Notes, highlighters and the illusion of control – Ned Boulting’s Le Tour de France

We all prepare for the race in different ways.

Spectators all over the continent have planned their week’s holiday perhaps years in advance, pack their bags, load up the supply caravan and head to Alpe d’Huez or Roskilde – my youngest is in that moment at a music festival there, gleefully heedless of the impending arrival of the Tour de France.

Mark Cavendish began preparing for his non-appearance in the 2022 Tour de France as soon as his triumphant 2021 Tour ended, only to discover that even the complete manipulation of an entire British national peloton would not change the opinion of the QuickStep-Alpha Vinyl Deciders .

The advertising caravan is ready to roll; its brightly painted carbon-fiber onions and oversized cheeses are fixed atop its insane variety of floating vehicles. They get enough free samples to run an average French household for a thousand years.

Fred Wright’s father, Phil, prepared for his son’s second appearance by buying 35 packets of Panini stickers in the hope that he would get one with Fred’s face on it. He opened the first package: Fred was there. What he did with the other 34 didn’t matter after that.

Defending champion Tadej Pogačar has spent the past few weeks in a bio-bubble, with the UAE Team Emirates driver anxiously avoiding anyone or anything that might harbor the virus; apparently the only thing that could prevent the young Slovenian from the inevitable number three victory.

Behind the scenes at ASO and in the committee rooms of Copenhagen City Council, running has been at the heart of their daily lives for years now. Even in the offices of my ITV employers – tiny by any standard – planning has been underway since November when the route was announced.

Back on the road after two years of broadcasting from a parking lot in Kent, there was a lot to do: new Brexit regulations to meet and pay for, COVID-19 protocols to adhere to, hotel rooms from Copenhagen to Paris to book.

Dip the sponge

Then we stumble chaotically across the stage: Gary Imlach, Daniel Friebe, Matt Rendell, Chris Boardman, Pete Kennaugh, David Millar and I smack through town holding notes and highlighters and, in Matt’s case, enough files to fill a reasonable size. city ​​archives.

We know what awaits us, in the sense that we are veterans of so many Tours between us that most have lost count (it’s 20 for me this year!). We understand that our best intentioned plans to stay on top of the event, master every detail and generally with our heads above water will last about three days before we start sinking below the surface and drowning in the depths. troubles of a race which is much, much more than its constituent parts.

For me, commentating on the Tour is the annual culmination of a year-long effort that never stops. To have the bank of understanding Bauke Mollema’s form, Pierre Rolland’s tactics, and what exactly Clement Champoussin could beat in a selective sprint, it’s the painstakingly assembled product of sitting squarely on my back watching weeks and months of cycling races, taking notes and soaking up the details like a sponge; one that I will be slowly wringing out over the next three weeks.

Ned Boulting in Tour de France preparation mode

Ned Boulting in Tour de France preparation mode (Image credit: Ned’s Tower)

The battle for yellow will be intriguing, in the sense that the challenge to Pogačar could come from an unexpected corner. There are runners and climbers in the race who have nothing to lose and every reason to attack as often as they can (Romain Bardet, Aleksandr Vlasov, Dani Martínez, etc.) – the specter of the counter -the final 40.7 km plane timepiece.

There are others whose ability will haunt Pogačar until Stage 20 is resolved; Primož Roglič (obviously), Geraint Thomas (refreshing) and Jonas Vingaard (potentially winning).

But it’s the green jersey that I think has the potential to make the 2022 Tour unforgettable. For the first time, it is Mathieu van der Poel’s stated intention to race in Paris, where Wout van Aert won the final stage in 2021. How these two legends faced off in the points competition, and how Peter Sagan could play a decisive role there, is one of the aspects of this Tour that I look forward to.

2022 was also the breakaway’s year of maturity. The general level, physical, technical and tactical, in the peloton is of such a uniformly high level now, that the days of giving the break a double-digit lead seemed consigned to the dustbin of history.

We saw it at the Giro d’Italia, and at the Critérium du Dauphiné. I expect more very, very tight catch-ups and the odd stage that passes through the hands of the peloton.

But it all starts in Copenhagen. The Danish nation has been waiting for this for a long time. It goes without saying that they will break expectations, this Grand Départ will be special. All of this is already secure, but that’s about all that is.

Ned Boulting is on tour in October/November with his solo show Re-Tour de Ned. Tickets are available at www.ents24.com/uk/tour-dates/ned-boulting