Can Tommy V win the
Tour? I personally think that he will struggle, but if - like many, we did
indulge that Francofantasy for a little while, we would all also have to deal
with the thought of a 'gurner' winning the Tour. And not since the days of the
fairground coming to town would gurning have been rewarded so. Facial
expressions are ridiculous things at the best of times, but there are some
riders whose effort masks are just something else.
The last two real high
profile gurners to emerge in the pro peloton have both been Frenchmen, and have
both made their names with courageous and seemingly impossible attacks at the
Tour de France. Both have, as a result, been firm housewives' favourites.
I am thinking
specifically Thomas Voeckler and Richard Virenque who remains the undisputed
champion of the desperate grimace. Laurent Jalabert, meanwhile, looked like a
taxi driver thinking about his dinner while ever so occasionally checking his
wing mirrors to see what the traffic looked like behind.
I think, to be fair to
the French, years of suffering in their home Tour, under intense scrutiny, has
caused their riders to feel the need to contort their faces in effort to show
their expectant public that they really are trying. I remember exactly when I
used to pull faces like these: when I was in the Under-16 category and I was
racing past my dad. I would want him to think that I was trying hard - that
even though I may have been taking a kicking, I was out there racing my little
socks off. I did it quite deliberately to elicit support (which for the record
I had plenty of) it made me feel somehow heroic; if I lost, it wasn't for lack
The French riders have
sadly got so used to losing at home that they are still doing the same thing: 'Look Dad I'm trying, I'm really trying'.
It's the air of improbability that makes these riders so appealing, it's in our
nature to fall for the face that screams: 'Help
me! I'm doing this for you!', the vulnerable, courageous little boy.
Voeckler, it seems,
has inherited this particularly visual trait, and in stepping up to the plate
in the biggest race on earth he has won plenty of fans in the general public,
but perhaps fewer among his peers. All riders know that you can make a face, but you rarely ever have to.
As a French mate of
mine told me only a few weeks before the Tour while he shrugged and shook his
head: 'Ah Voeckler, he is pure cinema. He
knows where the camera is - all the time'. That may be the case, and as
painful to watch as I think that his tounge clicking facial twitch may be, he
is setting this particular bike race alight and giving what the French seem to
love more than anything: a forlorn hope.
Unlike some French
riders, I do like Thomas, I've known him for a few years now - through friends
of friends, and I know what it would mean to a lot of people should he pull of
impossible, so why not? After all - I love a bit of drama too, you know.