July 8, 2007
       
 

By Graham Jones and Barry Boyce
CyclingRevealed Historians

 

 

Tour de France Champions Living and Dead

 

 

 

 

 

 

CyclingRevealed's First Impressions '07

Stage 1 - July 8th, London to Canterbury (Kent, England), 203 Km

"Ca ne fait rien"

My own life in cycling started when my family moved from London to Maidstone, Kent in 1960 (today Maidstone greeted the Tour at Km 67.5). I had already tasted club cycling in London and so it was not long before I joined the local cycling club with the interesting name of the San Fairy Ann CC. The club's web site best describes the origins of its founding and name:


Club emblem of Kent's San Fairy Ann Cycling Club


The club's unusual name goes back to when the club was founded in 1922 .The founder members had returned from serving in the forces during the 1914 - 1918 war.

They were in Westborough Congregational Church Cycling Club. However, some of the members of the Church objected to cycling as a suitable past-time for a Sunday and our founders left to form another club.

They met at the Anchor Inn at Yalding (a village outside Maidstone ) and had difficulty deciding on an appropriate name. Someone said "San Fairy Ann" which was a soldiers phrase from the war and an anglicising of the French "Ca ne fait rien" meaning "It doesn't matter" and the name stuck.

‘Ca ne fait rien' could well be the sub-headline to the Tour's visit to Great Britain . Yesterday was the second anniversary of the 2005 London terrorist bombings. Also the week prior to the Tour arriving had seen further serious terrorist activities in London and Glasgow . Ken Livingston, the Lord Mayor of London , expressed typical British defiance in the face of evil forces when he declared that ‘the (Tour) show will go on as planned'. Within cycling itself, as with most other professional sports, the sinister world of drugs has long been creating unwanted sensationalist headlines. In cycling's favor is the image that it is at least taking on a proactive stance to eliminate the scourge.


A huge crowd greets the riders at the Tower Bridge Ceremony ( Image ©: www.gazzetta.it )

Yesterday the British public said ‘ca ne fait rien' to all that is negative and turned out in unbelievable numbers. Conservative estimates put the number lining the Prologue route at about one million. In fact knowledgeable observers claimed that the crowd was larger than that which normally greets the Tour for its finish on the streets of Paris!

Today in Kent it was the same story. Every town and village was lined with huge throngs of people. The three modest Category 4 climbs looked more like the Alps and in fact the Goudhurst climb could easily have been mistaken for the Alp d'Huez by the size of the crowds spilling on to the road. For the riders Goudhurst and the final Farthing Corner climb were probably a nasty shock with respect to both their severity and length. On these climbs, as well as at numerous places along the route, it was amusing to see British ‘bobbys' controlling the crowds as French Gendarmes on motor bikes sheparded the race along Kent's roads.

If the million plus spectators came out today to see a show then the riders responded with a grand display of racing. Britain 's David Millar joined Andry Grivko, Milram, Freddy Bichot, Agritubel, Stéphane Augé, Cofidis and Aleksandr Kuchynski, Liquigas about 20kms into the stage. They built up a lead in excess of five minutes but as the final KOM climb at Farthing Corner (183 kms) approached attacks sent Millar and Grivko rapidly back to the peloton (which itself was closing down on the break). Augé then went off on his own to take the climbing points and hopefully the first KOM jersey. But behind him at the front of the bunch Millar's Saunier Duval teammates chased down the remnants of the break and then made sure that Millar led the peloton over the climb. Consequently Millar's day out front was finally rewarded with the first KOM jersey. Having failed in his KOM quest Augé soon allowed himself to be reabsorbed by the peloton.

The narrow lane up the Farthing Corner climb created yet more drama as the slowing bunch crammed together to cause a mid-bunch shunt. The biggest casualty was Robbie McEwen who landed heavily on his right hand. With about 15kms to go twenty or so riders led by Robbie's Lotto teammates were forced to chase a fast moving bunch being driven along by Tom Boonen's Quick Step boys.

On the outskirts of Canterbury McEwen and the rest reconnected just as the sprinters lead-out trains were starting to form. Swooping past the ancient city walls McEwen was working his way to the front while Boonen, Zabel, Hushovd and co. were confidently thinking that they would at least not have to deal with the little feisty Australian ‘pocket rocket'. How wrong they were as McEwen made them all look like amateurs with an incredible and very clear win. In his post race interviews he talked of his painful hand and wrist and said that after his crash he had nothing to lose. At that moment all was focused on winning and as for the crash ‘ca ne fait rien'!!


From nowhere McEwen appear at the head of the Sprint! ( Image ©: www.gazzetta.it )

x Robbie McEwen the stage winner ( Image ©: www.gazzetta.it )

For well over a year there has been much hype building up to the Tour's British invasion. Not only London , but towns and villages all through Kent have been preparing for the big day with everything from security to village fairs. In one little village church just before the Goudhurst KOM, the Sunday church service was devoted to cyclists and finished with a ‘blessing of the bikes'.

Km 203 stage finish. Canterbury is known world wide for its famous cathedral. Although the city was severely damaged in WWII bombing raids there are still many remnants of its medieval past as well as the original Roman city wall

Soon after the podium presentations finished in Canterbury the entire Tour entourage headed for the south coast and their short English Channel trip back to France . For Britain the Tour will have left an indelible memory and in Tour history Britain 's response to the race will have its own honorable chapter. They will be back!

The Tour was an important test of Britain 's ability to host a world class sporting event in its capital. Those working on the upcoming London Olympic Games must be feeling extremely happy with how the British organizational and security infrastructures created several days of spectacular and incident free sporting entertainment.


Sir Winston would have been proud of how Egland handled the 'French invasion'!

For the British public, Robbie McEwen's defiant return from adversity will be particularly appreciated in the spirit of ‘ca ne fait rien'.

 

Visit the San Fairy Ann CC web site HERE

 

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Also read:

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Welcome to Kent