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No quarter given in clash of the cobble stones, Cup and centre court

13 July 2018 10:00 AM
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Unstuck: Chris Froome was broken by the famed cobbles of Roubaix in 2014, which is where Le Tour reaches this weekend.

Unusually, the Tour de France carnival rolls into Roubaix tomorrow. A stage of almost 160 kilometres, including 22 kilometres of dangerous, rutted pave. Underlining the pivotal nature of this ninth stage of Le Tour, while Christopher Froome has withstood pints of urine hurled in his face, and recent assertions of doping up on Ventolin, the only thing which has thwarted him winning each renewal of the race from 2013 onwards has been the cobbles, on which he broke bones in 2014.

So my point is this: this particular stage of the 2018 edition of Le Tour is pivotal. Add to that, the Tour de France is the most attended annual sporting event held anywhere in the world. Literally millions of people line the roads of France for three weeks and over 3,300 kilometres of racing. Half a million people will be on Alpe d’Huez alone next Thursday. Yes, the spectators don’t buy tickets like you do to a football game or tennis match, but they’re hardly uninvested observers. Cycling is the national sport of France.

Now by my rough calculations, the race to Roubaix on Sunday should finish around the same time that there’s about 20 minutes plus stoppage time left on the rocket clock in the World Cup final played in Russia’s Luzhniki Stadium. France v Croatia – a match-up not quite for the ages, now football ain’t “comin’ home” for at least another four years.

Like England, France have won the World Cup just once – two decades ago against Brazil in the Stade de France. Undoubtedly, Les Bleus will start raging favourites. So, you have the biggest sporting event in France, clashing with the most significant sporting occasion of a generation for France.

Stopping there, at the same time the grupetto reaches Roubaix and the World Cup progresses towards “squeaky bum time”, the men’s final at Wimbledon will also be underway. And this week, there’s been a frenzied 11th-hour push to somehow shift the Wimbledon men’s final right out of the way of the World Cup, as if it’s only just dawned on anyone that Wimbledon culminates the same day as do proceedings in Russia. Go figure.

So riddle me this: if one can make the argument that the All England Club should shift the start time of the Wimbledon final to accommodate the World Cup – and if that argument to do so holds any water whatsoever shouldn’t it follow that the Tour de France organisers follow suit? Get everyone, from the maillot jaune to the riders on the autobus, to Roubaix in time for lunch?

Naarghhh! Me either. As my wife might phrase it after one too many snakebites (Google it): “That’s utter bollocks” (that’s if Alys can yet speak, so overcome with grief she is that football ain’t comin’ home).

The All England Club Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (as it’s properly known), just like the organisers of Le Tour, have known for years what time the World Cup final would be played. Years! As have the broadcasters that bought rights to televise the tournament. As have those who’ve purchased tickets and debentures. Move the Wimbledon final? Nonsense. Perhaps it’s a moot argument now though; because wherever football is going, it ain’t comin’ home ...

Play the Wimbledon final hours earlier, all because broadcasters are concerned that ratings will take a nosedive? Please! All because broadcasters shell out zillions for the worldwide television rights to the World Cup and Wimbledon (and the Tour), and there’s a clash. So what, exactly? Caveat emptor and all that. If the broadcasters are actually complaining at all.


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