Tour fever

Each year I say I won’t succumb. Not me:
I’ll fight, resist, be strong, remain untouched.
But here I am again, once more laid low
With an acute attack of Tour Fever.
An ailment rarely known now in these isles
Where most of us are inoculated
Against the bicycle in childhood.
The peloton bug bit hard long years back
When Big Mig’s five-straight run of victories
Had sputtered to a sad, untimely stop
And challengers flocked in from other lands
Like post-Pendragon knights desperate to draw
The sword from stone and anvil, claim the crown.

And my affliction flowered, leaving me
Prostrated on the couch for hours and days
With shining eyes, delirious with dreams
Or falling into darkness as one more
Of summer’s gods proved false. With each new wound
I thought that my immunity would grow.

But every August’s cure proved incomplete.
And so, as summer waxes, I can feel
My pulse-rate rise, a stirring in my blood,
And all my thoughts slip south. My heart prepares
To race, to sink, to fill and overflow
And probably be broken once again.

Hit and run

Dutch courage

Don’t know him –
Never met him. Probably never will.
Just another skinny guy
In shiny shorts and sponsor’s jersey
Getting paid for doing something
The rest of us do for love.

But in a breathless
I-don’t-believe-this instant
The car swerves
Wheels touch
And Johnny’s spinning off the road
Somersaulting into a barbed-wire fence
At forty miles an hour
While a billion stomachs
Take an express elevator down a hundred floors
And all France is swept
By a mistral of gasps and blasphemy.

And suddenly
I’m right there with him,
A brother in the hit-from-behind nightmare
Those of us who ride the road
Must smother daily;
Each of the three-dozen stitches
In his gouged and shredded skin
A tally-mark for a million times
It didn’t happen;
And a knot tied to remind us
That it can.

A truly horrendous – and unforgiveable – crash on yesterday’s stage of Le Tour, from which the Spanish rider Juan Antonio Flecha and Dutchman Johnny Hoogerland were lucky to escape with their lives:

I won’t post links to the images of Hoogerland caught up in the barbed-wire fence that have appeared on the web this morning; suffice to say they’re not suitable for those of a nervous disposition. It remains to be seen whether he’ll start on Tuesday (today is the Tour’s first rest day, thank goodness) but if he does, it’ll prove yet again just how tough these riders are; and, on a more troubling level, just how all-important Le Tour has become, and the pain and risks riders are now prepared to accept to stay in it.