The bigger the race, the longer it takes me to reflect upon the events that came to pass. The Tour de France is the biggest race of the year, and there are always myriad stories to tell, from the individual moments that capture the imagination, to the big picture, the glorious, technicolour whole.
The 2022 edition was a race so huge in its significance and scope that I found myself wanting to say the right thing, rather than everything – I have already written about Wout Van Aert’s second places and about the incredible events of stage 11, as these events grabbed me at the time and demanded my attention. But as time passed and the memories of the other stages blended into one, I sought to pick out the individual stories that stayed with me, and to write short vignettes about some of the images that comprised the whole of last summer’s unforgettable Tour.
Some of them are defining moments, some of them are just visual snapshots of odd, stand-out events. Borrowing stills from the footage, I have created a memory with words to stand alongside the image. It’s a project I began some months ago, and it may not be complete for some time, as life intervenes and I find myself wishing for something better than just stills from live footage – in the future, I would love to run this project collaboratively, with amateur photography captured in the moment.
Anyway. It’s a bit different from my usual pieces, calling to my creative roots and occupying some liminal space between the cold, hard reality of elite level sport, and the wonder that this reality evokes in our imaginations, in these moments of joy, excitement or defeat. I hope you enjoy it.
Stage 1 – Copenhagen – Copenhagen (13.2km) – 1st July 2022
The most northerly Grand Depart in tour history. The torrents render the streets of Copenhagen slick, the ebullient crowd vibrant with multi-coloured umbrellas, the famous mermaid right at home. Stefan Bissegger, time trial specialist, slips and slides, clattering to the deck, his electric pink skinsuit splashing across the tarmac. The crash of the time trialist is somehow more inelegant, the aerodynamic beauty colliding with reality in a painful fracturing of expectation. Both his, and ours.
Stage 2 – Roskilde – Nyborg (202km) – 2nd July 2022
The bridge from one land mass to another is the focal point and the peloton rises to boiling point, surging for position as if it were the entrance to the Molenberg. The hoped-for winds don’t materialise, yet the bunch is dwarfed, suddenly a miniature version of itself, riders clustering together like penguins, outliers risking total alienation on the vast surface of the arrow-straight road. They churn and broil, seeking at once to to gain an advantage, and to find shelter.
Stage 3 – Vejle – Sønderborg (182km) – 3rd July 2022
Magnus Cort and his thousands of compatriots light up the roads beneath a cobalt blue sky. The roars send him on his way, the quirky, moustachioed lone ranger, once rose-tinted, now be-speckled in polka dots, resplendent on his solo jaunt. Reflecting the joy from the masses gathered in sporting communion, as he sprints against nothing but a reason not to for a single point. He and the jubilant horde of fans representing the true heart of Denmark, the passion that unites them, on a day that would later seek to divide, marred by tragedy.
Stage 4 – Dunkerque – Calais (172km) – 5th July 2022
An inauspicious claim to fame, Wout van Aert has three seconds places in three stages, frustration in the time trial followed by two close calls in the sprints. When the attack comes, it’s devastating. Gravity-defying. The team combining their resources in a dazzling show of dominance. They tip him over the top of the climb and he engages time trial mode, pushing power into the earth, man versus peloton, and what a man to take them on. 10km to find his way to top spot on the podium. A solo drive to bury the doubters.
Stage 5 – Lille-Métropole – Arenberg Porte du Hainault (154km) – 7th July 2022
‘Chaos is inherent in all compounded things. Strive on with diligence.’ – Buddha
You predict chaos, and chaos ensues. There is beauty in the chaos, but only when viewed from a distance. Too close, too painful. The undoing of one Primož Roglič, as chaos in the shape of a misplaced haybale brings him to the ground. Painful echoes of crashes past. Behind him, his team scattered across the road, panic gripping them as they play frantic chess with bikes. Roglič takes a seat from a fan and relocates his own shoulder., all unseen by the TV cameras. A world apart. Alongside, his team mates fly by, not noticing him there. The other half of the team will come back for him but the damage is done and his dream is over for another year. For the time being, chaos is king.
Stage 6 – Binche – Longwy (220km) – 8th July 2022
The yellow jersey goes out on a high. A breakaway jaunt, one of many, and with the peloton looming, Van Aert bears down on the pedals, one last throw of the dice, as he kicks away from Quinn Simmons, a final flex as he heads solo towards the knife edge on which the outcome of the stage will balance. He can’t be assured victory, but he will go down fighting, taking the lauded apparel on a victory lap which although doomed, stands for everything he is about as a rider.
Stage 7 – Tomblaine – La Super Planche Des Belles Filles (176km) – 9th July 2022
One dogged breakaway rider, two determined rivals. Lennard Kämna fights his bike up the agonising gradient of La Planche des Belles Filles, head swinging from side to side as if the effort of his neck alone can drag him up the climb. Behind, the tenacious couple around which the race revolves play tag. Too soon to separate them, they toy with one another, bravado overwhelming the dogged resilience of the lone man. He is broken in the final 100m, undone by the surge, his head dropping. Spent, he fades into the scenery as the gladiators spar to the line.
Stage 8 – Dole – Lausanne (186km) – 10th July 2022
A fourth country in twice as many days, the flat farmland of Eastern France precedes the elevation of Switzerland, precipitates the peloton switching off. They resemble a migration, a flock of rainbow birds asleep on the wing. The mistakes bring down first the crowd, then later the lone ranger, France’s enigmatic pedal dancer Thibaut Pinot, stricken not once but twice. If he didn’t have bad luck at his home Tour he’d have none at all. A crash, then a collision, a soigneur and a pendulous musette the unsuspecting culprit, onlookers holding their breath as their hero holds his face. Not tears, but broken sunglasses. He will fight another day.
Stage 9 – Aigle – Châtel Les Portes du Soleil (193km) – 11th July 2022
A day of battles, first between veterans for polka dot glory – Simon Geschke and Bob Jungels, a German and a Luxembourger both riding for French pride. Geschke claims the points and accedes the day, his goal achieved. The second battle man versus climb, as Jungels strives to give his team something to celebrate as their GC chances slip into the rear-view. 50km alone, Jungels digs in with the phoenix Pinot valiantly rising in pursuit, yet never close enough. A glorious debut Tour victory secured after a final drive to the line, joy replacing pain, his name etched in history.