations  of an impressive first Tour win, and had risen to 4th place in the overall classification.

If the ’78 Tour marked Hinault’s arrival as French cycling’s hope for the future, his actions on the road throughout the race also saw him secure his role as the patron de peloton.  Although only 23 at the time, Hinault commanded respect amongst his peers.   Fed up of the increasingly unfair treatment of the riders by race organisers, a strike was held on 12th July.  The day had been divided into two ‘half’ stages, a 158km flat stage from Tarbes to Valence d’Agen, followed by a further 96km from Valence d’Agen to Toulouse.  The previous stage on the 11th July had seen the riders tackle the climb from Pau to the finish at Pla’ d’Adet, and the transfer had meant that no one in the peloton had managed to get sufficient sleep.  The configuration of the stages had seen riders finally getting into bed around midnight, before getting up at 5am to continue the race.

hinault 78

Photo: Hinault leads the peloton in protest, 12th July 1978

The peloton, lead by Hinault, staged a protest, riding at 12kph and arriving at the finish line an hour and a half behind the anticipated end time.  Within sight of the finishing straight, the riders dismounted and walked across the line, Hinault at the helm.  The Tour organisation was forced to annul the stage, and a legend was born as Hinault began writing himself into the history books, propelled by the blistering ITT of July 7th 1978.

On This Day in the Tour…….1986

6th July, 1986

1986 was the year the Americans came to the Tour.  Greg LeMond had been in the race the previous year, helping Bernard Hinault to overall victory, but he’d been part of La Vie Claire, a French team.  In 1986 an American team entered the Tour for the first time, Team 7-Eleven.  (An American also won the Tour for the first time, with Greg LeMond taking the yellow jersey…but that’s a whole other story!)

It hadn’t been easy, to even appear on the start line was something of an achievement.  In the 1980s, teams were invited to race at the behest of the Tour’s organisers, the UCI having little to no power over such matters.  The Tour was proudly European, and some fans were confused as to why Team 7-Eleven had even been invited to attend.  The US President of the time, Reagan, didn’t help the campaign to start the Tour – air strikes against Libya were seen as having the potential to cause unrest, with American citizens bearing the brunt of any anti-American feeling that had been stirred up.  Team 7-Eleven called a halt to their race calendar in the early part of the year, fearing that as an American team and therefore a symbol of the US, the riders might be targets for angry reprisals.

Nevertheless, the US team found itself on the start line of the 1986 Tour, which began in Boulogne-Billancourt with a 4.6km prologue.  The prologue was won by a Frenchman, Thierry Marie.  The race was off to an all-European start.  Stage 2 saw Team 7-Eleven get tactical, when the Canadian rider Steida got into an early break and began chasing time bonuses on the road.  By the end of the day, he had become the first North American to hold the yellow jersey.  Team 7-Eleven’s selection appeared to be justified.

A few hours after being handed the maillot jaune, Team 7-Eleven were handing it back.  Immediately following Stage 2, on the same day, came Stage 3 – a Team Time Trial.  Exhausted from their antics on the road, and perhaps showing their relative inexperience, the American team crashed early on, and then capitulated, dropping Steida in the process – clearly, defending yellow was a new notion.

Not to be downhearted however, Team 7-Eleven were once again on top of the world after Stage 3, a 214km flat stage from Levallois-Perret to Liévan.  Davis Phinney – father of current pro Taylor – was able to get himself into a small breakaway, and rode into the history books as the first ever American to win a road stage of the Tour de France.  (Greg LeMond’s previous stage win had been in a Time Trial).  Phinney was perhaps the last man to realise the significance of his ride however, as he was certain that the break he’d been riding with had failed to catch a solo rider who had gone off the front, and was completely unaware that he was in fact crossing the line as the stage winner.

“It was a gradual uphill finish and I waited and  jumped at about 300 meters to go, which was pretty long. I kind of took everybody by surprise because I was the first one to jump. So, even coming from the back, I got ahead of everybody and then the line just seemed like it took forever to get there…. I was so totally relaxed because we were only racing for second …I just chilled.

“Right as I came across the line, John Wilcockson (cycling journalist) said, ‘You won! That was incredible!’

I said, ‘Yeah, I won the group sprint for second.’

He said, ‘No, you won!’”

Cav’s Catalogue of Unfortunate Events

Following the controversial crash at the end of Stage 4 of the 2017 Tour de France, which ended the involvement of both Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish in this year’s race, Freewheeling looks back at some of Cav’s other race-changing incidents….

  1. A Stain on the Jersey





    After winning an amazing 6 stages at the 2009 Tour de France, Mark Cavendish left Paris without having secured the prize he most coveted – the green jersey. Despite being on top form, Cav’s designs on the maillot vert came to an abrupt – and controversial – end, when he was disqualified from the Stage 14 results, deemed to have been riding dangerously by steering his rival Thor Hushovd into the barriers.

    Cav complained loudly about his disqualification, believing that Hushovd had not played fair by making an official complaint about the Stage 14 sprint. The dispute between the two riders rumbled on throughout the rest of the Tour, with Cav telling the press “this guy thinks so highly of himself that he thinks I’m trying to cheat to beat him…I said to him ‘you’ve won the green jersey, but that’s always going to have a stain on it’…”

  1. Flicking the V in Romandie


    v romandie

    After Cav’s 6 wins in the ’09 Tour, the lack of the green jersey in Paris started to simmer below the surface for Cav and his team, and they were not ashamed to be vocal about targetting the maillot vert for the 2010 Tour de France.

    Following the usual pattern however, Cav’s path to glory was far from smooth, and his claim on the jersey looked to be on shaky ground from the off. Cavendish contracted a nasty dental infection in the off-season, which impacted upon his ability to train during the winter months, when most pro racers are laying the foundations for the rest of their season. Cav and cohorts were understandably frustrated going into the early season races, concerned about the impact his truncated training period would have upon his Tour de France ambitions. Some sections of the media began questioning Cav’s commitment, and suggestions were circulating that Mark’s volatile emotional responses – to racing, to questions from journalists, to the actions and statements of his rivals – were hampering his ability to reach his undoubted potential.


    The press were keen to focus on what some saw as a question mark over his form, given Cav’s inability to defend his Milan-San Remo title in March 2010. His rocky relationship with team mate and fellow sprinter, Andre Greipel, was generating the column inches which, in a perfect world, would have been filled with a host of early season wins. Cav felt that the media had failed to understand the nuances of pro racing and the impact his dental problems had had upon his training and early races. All these ingredients were swirling around in the pot when Cavendish was selected by his team HTC-Columbia for the Tour de Romandie, a stage race in late April.

    Storming to a typically impressive sprint victory in Stage 2 in Switzerland, as he crossed the line in Fribourg, Cav flicked the V sign, the gesture clearly aimed at his critics in the media. In case anyone was confused, Cav told the post-stage press conference that he wanted “to send a message to commentators and journalists who don’t know jack shit about cycling”.

    Cav raced Stage 3 – a time trial in which he finished 139th, however HTC-Columbia pulled him from the race soon after, citing “inappropriate actions” when flicking the V in Fribourg. Cav was forced to make a public apology, “I did want to make a statement to my critics but realise that making rude gestures on the finish line is not the best way to do that”.

  1. Ragin’ Renshaw


    Following his expulsion from the Tour de Romandie at the end of April 2010, Cavendish remained undeterred in his green jersey ambitions. The HTC-Columbia team had perfected the art of the lead-out, with the Aussie Mark Renshaw as the last link in the chain, the man to take Cav up the final few metres towards the finish line before swinging away and allowing Cav to leap from his slipstream and dart towards the line with his incredible power and natural sprinting ability. HTC-Columbia’s lead-out was the envy of every sprinter in the peloton, a well-oiled-and-well-drilled machine, with tactical prowess and the ability to accurately read race situations before allowing Cav to power to the line with a frightening acceleration. Going into the 2010 Tour de France, you’d have been mad to suggest that the maillot vert had a destination other than the Manxman from HTC-Columbia.

    If you listen to Cav’s post-race interviews, you’ll notice something – a sentiment that he’ll repeat no matter the outcome of the stage. Mark Cavendish will always thank his entire team for their role in delivering him to the line, their individual roles as crucial as Cav’s sprinting skill. So it was a bit of a concern (to say the least) when Renshaw was expelled from the 2010 Tour de France after a headbutting incident during a bunch sprint to the finish of Stage 11 in Bourg-les-Valence.

    Renshaw was leading Cav to the finishing metres of Stage 11; the HTC-Columbia train having worked to perfection. Other teams had tried to match HTC-Columbia’s organisation, and everything was set up for an exciting bunch sprint. The Garmin- Transitions team were working for their sprinter Tyler Farrar, who had his lead-out man, New Zealander Julian Dean, ride up alongside Renshaw as the riders hit the 400m to go mark. In the frantic and frenetic final moments of the finishing straight, Renshaw headbutted Julian Dean – not once, not twice, but three times, before cutting into Farrar’s race line, impeding his sprint. “He carried on after (the headbutting incident) and came across Tyler’s line and stopped Tyler from possibly winning the stage” Dean said after Renshaw’s disqualification. “It’s dangerous behaviour, and what we do is already dangerous anyway…if there had been a crash it would have caused some guys serious damage”.

    Despite the antics in the bunch, Cav took the stage victory, with Renshaw’s result immediately declassified. Race officials reviewed the footage of the final 400 metres, and deemed Renshaw’s actions unacceptable. “We have decided to throw him off the race” stated race official Jean-Francois Pescheux. “This is a bike race, not a gladiator’s arena”.


Photo credits: Top – Getty/Tour of California, Stain on the Jersey – Telegraph, Flicking the V – Telegraph, Ragin’ Renshaw – Eurosport/ASO