Tour of Thornbury


by Matt O’Connor


If I can just hold my nerve, the Tour de France is mine for the taking.


Three more nights, including l’Alpe-d’Huez tomorrow and the time trial on Saturday, and I will be in a position to pilot my couch triumphantly down the Champs Elysees. Presuming of course that teammate Cadel Evans can hold things together.


I have to admit though that last night the elastic almost snapped. Stage 18’s climb to Galabier Serre-Chevalier was always going to be decisive, so my tactics were to take a mid-race breather before the surge to the summit. After polishing off a bottle of Tempranillo, I snuggled down into the Peleton (the new name for my couch) and nodded off.


It seemed a reasonable approach, given the goings-on around me. Evans was chugging along nicely, the Schleck brothers didn’t appear to be planning an attack and Contador was continuing to struggle at the rear of the pack. Yes, Voeckler was still wearing yellow, but it was only a matter of time before he slipped away.


Trouble was, I overslept. Commentator Paul Sherwen had lulled me to dreamland last week with the magic words “Col de Tourmelet”, repeated over and over. Last night, his dulcet tones had a similar soothing effect, and it was only when our mangey feline Tinsel burst through the laundry cat flap some time after midnight that I was plunged back into the sunny Alps.


At first, everything seemed OK. Evans was rolling along beside me, a flash of yellow told me that Voeckler was just behind, and I could hear Contador swearing in Spanish somewhere back down the hill. I went down the check list. Ivan Basso? Present. Sammy Sanchez? Present and panting loudly. Frank Schleck? Always present. Andy Schleck?


Andy hadn’t left his brother’s side for two weeks, so I wasn’t overly concerned that I couldn’t immediately account for him. I presumed he was back down the road picking up copies of the Luxembourg Times for him and Frank to stuff down their shirts on the next descent.


I waited for a couple of kms before casually asking Cadel: “Um, where’s Andy?”


He furrowed his two fat caterpillar eyebrows and shrugged: “He’s gone off ahead.”


“HE’S WHAT!? Why didn’t you wake me?”


“I dunno, you looked so comfortable, and anyway there’s still 50 kms to go,” was his lame response.


“FOR FUCKSAKES, Cadel!” I screamed. “This is the Tour de France! I’m not here to come second! Let’s go!”


With a grimace, he lifted himself out of his seat and started pumping his tree-trunk legs. I slotted in behind to get cover from the biting head-wind, with a fluffy doona providing much needed warmth. The chase was on.


The radio told us that Schleck had Leopard-Trek teammate Maxime Monfort with him, and that his 3 minute break was slowly expanding. I could feel Paris and the luscious-lipped Tour girls slipping away. “C’mon Cadel”, I urged. “I can’t make it up this mountain on my own.”


I gotta hand it to the little bugger. He’s tough. One by one, world class riders lost touch and slipped back down the mountain. Contador and Voeckler either couldn’t or wouldn’t help up front, while Schleck senior was happy to sit back and enjoy the scenery. The margin grew to 4 and a half minutes, but Cadel kept grinding. We passed some guy in a pink animal suit pounding away on an exercise bike – ominously it took us a while to shake him off.


I took up a slow chant. “Galabier. Galabier. Galabier.” It seemed to work. We were pulling ground back, inch by agonising inch. I could hear Voeckler quietly weeping behind us, and Basso looked like he was going to explode. Our radio communicator told us that Andy S was now alone and less than 3 minutes ahead. We moved into the clouds and it became harder to breathe.


We weren’t going to catch Schleck, but the job was to narrow the gap to set us up for Saturday’s time trial. Sanchez then Contador tapped the mat. The air and the peleton got thinner, but Evans ploughed on between the camper vans.


When applause finally filtered down from the peak, we knew Schleck had crossed the line. But we also knew that we had staunched the blood flow. I graciously hung back with Voeckler and Basso to allow Evans to go on with Frank Schleck. We flopped over the line behind them, like fish on a trawler deck.


The wash up is a 57 second space behind Andy Schleck, and 4 seconds behind brother Frank. We had pruned another 16 seconds off the yellow jersey, but now had the Schlecks  between us and Voeckler. Life wasn’t meant to be easy.


I grabbed Evans in a friendly headlock, and tousled his hair. He’d done good. He’d put me in a position to take my first Tour. But there can be no more mistakes. “Make sure you wake me tomorrow night if one of those Schmuck brothers takes off”, I said. And headed off to bed.






  1. Phil Dimitriadis says

    MOC, sounds like hard work on that couch mate. Are you sure you can go the distance?

  2. Chasing hard right now, Phil. TOUR UP FOR GRABS!

  3. Matt – no wonder you let Cadel fall so far off the pace. Those Spanish are tricky bastards – Sanchez, Contador, Tempranillo – can’t trust ’em.
    Settled in with a decent Barossa Shiraz to watch one of (probably the greatest) nights in Australian sport. He has been strong, brave and smart for 3 amazing, torturous weeks.
    Tonight the triumph, tomorrow the celebration.
    Go Cadel. You deserve it.

  4. smokie88 says

    Go, Cadel….
    The emotion when he pulled on that yellow jersey!
    Mike Tomalaris of SBS almost as emotional as Cadel!

  5. That is the greatest ever sporting achievement by an Australian.
    Cash, Newcombe, Goolagong and Court at Wimbeldon – all great champions holding their nerve under pressure for 3 or 4 hours a day for 2 weeks.
    John Alexander in that Davis Cup struggle against Pannatta.
    Shane Gould exceptional for a period. Dawn and Kieren repeating over several Olympics.
    A cricket world cup seems more a pastime than the sort of excrutiating physical and mental torture of the TDF. Maybe Deans Jones Tied Test innings repeated every day for a week.
    In terms of an Australian struggling for years to reach the summit in a major world sport, the only comparison I could think of was the Americas Cup. An effort of immense planning, skill and execution – definitely. But sailing has that aura of being an enterprise as much as a sport.
    Bravery – when Sanchez and Contador broke away on the wet windy downhill 3 days back and the Evans group caught them in the final straight.
    Strength – When Andy Shleck made his 60km breakaway and got 4 minutes ahead 2 days ago. Cadel knew that could be a bridge too far and took in on his own shoulders to drag back a minute and a half on the final climb.
    Bravery, Strength and Smarts – Yesterday 3 minutes down early and caught the leaders for the final 21 switchback climb up Alp de Huez. Half way up, bumping shoulders with Andy Shleck challenging him to chase the Contador breakaway. Smiling and saying “I’m not worried about them and I’ve got you right where I want you”. Like a cat playing with a bird.
    Sheer bloody brilliance today charging around that course in the same time as the world champion time triallers and making the mountain climbers look like escargot.
    Extraordinary. Not our greatest sportsman. But I have been racking my brain for a couple of days and I cannot remember a greater achievement.
    Well done. Well deserved. Nice guy finishes first – and an Aussie to boot!!!!!

  6. PeterB – agree. This is monimental. As big as the America’s Cup and Lionel Rose winning the World Title in 1968 (?).

    As you say, what courage. What intelligent, brutal, brilliant courage. As brave a thing as I have ever see. To hold onto the Shleks and other mountain climbers, then to blow them away in the time trial is simply magnificent.

    I hope a public recognition meets the effort he put in. A public parade? A public holiday?

    Well done Cadel.

  7. forwardpocket says

    So proud of Cadel. His effort up the Galibier where he clawed back 2 minutes on Schleck in the last 8 kms won him the tour and was something I’ll never forget. As pure an example of determination and the refusal to give up as you will ever witness.
    What a great Tour! Feels like it was clean too and let’s hope so. To see all the contenders suffer on different days and to all appear to have only limited energy reserves was great and made for such an exciting race. They had to be measured, had to make decisions that could win or lose themselves the race.
    Voeckler was outstanding the way he fought and fought. Andy Schleck is irascible and a joy to watch and what a breathtaking move on the Galibier and brilliant execution by his team that day.
    Cadel, what a champion, a victory for the complete rider. That’s also one of the best things to come out of this tour. He climbed well, attacked, defended, handled the bike on the descents and excelled on his own.

  8. Dave Nadel says

    I think Cadel’s effort was magnificent but please lets not get into an argument about what is the greatest ever Australian sporting acheivement. There is no rational way to compare the acheivements of Don Bradman, Rod Laver, Lionel Rose, Dawn Fraser, Cathy Freeman, John Bertand and Ben Lexcen and Cadel Evans. All are unique, all are magnificent. I suspect that if I had to chose it would be between Bradman, Laver and Fraser because all three have achieved things in their sport that no other man or woman has achieved since, but I still think it is impossible to compare sports and eras.

  9. C’mon Dave, stop being a wet blanket. Just enjoy it!

  10. Dave Nadel says

    I am enjoying it!!

  11. One of my highlights of many years of watching sport. The last two days in the mountains were simply phenomenal.

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