This started festering on my desktop sometime over the winter, when I realised that a lot of the cycling books I'd read had made passing reference to the critérium circuit but I'd never really got around to understanding that circuit very well. I had the usual view: crits were a good night out but hardly competitive. But did that mean they weren't important? So I started putting together notes and quotes. Finally I thought I'd better get it off my puter as it just kept growing. So here it is. Apps for the length. Print it and read bits during the duller parts of the Vuelta. If nothing else, it's food for thought.
Behind the Tour de France there used to be a Shadow Tour. One that took place in the weeks after the Tour itself ended but received only a fraction of the Tour's coverage. The post-Tour critérium circuit.
Riders tore around France in the Tour in July and then they tore around France, Belgium and the Netherlands again in August - with occasional trips to the fringe countries, if the money was inviting enough - clocking up as many critériums as they could. Here one day, there the next, speeding (yes, in that sense too) from this village to that, driving overnight and through the day. And at the end of each drive a critérium to be raced. In many ways, this Shadow Tour demanded a lot more of its participants than the Tour de France itself did.
David Walsh, when writing his biography of Sean Kelly, decided he wanted to look inside this Shadow Tour. Generally speaking, reporters didn't follow the post-Tour critérium circuit. They were too knackered after a month tear-arsing around France following the real thing to be bothered spending another month chasing cyclists again just to report on a series of crappy little crits, most of which were fixed in one way or another. Plus there wasn't as much free food on offer. The only people who really cared about these races were the people in whose towns and villages they took place. Plus, of course, the riders themselves.
Walsh makes this observation about the critérium circuit:
"The critérium circuit, particularly in France, where distances are so great, encourages excess. Riders will forget the normal rules in the pursuit of money."
Then as now, riders piled into the critérium circuit because the money available on it made it worthwhile. However, a difference between then and now was in the disparity between a rider's basic wage - the salary paid to him by his team - and the amount he earned independently, usually through appearance fees negotiated by his agent. For many riders, the fees paid to ride critériums, taken collectively over the course of a season, matched - often exceeded - their basic pay. And, for most of the riders in the peloton, that made the difference between a year in which, financially speaking, they were just getting by and a year in which they had enough cash left over to put something aside for their post-cycling future.
While purses in official races are shared among team personnel - riders, mechanics and soigneurs alike - on the critérium circuit it is every man for himself. Appearance fees and prizes won go into the pocket of the rider. Well, after the usual deduction by the rider's agent and the travel and accommodation costs, which come out of the rider's own pocket. Back in the old days, the taxman didn't always get his cut, the races being cash in hand. Actually, back then, the taxman probably took more overall interest in who raced what critériums than most cycling journalists, so that he could try and claim his slice of the cake.
In the eighties, an average rider could expect to be paid between £500 and £1,000 (in eighties' money) to appear at a critérium. Kelly's fee, Walsh estimated, was about £2,000. Kelly wasn't even the top earner on the critérium circuit in those days. He was just a winner of the Tour's green jersey. Laurent Fignon and Bernard Hinault, Walsh figured, could expect £3,000, based on their status in France and the fact that they were Tour de France winners.
To put some perspective on those figures for you, consider two numbers offered by Benjo Maso in The Sweat of the Gods. There Maso reckoned Kelly's 1984 Super Prestige Pernod win was worth £3,500. His Paris Roubaix victory netted him £1,200. In just two post-Tour critériums Kelly could earn more than in both of those two competitions. And he wouldn't have to share it with the rest of his team.
Do the math and you'll quickly see that the number of races you could squeeze into your schedule could make a major impact on your annual earnings. It was the icing on the cake for a lot of riders. For some riders, it was the cake itself. And for others, it was their breakfast, dinner and tea. And this is what the critérium circuit had always been about.
Paul Howard, in his Jacques Anquetil biography, has Bernard Hinault's take on the critérium circuit in the seventies:
"In those days, when you won a Classic, you won hardly anything. When I won Liège-Bastogne-Liège, it was about six thousand francs to share with the team - only six hundred francs each. That's not much. But it helps your palmarès. If you can't win the Tour, you can always win the Classics which then helps with the critériums. And don't forget, base salaries were very small, More than half your income was from the critériums. If you're thinking about Pères Jacques ... if he raced ten critériums, he could buy a house."
Vin Denson offered this comment about the sixties' critérium circuit:
"I missed out on a lot of money by not riding the 1963 Tour. A Tour rider is a celebrity in cycling and in the sixties he would be invited to some forty or so critériums after the Tour, and even an average rider could expect about £80 appearance money for each one, plus prizes and primes."
Brian Robinson told Paul Howard about his time in the peloton, in the fifties and sixties:
"The real earning power came from the series of contracts after the Tour. You'd be riding nearly every day for thirty days, getting as much as £80 nearly every day, so it was pretty good money. Unlike us, who just rode contracts after the Tour, the stars rode contracts all year round. So, there were those to fit in, and, speaking purely as a professional, he [Anquetil] would be busy enough without worrying too much about the one-day races."
Robinson told Les Woodland another story, which concerns Louison Bobet, the star of the fifties, the first man to knock-off three Tours back-to-back:
"Once, after the Tour finished, I had no contracts for seven days, so I had a week off and went to a training camp in Epernay, where Bobet liked to rest and build up again. There weren't many miles involved and I was told that if I sprinted for every kilometre sign for seven days, I would have the speed for the critériums.
"I was steaming in the critérium and I'd taken every prime when Bobet came up to me and said, 'If you don't let me win, you won't get another contract.' He had so much control. He was Mr Cycling. I was getting £40 a critérium and he was getting £1,000. He was there at every race."
The key problem with the old critérium circuit was this: in order to unlock all the extra cash the circuit offered, you had to get yourself from race to race and then ride the race and put on a bit of show. The miles in between races were far greater than the miles raced. Those miles - more than the miles raced - made it a Shadow Tour.
At the Tour, as the seventies drew to a close, riders were beginning to get fed up with the ever increasing number of transfers - and the ever longer distances covered by them - in between Tour stages. They began to protest and force the organisers of the Tour to take their well-being into account. And yet, even for years after these protests, those same riders willingly put themselves through even greater torture each August in order to compete on the critérium circuit. Without complaint.
This was the excess side of the circuit that hooked Walsh's interest. A key issue Walsh had with the post-Tour critériums was how they impacted on Kelly's form at the Worlds. This point about form was something Walsh regularly came back to in his coverage of Kelly's career, that Kelly tired himself out in the month of August, chasing critériums, and consequently arrived at the Worlds never really having the form he should have had. Kelly himself, Walsh noted, had always complained that the post-Tour critérium circuit was poor preparation for the Worlds, and each year declared he would cut down the following year. Not that he ever did.
Walsh was really only concerned with Kelly - and the other Irish riders - but he was not unique in his perception of the circuit. Here's Fignon, on the impact the circuit had on French riders in general:
"It took me a while to work out why there had been so few French world champions in cycling history. Back then the world title was run at the end of August or the start of September, and not at the end of September as it is now. After a month travelling from one critérium to another, barely sleeping and knocking back a drink or two to keep everyone company, the French riders - who were in greater demand for the critériums than the foreigners - were worn out. After riding the critérium circuit I would be almost more tired than after the Tour, which is saying something."
That said, there were those who disagreed with this view. Freddy Maertens, for instance:
"In spite of how much some riders hate the critériums as a preparation for the World Championships I've never thought of them as being a disadvantage. I would always have a massage afterwards (on long journeys, my physio would always come with me). I never stayed behind too long discussing the race afterwards, I made sure I always got enough sleep and, most important of all, I always trained about one hundred fifty kilometres a day with the World Championship in mind."
Here I should acknowledge that, while I am looking only at the post-Tour critérium circuit, August was not the only month when riders raced these small local races. Kelly talked to Walsh of the post-Classics kermis season in Belgium. For Kelly, these races explained the lack of success for Belgian teams in the Tour de France in his own early days in the peloton, arguing that the Belgians took too much time off to ride kermis races when they should have been focussing on Tour preparation.
This is one of the funny things about the whole critérium circuit: most riders felt it was not the best preparation for the proper racing calendar, but they were the races that paid the bills. Here's Tom Simpson, from his autobiography, Cycling Is My Life, talking about his experience in 1960:
"I was still very tired [at the end of the Tour], but had recovered my fitness a little. If I could have rested then perhaps I would have felt fine in a few days, but I had to fulfil my contracts to ride in various events. This was the biggest drawback for a young rider trying to make a name for himself. He rides hard and well to make people notice him and thus gain contracts to ride. Having done this, he then has to work even harder in order to ensure that he stays in the public eye. If you begin to turn down contracts you rarely get a second opportunity to ride that particular event.
"Thus, having slogged your guts out to get somewhere, you have to work even more desperately if you want to keep at the top and retain your reputation. So it was with me, and I had to go through with all the contracts, for to break them would not only have meant loss of money but also prestige and I would have been regarded as unreliable. This vicious cycle had me dragging myself around the critérium races at Milan, Turin, Sallanches in the French Alps, and then across to Lyon all within the space of a week after the Tour ended. And that was not all of them, for I then went to Belgium for a few days of races in different parts of the country, and then made a supreme effort to reach Nice in time for another event."
From Belgium to Nice is more than fifteen hundred kilometres, which Simpson drove "alone, exhausted." He had left himself twenty-six hours to get from one race to the other and arrived just as the Nice crit kicked off. He barely survived five klicks before retiring. The next crit on the itinerary was back the way he'd just come, in central France. He crashed out of the race. At that point, Simpson seemed to find sense, returned to Paris and retired to a hospital bed for a week.
You can see the how Walsh could decide there was a story in the post-Tour critérium circuit. A story he wanted to try and understand and share with his readers. So, somehow, he convinced Kelly to allow him tag along for a couple of days. And so, for three days in August 1984, mid-way through the second week of the circuit, David Walsh joined Sean Kelly and Kelly's wife Linda, along with Kelly's friend and domestique Ronny Onghena, as they went in search of critériums.
They started out on at nine o'clock on a Wednesday night, from Kelly's home in Vilvoorde, driving to a critérium in Chaumiel, the Bol d'Or des Monédières. Call it fourteen hundred kilometres of roads away. The critérium in Chaumiel was due off at two-thirty on the Thursday afternoon. So they had less than seventeen hours to get from A to B.
At six on the Thursday morning, having driven through the night, they stopped at a small hotel in Thulle, about forty kilometres away from the village of Chaumiel. In their nine hours on the road they'd had just one stop for fuel and coffee. In Thulle they slept until eleven-thirty and were on the road again before midday. Halfway to Chaumiel, they stopped for breakfast/lunch ("ham, salami, pork, gherkin, bread and mineral water").
The critérium itself was a hundred fifty kilometres, lapping a large circuit, probably about twenty kilometres long. Four hours of racing. Thirty-five riders made up the peloton. Among them was Laurent Fignon - the winner of that year's Tour - who himself had driven eleven hundred kilometres from a critérium in the Netherlands the night before.
As well as Kelly and Onghena, there was another of Jean De Gribaldy's boys at the Chaumiel critérium, their team-mate Eric Caritoux, who had been a surprise winner of the that year's Vuelta a España. Coming from Carpentras, a little further south than Chaumiel, Kelly suggested to Hinault and Fignon that it might be good if Caritoux won the race. It was agreed that, if Caritoux had the legs for it, they had no problems with such an arrangement. Caritoux duly showed that he had the legs and won the race.
By seven-thirty, having showered and attended to his post-race obligations, Kelly and company were back in their Citroën and on the road for Concarneau, in the south-west of Brittany. Another nine hours of driving. An hour or so into the drive, Kelly stopped for their evening meal.
Uncharacteristically, here Kelly deferred to the presence of his wife and a journalist, stopping at a slightly up-market restaurant. Not his usual choice, as Kelly later made abundantly clear to Walsh:
"I haven't eaten in a restaurant like this for a long time and it will be a long time before I am caught in one again. If you stop at one of the self-service places in the motorway you can see exactly what you are getting and have it eaten in half an hour. That means an extra hour's sleep somewhere further on in the journey."
For Kelly, the critérium circuit was no busman's holiday and he was strict in his diet: melon, pork chops, cheese, black coffee. Onghena could push the boat out a bit - De Gribaldy wasn't around to hide all the fun and fattening food from his charges - and enjoyed a desert of ice-cream and cream. That boy really knew how to have fun.
(This, it should be pointed out was the lap of luxury as far as riders at the other end of the scale were concerned. In Paul Kimmage's description of the critérium circuit, the lowly paid domestiques dined on "a bag of chips and a sausage roll bought from a chip van at the side of the road.")
What with all the waiting between courses, it was ten-thirty before Kelly and co were back on the road, the thick end of two hours after they'd stopped. You'd almost have to concede Kelly's point about the speed of eating at motorway self-service stations, even if they don't have linen napkins. Around one-thirty there was a brief stop to fuel up: diesel for the car, coffee for the passengers.
At four-thirty on the Friday morning they checked into a hotel near Rennes and slept until one-thirty in the afternoon. Breakfast - this time a self-service restaurant, practicality trumping Kelly's concern for his travelling companions - and they were back in the car, arriving in Concarneau at about five.
This was a late-evening critérium, ten o'clock. Fignon was there again. Another attraction was the little heralded Vincent Barteau, one of Fignon's Tour team-mates, and the man who had worn the yellow jersey of the Tour for eleven days the month before, an exploit engineered after Barteau's directeur sportif, Cyrille Guimard, sent him off on a long-distance escape that saw him gain twenty minutes on the day and gave him a seventeen minute cushion protecting his hard-earned maillot jaune.
The Concarneau critérium took place in the pouring rain. The race went to another team-mate of Fignon's, Pierre Henri Menthéour (brother of the more infamous Erwann). This time Walsh noted an argument between Fignon and the critérium organiser, before the start of the race. The organiser had wanted the winner of the Tour's maillot jaune to win his race. Fignon - for whatever reason - demurred.
Most critérium organisers wanted either the big star or the local star to win their race. But there are rules, even to the critérium circuit. Sometimes the outcome is agreed upon, sometimes a critérium is a free-for-all, sometimes the races are only loosely choreographed. Generally, everyone tries to make everyone else happy - race organisers, fans and riders alike. Everyone tries to keep the show on the road. Everyone understands that that is what a critérium is, a show.
Quite how fixed critériums are varies from report to report. The level of fixing obviously varies from locale to locale and from generation to generation, so there are no absolutes in this. The easiest thing to do is to say they were - and still are - all fixed, all the time. But then, it's also the easy option to say that everyone doped all the time. Just because it's easy to say doesn't make it right.
Most everyone though acknowledges that some form of fixing exists in most critériums on the continent. Here's Laurent Fignon, from We Were Young And Carefree:
"Let's not beat about the bush: the only reason critériums exist is to create a spectacle. The organisers pay the riders to take part. The racing follows well-established 'rules,' that have changed little in the past forty years. The best-known riders of the time have to be kept on show all the time. The public isn't fooled. They come for that and they like the way the racing is stimulated. It's not one hundred percent arranged in advance but the conventions stipulate that the two or three big names in the bunch contest the win at the end."
Conventions though are there to be disregarded. In 1987, as part of their preparation for the World Championships, the four continent-based Irish riders of the time - Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche, Martin Earley and Paul Kimmage - were back in Ireland for a series of three Kelloggs' city centre critériums, in Dublin, Wexford and Cork. The first race being in the capital and Roche being both the hometown kid and the winner of that year's Tour an attempt was made to arrange the race in his favour. Here's Roche himself:
"There was a meeting of the riders before the Dublin race. Sean proposed that, as I had just won the Tour de France and this was my first race back in my home town since the Tour, an agreement should be reached whereby I would win. In a similar situation on the continent, there would not have been any need to ask. Everyone would have understood that the guy back in his home town after winning the Tour would simply have to win. His fellow professionals would want it as much as the public. It is a kind of admission that the critériums are more spectacles than madly competitive races. That is the way we understand them and I am sure that is the way the public see them as well."
But apart from the Irish riders, Allan Peiper was the only other big rider in the field, the rest being made up of British-based professionals. And they didn't want to gift the win to Roche. They wanted him to pay for the privilege of winning in front of his own fans. A grand. Whether a deal was reached or not isn't clear, but the Irish riders felt that the British weren't playing by the rules and - even though Roche won the race - they weren't happy. And when the British riders excluded them from the fix for the other two races, they decided to give them a lesson in continental racing etiquette. Roche again:
"After that there was war. The English riders were furious. We were painted as the Irish mafia ripping off the poor British pros. They claimed that it had been agreed that one of their riders would win in Wexford. They said they had let me win in Dublin. We did not accept that there had been any agreement for Wexford since they had not discussed the race with us beforehand. Neither did we accept that they let me win in Dublin."
Those Irish critériums - like the other televised city centre ones that went on in the UK in the mid-eighties - were a curious hybrid of two different forms of critérium racing. They were a clash of cycling cultures. For the British riders, such critériums made up most of their professional circuit, the British having a curious view of road racing. When Channel 4 came along in 1983 and decided to televise some city centre races, they knew who the real stars were: the continental pros. Guys like Freddie Maertens and Francesco Moser were contracted to ride, along with the Irish, British and Australian stars of the day. Here's Steve Joughin, a British professional from that era, on that clash of cultures, in his recent autobiography, Pocket Rocket:
"As the Kelloggs' series progressed, there was rivalry between us UK-based pros and the continental guys. Some of this rivalry was influenced by the fact that the UK riders got a flat rate while the continental stars were paid much more in appearance money in order to persuade them to come over and race. So we had a race in which the UK riders, who made up the majority of the field, felt that they were the ones putting the show on and getting much less reward than the handful of continental stars."
The Kelloggs' series ended in 1987, when the Kelloggs' Tour of Britain took over, but by then it had caused something of a minor controversy in the staid world of British cycling:
"There was talk of race fixing and of riders buying victories and of race organisers fixing races so that certain riders won. In particular, there was a rumour that some riders were involved in fixing the result of Sport For Television events, which were the races that got the TV coverage and were, therefore, the races that were most important to team sponsors."
Those allegations surfaced toward the end of 1987. Nothing ever came from them. By the time they surfaced, Alan Rushton's Sport For Television company - which Pat McQuaid was involved with - had already moved on. The problem faded away and the British were able to get back to doing things their own way.
But no matter how firmly the outcome of a race is written, there are no guarantees in cycling. The best laid plans of Mycenaean men and all that. Sometimes the choreography goes just goes to pieces for no discernable reason. Here's a tale Erwann Menthéour tells in his doping confessional:
"Laurent Jalabert was making his show. He had just finished fourth in the Tour de France and he had the green jersey on his shoulders, with a win at Mende on July 14 [Bastille Day] as a bonus. Naturally the public wanted to see him in action. He broke away by himself, by agreement with the others, because the script of the critérium is written in advance. [...] That day though, nothing went the way it was planned. Jaja was supposed to drop back to us, and the bunch was riding as a group to get up to him, but his lead went up by a second a lap. Some riders started getting worried, and the complaints flew. He wasn't respecting the rules. In the end, a rider feigned a puncture so he could wait for him and calm him down a bit. But when he got up alongside him, Jaja told him: 'What are you talking about? I've been waiting for you for the last ten laps!'"
Failing to abide by the rules - the peloton's rules - has consequences. Cycling is a small world, and it is easy for the many to bully the few. Here's a story from a critérium organiser, Ad Coenrads - the man behind the Acht van Chaam, one of the first post-Tour crits in the Netherlands - in which he makes a curious case for the honesty of the competition in his race:
"Of course some riders made some deals in the past. But sometimes it has gone wrong as well. In 1981, Roy Schuiten won when it was supposed to be the local hero, Johan van der Velde. But it was 'over and out' in the peloton for Schuiten after that."
In the actual racing then, the critériums that made up the Shadow Tour hardly compared to stages in the real Tour. But being fixed only means the outcome is known. Riders still have to get around the race. Kimmage:
"Although the race is organised this doesn't necessarily make it easier. It's not that easy to fool the crowd. Unless they see the stars whizzing by at sixty kilometres an hour they won't be happy. There is nothing false about the average lap speed, which rarely falls below fifty kilometres an hour. There is nothing false about the grimacing faces. It is just the result that is, well, 'doctored.'"
Or here's Freddy Maertens:
"Critériums were the principal way of cashing in on winning the green jersey. Those few weeks after a Tour de France are often greatly underestimated by the public. Even when the peloton is flying round the circuit at fifty kilometres an hour, you can still hear the cry, 'Lazy swines!' All I can say is just try staying out in front with a great storming pack chasing after you!
"Another often heard cliché is that it is arranged beforehand who is going to win a critérium. Sometimes there is talk, I won't deny that, but if somebody tells someone else that he thinks he can win, he has to go out and prove it. With all the corners and bends, after which you always have to get going again, it is certainly not just a leisurely exhibition ride."
Let's pick up the thread of Walsh's trip with Kelly again. Back on the road after the Concarneau critérium, the Irish journalist learned another of the loosely-written rules of the critérium circuit. Kelly was unhappy with Onghena's performance in Concarneau. The Belgian had pulled out, blaming the wet conditions and his contact lens. But Kelly didn't hold with just turning up at critériums, showing your face and then buggering off. You had to sing for your supper. And - for Kelly - that meant that you didn't really have the choice of pulling a sickie, as the hard-man of the peloton explained to Onghena:
"You should have taken it easy for a couple of laps, pulled in on some quiet part of the circuit when the rain was at its worst and then rejoined the race when things improved. Not a sinner would have noticed."
A point that has to be remembered here is that Onghena was getting those critérium rides because of Kelly. And that meant that - as far as Kelly was concerned - Onghena's performances reflected on him too. Onghena was one of the peloton's spear carriers, a guy who never got to win in his own right. But because he was Sean Kelly's spear carrier, he was well rewarded for his efforts. Between their first meeting at the Splendor squad in 1979 and the demise of the Kas sponsorship in 1988, Kelly looked out for Onghena, kept him on the roster year after year, and demanded that Onghena got his share of the critérium contracts.
Roche makes a similar point, about his Carrera domestique, Eddy Schepers:
"Many bike racers make a significant part of their money in the critériums and it is important that the very top riders make the critériums because without them, there will be no public. There were times when I needed the critériums more than I do now and in those days I was very glad of the money. Now I feel an obligation to support the critériums, knowing they are important for many pros. The critériums, for example, give me a chance to repay Eddy for the work he did in the Giro and the Tour. Organisers permit the big name riders to nominate some of their team for certain critériums and I would not accept a contract unless Eddy was also offered one."
For Kelly and co, it was after midnight when all the post-race commitments in Concarneau were completed. Another day, another dollar. If it's Saturday, it must be Kortenhoef next, far to the north, near Amsterdam. Another eleven-hundred kilometres of driving for Kelly and his merry troop.
Seven hours and they were in Brussels, still three hundred kilometres shy of Kortenhoef. Three hours sleep, Kelly declared. Walsh noted that Kelly spent most of them lying awake, unable to find sleep. He attributed this to over tiredness. By eleven, Kelly was up and cleaning his bike. By noon, they were back on the road.
At Kortenhoef, an afternoon race this time, Dutch riders stole the show, Leo van Vliet from Gerrie Knetemann, with Phil Anderson there in third to stop from being a Dutch lock-out. Walsh noted a conversation between Phil Anderson's wife, Anne, and Kelly's wife, Linda. Her husband, Anderson remarked, had never been allowed to win a Dutch critérium. She blamed Jan Raas, who - it was claimed - controlled all the main Dutch critériums at that time, and called him a jerk.
Stephen Roche, in his autobiography, made an observation about Phil Anderson, how wherever he lived, he never tried to pick up any of the local language. If you wanted to talk to him, you talked his tongue, English. Anderson, Roche suggested, expected too much. The Antipodean chided other Anglosphere riders who chased him down when he was in breaks but himself never thought twice about chasing them down when they were in a break. Anderson, in Roche's analysis, simply wasn't liked in the peloton. Respected, maybe, but never liked.
Maybe something as simple as that explains him not being allowed win in Kortenhoef, although you always have to take Roche's analysis of other riders with a large pinch of salt. He had an odd view of what a 'proper' cyclist was. Whatever the excuses, Kelly'd already won two critériums in Holland that year, one of them at Elsloo, a few days before Walsh signed on with him. Anderson's break came the following week, at a crit in Tiel, when he was allowed to win, with Greg LeMond and Hennie Kuiper behind him.
By nine o'clock on the Saturday night, the Kortenhoef critérium completed, Kelly was back in Brussels, dropping Walsh off at the train station, their three days on the road together at an end. Walsh boarded a train taking him back to Paris, where he'd based himself for the year as he tried to get under the skin of the cycling scene. Kelly went home to Vilvoorde, a good night's sleep and a day of rest before going back on the road in search of more critériums.
Three days, three races, about three and a half thousand kilometres of driving, four or five hundred kilometres of racing and only sixteen hours or so of sleep. Walsh had got a good story out of it but for him the August critérium circuit was already over. For Kelly, well he was £6,000 up on the back of those three days Walsh spent on the road with him, and expected to earn about £30,000 in total over the course of the month, racing in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Great Britain. By Monday, with Walsh back in his Parisian home, typing up his stories, Kelly was back on the road, earning his crust.
Perhaps here it would help to get a larger picture of the circuit as it existed back then. Seeing as 1984 has taken up so much of this tale so far, let's look at that year:
|Aalst||Belgium||Frank Hoste||Eric Vanderaerden||Willy Tierlinck|
|Bain-de-Bretagne||France||Alain Bondue||Francesco Moser||Jean-François Rault|
|Joigny||France||Pascal Simon||Michel Laurent||Régis Clère|
|Ronse||Belgium||Eric Vanderaerden||Claude Criquiélion||Alfons de Wolf|
|Callac||France||Bernard Hinault||Francesco Moser||Pierre le Bigaut|
|Graz||Austria||Harald Maier||Alfons de Wolf||Urs Freuler|
|Deinze||Belgium||William Tackaert||Gerry Verlinden||Marc Moens|
|Peer||Belgium||Ludo Peeters||Guy Nulens||Eric Vanderaerden|
|De Panne||Belgium||Eddy Planckaert||Michel Pollentier||Gino Ligneel|
|Ninove||Belgium||Dirk Hierweg||Willy Tierlinck||Diedrik Foubert|
|Londerzeel||Belgium||Alfons de Wolf||Rudy Pevenage||Ludo de Keulenaer|
|Stuttgart||Germany||Sean Kelly||Josef Kristen||Uwe Bolten|
|Ternat||Belgium||Willy Tierlinck||Michel Dernies||Ronald van Avermaet|
|Loudéac||France||Laurent Fignon||Pierre le Bigaut||Sean Kelly|
|Bilzen||Belgium||Eric Vanderaerden||Frank Hoste||Adrie Wijnands|
|Bussières||France||Sean Kelly||Marc Madiot||Michel Laurent|
|Les Herbiers||France||Marc Durant||Jacques Bossis||Frédéric Vichot|
|Hasselt||Belgium||Frank Hoste||Benny van Brabant||René Martens|
|Elsloo||Netherlands||Sean Kelly||Adrie Wijands||Peter Winnen|
|Egmond aan Zee||Netherlands||Laurent Fignon||Théo Smit||Steven Rooks|
|Moorsele||Belgium||Werner Devos||Etienne de Wilde||Gino Ligneel|
|St Truiden||Belgium||Guy Nulens||Marc Sergeant||Eric Vanderaerden|
|Deerlijk||Belgium||Michel Dernies||Etienne de Wilde||Eddy Vanhaerens|
|Chaumniel||France||Eric Caritoux||Feédéric Bruin||Robert Alban|
|Maarheeze||Netherlands||Peter Winnen||Joop Zoetemelk||Allan Peiper|
|Vigo||Spain||Alfonso Guitterez||José Luis Navarro||Isidro Juarez|
|Tienen||Belgium||Roger de Vlaeminck||Frank Hoste||Lucien van Impe|
|Concarneau||France||Pierre-Henri Menthéour||Hubert Linard||Maurice le Guilloux|
|Dilsen||Belgium||René Martens||Eric Vanderaerden||Eric Stevens|
|Lamballe||France||Bernard Hinault||Laurent Fignon||Christian Levavasseur|
|Kortenhoef||Netherlands||Léo Van Vliet||Gerrie Kneteman||Phil Anderson|
|La Rua||Spain||Alfonso Guitterez||Immanol Muraga||Valentin Dorronsoro|
|Herselt||Belgium||Claude Criquiélion||Lucien van Impe||Jozef Lieckens|
|Castillion-la-Batille||France||Laurent Fignon||Stephen Roche||Jacques Bossis|
|Le Horps||France||Pascal Poisson||Bernard Hinault||Yvon Madiot|
|Beringen||France||Werner Devos||Eddy Vanhaerens||Joseph Jacobs|
|Château-Chinon||France||Pascal Jules||Michel Laurent||Charly Bérard|
|Roosendaal||Netherlands||Adrie van der Poel||Peter Heeren||Phil Anderson|
|Willebroek||Belgium||Michel Dernies||Daniel Roussel||Christian Wauters|
|St Denijs||Belgium||Luc Desmet||Ferdi van den Haute||Etienne de Wilde|
|Tiel||Netherlands||Phil Anderson||Greg LeMond||Hennie Kuiper|
|Buggenhout||Belgium||Jean-Marie Wampers||Jan Bogaert||Roger de Valeminck|
|Booischot||Belgium||Herman Frison||Ludwig Wijnants||Jean-Marie Wampers|
|Kortrijk||Belgium||Dirk Demol||Patrick Deneut||Cjristian Wauters|
|Ussel||France||Laurent Fignon||Eric Caritoux||Frédéric Bruin|
|Schoonarde||Belgium||Johnny Denul||Gerry Verlinden||Walter Schoonjans|
|Jugon-les-Lacs||France||Robert Millar||Pierre le Bigaut||Christian Levavasseur|
|Vailly-sur-Sauldre||France||Michel Laurent||Eric Caritoux||Denis Roux|
|Dortmund||Germany||Gerard Veldscholten||Theo de Rooy||Luis Luyten|
|'s Heerenhoek||Netherlands||Bernard Hinault||Bert Oosterbosch||Joop Zoetemelk|
|Maël-Pestivien||France||Vincent Barteau||Maurice le Guilloux||Philippe Leleu|
|Manchester||Great Britain||Sean Kelly||Malcolm Elliott||Phil Thomas|
|Heusden||Belgium||Dirk Heirweg||Frank Hoste||Werner Devos|
|Lanester||France||Marc Gomez||Marc Madiot||Régis Clère|
|Le Monte-Dore||France||Dominique Garde||Dominique Arnaud||Patrick Bonnet|
|Emmen||Netherlands||Gérard Veldscholten||Léo van Vliet||Greg LeMond|
|Saint-Martin de Landelles||France||Vincent Barteau||Eric Caritoux||Claude Criquiélion|
|Lessines||Belgium||Christian Wauters||Alain Desaever||Yves Godimus|
|San Sebastian||Spain||Pello Ruiz Cabestany||Bernard Hinault||Modesto Urrutibeazkoa|
|Almelo||Netherlands||Sean Kelly||Alfons van Kaywijk||Léo van Vliet|
|Haasdonk||Belgium||Johnny Denul||Frank van Impe||Werner Devos|
|August 19 Sunday|
|Geetbets||Belgium||Frank van Impe||Guido van Calster||Alfons de Wolf|
|Kampen||Netherlands||Henk Luberding||Adrie van Houwelingen||Greg LeMond|
|Source: Mémoire du Cyclisme|
Walsh's was just a tiny glimpse of what the critérium circuit was like. Three days from a month full of races. Walsh estimated Kelly rode fifteen or so of them that year. Australia's Allan Peiper and England's Sean Yates rode twenty-five. The previous year, 1983, Scotland's Robert Millar rode twenty - mostly in Belgium and Holland, with a couple of trips back to the UK - while the winner of that year's Tour, Laurent Fignon, squeezed in twenty-five. In 1986, Stephen Roche was scheduled to ride fifteen, but had to forego them because of his knee injury.
Here's Fignon on that month of racing following his Tour victory in 1983:
"I barely had any time to savour my success, or to rest and reflect. A Tour de France winner, especially a French one, has a debt to his people and the cycling world was waiting expectantly for me in the critériums. I think I rode twenty-five on the trot. Obviously, as the 'rules' stipulated, I won a fair few of them. And I earned a good deal in appearance money."
Peiper talks about his 1984 experiences on the critérium circuit in A Peiper's Tale. His contract with Peugeot was earning him £5,000 (it went up to £20,000 the next year). The type of rider he was, he could expect maybe £500 per critérium (he was a good prologue rider as well as a domestique, in other words fair-to-middling). Riding ten critériums was all it would take for him to double his annual income. Twenty-five of them ... well you see what I mean about the critérium circuit being breakfast, dinner and tea for some riders.
Here's Peiper's take on those weeks on the road:
"Sean [Yates] and I both finished the  Tour really tired, and then we rode the critériums. So we had ridden the twenty-one days of the Tour, then twenty-five critériums back-to-back. We rode all the post-Tour critériums in Holland, plus we rode critériums once a week in England, and we rode some in France. Sometimes we'd ride a critérium in England, fly back here to Belgium and drive to a race in France, then drive back to Holland. And we did that for twenty-five days straight, still with no medical support. It took me a long time to recover after that."
No medical support didn't mean Peiper rode those critériums a l'eau. Riders looked after themselves:
"It was during those critériums that I found how easy it was to get carried away and sucked into the climate of pro racing in those days. We were getting changed for a race in the South of France, and in the changing room there were some older pros. They had some amphetamines and a needle, and were passing it around. They had a little bit left over and asked if anybody wanted it. I tried it and rode the one-hundred kilometre race like it was nothing. I was in heaven."
It was at a critérium that Paul Kimmage surrendered his virginity, 1987, the Critérium de France, in Château Chinon, one of the bigger little races. This is the tale he recounted in A Rough Ride:
"I sit on the bed watching the [four] others get ready, waiting for the moment. I'm waiting for it to happen. Fuck it, I want it to be happen. The pressure - I can't take this pressure. It happens: the smiles ... a bag is produced. In it small white ampoules of amphetamines and a handful of short syringes. A glance is thrown in my direction. My 'chastity' is well known within the team but it is only polite to offer. I scratch my head and breathe in deeply. If I walk out through the door with only the hotel lunch in my system I will crack mentally. As a result I will probably be dropped and ridiculed after two laps. I can't face any more humiliation. The pressure. I need the money. I nod in acceptance."
Do the drugs work? Here's how Kimmage got on at that race:
"The race is one of the easiest I have ever ridden. I am never under pressure. I have such absolute confidence that I won't get dropped, and I'm able to attack off the front and contribute to the spectacle. This is all that matters to me. To be able to perform. To merit the few quid I have come for. [...] Physically I feel the effort. I feel the pedals, the shortness of the climb. But mentally I'm so strong that it's never a problem. My mind has been stimulated. Stimulated by amphetamines. I believe I'm invincible therefore I am."
For Peiper, the doping culture on the critérium circuit was a way of easing the pressure, or a way of letting off a bit of steam:
"At best, taking drugs in those races was a way of easing the mental pressure of racing three weeks in the Tour de France and following that with thirty critériums. Or it was a joke, it was fun, a buzz, no different from a beer or a coffee. That was the attitude; it was as commonplace as that, just like naughty kids experimenting with beer or cigarettes in the park, and regarded as nothing more serious or shameful than that. I certainly didn't give it much thought. "
Fignon seemed to echo Peiper's notion of the critériums as being a place to let off some steam:
"I liked the atmosphere. The critériums were a sort of continuation of the after-Tour party which suddenly went on another month. You finished the race, and in the evening, as tradition demanded, you picked up where you had left previous night's festivities. It was stimulating but tiring. The ascetic life of a sportsman competing at the highest level doesn't really fit in with letting it all hang out in nightclubs."
Kimmage offers this take on why riders turned to doping at critériums:
"As a result [of the time spent getting from one race to another], on arriving at the critérium they [the riders] were often in no condition to race - but this was a minor detail. Amphetamines were wonderful for motivating a tired domestique to climb once again into the saddle. And as there were never any controls it was at critériums that abuse was at its highest. The drugs were never used in pursuit of victory, because all the critériums were fixed. The people came to see the star winning, so the star always won. That way the punters went away happy and would return next year. No, the amphetamines were an insurance. An insurance that riders would 'perform.' The small riders were expected to animate the race. The routine was to attack off the front for a few laps, milk the applause and then let the star bring you back. By doing this you felt uninhibited when, at the end of the night, you approached the manager and asked for the contract. Contracts were always paid after the event. Amphetamines ensured you got paid."
Johan van der Velde had this to say in 1989:
"Every day, another race. It was detestable but you had to win money. You'd be taking amphetamines every two or three days. In the Tour it was always the same thing: an injection in the morning and pills in the evening."
Doping didn't just arrive on the critérium circuit in the eighties. It had always been a part of it. Speaking in the sixties, Rik van Steenbergen described his experience on the circuit:
"I've had to drive to Paris, then immediately after the race get back in my car for a ten hour trip to Stuttgart where I had to get on my bike at once. There was nothing to do. An organiser would want this star or that one on the bill. He would pay for it. Another would want the same ones the next day, and the public wanted something for its money. As a result, the stars had to look fresh at every race, and they couldn't do that without stimulants. Doping is necessary in cycling."
And here's where you arrive at one of the biggest problems with the old critérium circuit: while everyone was demanding that riders rode the big races clean, no one seemed to care what was happening lower down the food chain. Attempts were made to tame the Tour - where all the media attention was focussed - but a blind eye was turned to the Tour's shadow. What they eye doesn't see, the heart doesn't grieve.
Dope controls on the circuit were rarer than hurricanes in Hampshire, and in those days, there was no out of competition testing. There was one famous incident, in 1982, at a critérium in Callac, when an attempt was made to test riders and they rebelled. Leading the rebels was Bernard Hinault, then the peloton's patron, offering a firm 'Non!' to dope controls. He, Jean-René Bernadeau, Patrick Clerc, Pierre Le Bigaut and Bernard Vallet refused to submit themselves to the requested anti-doping control. When faced with the prospect of a one month suspended suspension and the usual fine of eleven hundred Swiss francs, Hinault threatened a boycott of the Worlds.
This, for me, is an important aspect of the critérium circuit, the part of it which probably intrigues me the most. What role - if any - did the critérium circuit play in cycling's doping culture? I'm not going to argue that critériums caused doping, that using drugs to get you through the miles of driving between races lead to you using drugs in the races themselves, and consequently using drugs the rest of the season. I'm not that stupid.
Don't forget, before the critérium circuit there had been the original Six Day circuit. And even in the critérium circuit's heyday, many riders also spent their winter riding the boards, clocking up the miles, topping up their bank balances, and doped to their eye-balls. Track racing did far more to create a culture of doping than the critérium circuit did. And even there I'm not sure I'd blame the Six Day circuit for causing cycling's doping problem.
Cycling itself, from the start, was the real problem, I guess. From the get go races were crazy, demanded too much. Cycling appealed to an atavistic desire to enjoy the suffering of others. Or, if you want be noble about it, it appealed to a honourable interest in seeing how far the human body could be pushed. All so that bicycle manufacturers could triumph the sturdiness of their machines. Which is something I've never fully understood, given how often races demonstrated how frail those machines really were. But then I've never really understood marketing and why we are seduced so easily by it. But we'll save that digression for another day. Let's try get back to critériums and their role in cycling's doping culture.
If I'm not arguing that the critérium circuit caused cycling's doping problem, what am I doing? I guess I'm asking this: how much did the critérium circuit contribute to embedding cycling's doping culture? How much did it contribute to the normalisation of taking drugs in order to ride races?
One issue with doping at critériums is that it seems to have been more open than at other races. Well, maybe not open, but with riders sharing changing rooms, more visible. Here's Peiper again:
"I can remember the first of the after-Tour critériums in 1992, held in Aast in Belgium. After getting changed and leaving the changing-rooms, one of my Tulip Computers team-mates asked me, 'Did you see all the guys charging up in there?' I looked at him, dumbfounded, and said, 'No, where?' Then he told me how guys were slipping a hypodermic under the skin at the top of the thighs as they adjusted their shorts, or doing it in the upper arm as they pretended to rub on Eau de Cologne with a face cloth."
Go back to Peiper's own experience with amphetamines and how easy he found it to "get carried away and sucked into the climate of pro racing in those days." This was also an argument partly made by Paul Kimmage. Despite riding the 1986 Tour, Kimmage rode no post-Tour critériums. He could have, he felt, if he'd pushed a bit, but he didn't:
"I knew that the critériums would draw me closer to the temptations of drugs and I didn't want that. I was afraid of being tempted, too many complications. If one of the lads offered me a charge, in good faith, before a critérium, how could I possibly refuse without offending him? I still desperately wanted to be one of the boys. If I refused a charge, I knew they would never totally accept me. And so being absent from the critériums suited me just fine."
Peer pressure is just one issue to be considered here. Another is why doping so openly at critériums was perfectly acceptable. Go back to the sixties, when doping controls were first introduced. At that time, doping was perfectly acceptable in the rest of society. If a truck driver could legally buy and use pep pills to keep him on the road why shouldn't riders use pep pills to keep themselves awake as they drove the vast distances between races? And if they were doping in the car, why shouldn't they then also dope on the bike? Having taken some uppers to get to a critérium, should they really be expected to take some downers so that they effectively rode the race clean?
How much was the use of drugs a part of getting from race to race? That's not easy to pin down. It's a curious thing, but even in those cases where riders confess to doping for races, they seldom discuss their use of drugs off the bike. So let's turn to Willy Voet. When he was busted in 1998, driving to Calais, en route to the Tour's grand départ in Dublin, he was charged-up for the drive on Pot Belge, "a magic potion to keep you up all night":
"When you're driving a hundred thirty thousand kilometres a year, you have to stay awake. The riders take drugs - but so do those who look after them. I'd rather take ten milligrammes of amphetamines than wrap my car around a plane tree."
Here's Voet on the critérium circuit:
"I often went off to take part in the round of village circuit races, the critériums, which followed the Tour. Usually I shared a car with two of the top Belgian riders for the whole three weeks as we travelled around France. Anything went during this time, which was without rules or morals. The most explosive cocktails in the world!
"The riders would often gather in bands of seven or eight, sometimes in smaller groups. They did everything together, in the same way that they decided the race result together several days before the race. After eating, this is what tended to happen: everyone who charged up would 'chip in' a little bit to a common jar. An ampoule of Pervitin, one of Tonedron, some MD. A common jar in every sense, which was mixed up before being 'served' in equal portions by subcutaneous injection. Often a snifter was kept for me so that I would be awake to drive to the next race."
One of the funnier stories Voet tells is of how the use of amphetamines by a team mechanic saw Sean Kelly get busted at Paris-Brussels in 1984 for using Stimul. Kelly had actually been using an ephedrine-based cold medicine coming up to the race and, because it was on the banned list, didn't want to do the dope test he was called for. So his urine was substituted with some from one of the team's mechanics. Except that the mechanic had forgotten about the Stimul he'd been using to keep himself awake behind the wheel.
There's a world of difference between Pot Belge and Stimul - for starters, Pot Belge was a witch's brew of amphetamines, caffeine, cocaine, heroin, painkillers and sometimes corticosteroids, which you couldn't buy in your local pharmacy - but the point here is that the average person could use stuff like Stimul to stay awake behind the wheel. Why shouldn't cyclists?
I'm not making a pro-doping argument here. Pep pills were taken away from truck drivers. Today, the number of hours they spend behind the wheel is legislated, they're supposed to have a spy in the cab with them, the tachograph (not always the most efficient spy, I know). Should something have been done to legislate the number of hours riders spent behind the wheel? Rather than taming the Tour in order to eliminate cycling's doping problem, should the UCI and all the others concerned with the problem of doping - particularly the media - not have sought to tame the critérium circuit first? Or were they right to just put their heads in the sand and ignore it?
Once before, jokingly, I suggested that attempts to remodel cycling along the lines of Tennis' ATP Tour or motor-racing's Formula 1 calendar were wrong, and that the sport should look to horse-racing. I was drawing on a comment made to Albert Londres by one of the Pélissier brothers in that famous 1924 piece, Les Forçats de la Route, about how, one day, Henri Desgrange would have them racing with lead weights in their pockets.
One rule the jockey club in the UK has today is to restrict the number of days racing a jockey can put in in a week. This is partly to stop them endangering themselves driving up and down the country in search of a ride. Cycling, in the days before rising salaries reduced the importance of the critérium circuit, could have done with such a rule.
It would have been impossible to impose though, for the very simple reason that, for too many riders, the critérium circuit was where they made their money. So in order to change the critérium circuit, you'd have had to work out how to rebalance the financial equation first.
Fortunately, fate intervened and did that before the authorities got around to taking their fingers out of their arses. The eighties changed a lot of things in this sport. The rewriting of the salary structure was one of the most important changes. And - as a good little left-leaning socialist Euro-weenie - this is one reason I like what happened to cycling in the eighties: riders finally began to get a fair day's wage for a fair day's work.
Here's Benjo Maso on the subject of the economic changes undergone by cycling in the eighties:
"For the riders the key aspect of this development was not only that they could earn more than before, but also that the major sources of their income had changed. These were no longer the appearance fees for critériums and kermesses, but the salaries and bonuses they received from their employers. It goes without saying, of course, that the steep rise in riders' salaries affected the relations between employers and employees. The sponsor paid a lot of money to have the riders wear their companies' jerseys, but this gave them the right to determine when, and where, the riders would compete."
The changes in cycling's salary structure helped diminish the importance of the critérium circuit, killed it off as a Shadow Tour. Like the Six Day circuit of the earlier era, the post-Tour critérium circuit began to wither. As salaries went up, so too did appearance fees. With riders earning more, they expected to receive more for appearing at critériums. If they felt the need to ride them at all.
Of course, the rise in salaries was not universally appreciated. For riders from previous generations, the money that poured into cycling altered 'their' sport too much. Here's Jan Janssen - a star from the sixties - talking to Les Woodland in the early nineties:
"We got very good money, of course. And, to be truthful, the French franc was worth a lot more than now. But I think the motivation has changed with the professionals as well. You get riders like [Steven] Rooks and [Gert-Jan] Theunisse saying after the Tour they're stopping at home because they can't be bothered with critériums, and that's not so attractive to the public. I don't think you're serving the sport doing that, because the more popular cycling is, the better it is for every one of the riders.
"Its good that they're well paid now, of course, but they have to give everything they've got. [...] The whole sport has changed. They aren't hungry any more. There's so much money to earn now, even for a third-rate rider. Twenty-five years ago, a third-class rider didn't get jam on his bread. So if they got fifty guilders for a critérium, they rode. But now, every rider is well paid, so they don't do much for it. They say, 'Oh, I've got a good contract from the firm, I'm okay.' The hunger to ride well, to succeed and only then earn money is over."
When Pedro Delgado won the Tour in 1988, he followed that victory with five critériums in the Netherlands, at about £4,500 per race, followed by just four critériums in France. Jump forward in time. Lance Armstrong was reported to have demanded more than €100,000 in appearance fees at the height of his fame in 2004. Two years earlier, he was only asking for $50,000. Floyd Landis only got to race one critérium following his 2006 Tour victory - in the Netherlands, at Stiphout - before the news of his doping bust broke. That one race was reputedly worth €50,000 to him.
The critérium circuit that exists today is markedly different from the circuit of old. It is no longer the Tour's shadow. It's been tamed. But it still has its role to play, not just in padding out a rider's bank balance, but also in the sense of the recognition it affords the men of the Tour. Mark Cavendish had this to say of the post-Tour critériums he rode in 2008:
"It was when I went back to Europe and particularly the Dutch and Belgian post-Tour critérium or circuit races that kicked off in the week after the Tour that I really got a sense of the shift in perception. The sole purpose of these races is to showcase the heroes of the Tour, who are unsurprisingly happy to bask in the adulation of tens of thousands of fans in return for substantial appearance fees. From my point of view, not only was the money a welcome bonus and the fast, nervous racing ideal preparation for the Olympics, but, in the echoing voices of the fans as they cheered my name lay the most vivid confirmation yet of how wide and powerful the Tour's impact could be."
In 2010, Edward Pickering went to a couple of crits in Belgium - which, along with the Netherlands, still has a thriving post-Tour critérium circuit - with Robbie McEwen. The first race Pickering joined McEwen for - on a Monday, two weeks after the Tour had ended - was an evening Derny-paced crit in Wilrijk, a suburb of Antwerp about an hour's drive from where McEwen lives in Brakel. The next day they ventured across the border into the Netherlands, for a three-part points race in Naaldwijk, near Rotterdam, a couple of hours drive from McEwen's home. McEwen tried to explain to Pickering how hard today's critérium circuit could be:
"It's tiring. One year we did a crit in Erik Zabel's home town, partied all night, then flew to Toulouse at 7am from Dusseldorf. I drove two hours from Toulouse, did a two hour crit, won it, collected my dough, drove back two hours, two hours in the plane, two hours in the car, and back to Belgium. Then I slept for a weekend."
Go on, admit it, you've read this far, you've seen the story of Simpson driving from Belgium to Nice and then back into central France and then spending a week in a hospital bed. You're looking at what McEwen told Pickering and, though you're trying very hard not to be like Jan Janssen about it, you're still thinking to yourself, 'Kids today, eh? They've got it easy.' Try this bit from McEwen then, about the current earning power of the circuit:
"The rate's gone down a bit. Boom time was 2003 to 2007. Luckily for me, my most successful Tour results, and therefore highest number of crit appearances, coincided with the big budgets. One year I did eighteen or twenty - I was too tired to really count. A good Tour gives you glory and satisfaction. Crits give you the money. You could make a quarter of a million euros in a month. But it's very very tiring."
Eighteen or twenty races, in the weeks following the Tour. Having raced the Tour. In 2006, you could have watched McEwen on the podium in Aalst, Belgium the day after the Tour ended. The next night he was again on the podium in Belgium this time in Diksmuide. The next night it was Hadsten in Denmark. The next night he was back in Belgium, for the crit in Herentals. The next night in was Heerlen in the Netherlands. That's five days of racing - Monday through Friday - straight after the Tour ended. The next week saw more visits to the podium in Belgium and the Netherlands. The week after that he was on the podium in Germany. Kids today eh, they've got it easy.
One of the issues that piqued my curiosity about the old critérium circuit was the savagery of the travel involved. Today, even if you expand the distances, the travel can be a lot more comfortable. Take Lance Armstrong. In 2002, he won at Stiphout on the Tuesday after the Tour ended. On the Friday he padded his palmarès with a victory in Rheda, Belgium. The next day he was paired with Floyd Landis for another crit. That night he flew back to the States for a Sunday afternoon ride, the New York City Cycling Championship, a charity event in aid of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. He flew Concorde. And returned to Europe on the Monday morning, again by Concorde. That's one way of taking the pain out of the mileage, I suppose.
I've blamed money for killing the Shadow Tour. It became less important to riders as their salaries rose. But another factor that needs to be taken account of is the UCI's attempts to fill in the gaping void Hein Verbruggen saw whenever he looked at the post-Tour calendar. The Worlds got kicked back a month, the Vuelta a España moved from Spring to Autumn. New World Cup races began to appear to fill the post-Tour void that was already filled by critériums. The cavalry had arrived.
Even before the UCI got the finger out, there had been official races peppering the post-Tour cycling calendar. As I've given you a glimpse of the 1984 post-Tour critérium calendar, it's worth considering the official races it competed with. Races such as the Vuelta a Burgos (August 8-12), the Tre Valli Varesine (August 12), the Coppa Agostini (August 14), the Tour of Belgium (August 14-19), San Sebastian (August 16), the Coppa Placci (August 18), the GP de Plouay (August 21), the Tour of the Netherlands (August 21-25), the Tour du Limousin (August 23-26) and Paris-Bourges (August 28). And then you were into the Worlds.
The riders, of course, knew where the real money was: the critériums. You can't buy bread with your palmarès, you have to convert it to a proper currency first. And the critérium circuit was cycling's bureau d'exchange. So even though there were official races to ride, many riders still preferred to be on the critérium circuit. Malcolm Elliott had this to say about Robert Millar and the 1989 Kelloggs' Tour of Britain:
"Millar said he didn't want to ride the Kelloggs'. He was miffed because he had four critériums in France lined up for that same week with a lot more money on offer than the Kelloggs' but Z-Peugeot, his team, were making him go. Even when he got to Britain he was talking about riding a couple of days and then climbing off and returning to Troyes."
So as well as all the other factors impacting on the critérium circuit, you had the teams trying to tell their riders to ride the new races the UCI filled the calendar with.
Despite all this though, the circuit, in a reduced form, still exists. Belgium and the Netherlands seem to be where the critérium circuit is at its strongest today. In France it's barely a shadow of its former self. As Robbie McEwen suggested that the 2003-2007 period was boom time for the critérium circuit, perhaps a look at the calendar from one of those years would be instructive. I picked 2006:
|Aalst||Belgium||Robbie McEwen||Niko Eeckhout||Jimmy Casper|
|Ratingen||Germany||Jens Voigt||Sebastian Lang||Erik Zabel|
|Boxmeer||Netherlands||Michael Boogerd||Koos Morenhout||Fränk Schleck|
|Graz||Austria||Bernhard Eisel||Andreas Klöden||Georg Totschnig|
|Diksmuide||Belgium||Tom Boonen||Robbie McEwen||Axel Merckx|
|Lisieux||France||Sylvain Calzati||Gilberto Simoni||Jimmy Casper|
|Mönchengladbach-Rheydt||Germany||Erik Zabel||Robert Förster||Danilo Hondo|
|Stiphout||Netherlands||Floyd Landis||Michael Rasmussen||Bram Tankink|
|Wels||Austria||Bernhard Kohl||Mario Höller||Peter Pichler|
|Peer||Belgium||Marc Wauters||Tom Boonen||Niki Eeckhout|
|Hadsten||Denmark||Fränk Schleck||Robbie McEwen||Anders Lund|
|Camors||France||Christophe Moreau||Jimmy Casper||Benoît Vaugrenard|
|Neuss||Germany||Markus Fothen||Bert Grabsch||Patrik Sinkewitz|
|Chaam||Netherlands||Michael Boogerd||Stef Clement||Steven de Jongh|
|Mayrhofen||Austria||Bernhard Eisel||Filippo Pozzato||Georg Totschnig|
|Herentals||Belgium||Robbie McEwen||Tom Boonen||Niko Eeckhout|
|Jyske Bank GP||Denmark||Allan Johansen||Allan-Bo Andressen||Bo Hamburger|
|Dijon||France||Christophe Moreau||Carlos da Cruz||George Hincapie|
|Wateringen||Netherlands||Oscar Freire||Sebastiaan Langveld||Nichael Boogerd|
|Wien||Austria||René Haselbacher||Paolo Bettini||Bernhard Eisel|
|Gadelöbet||Denmark||Michael Rasmussen||Michael Skelde||Stuart O'Grady|
|Hannover||Germany||Erik Zabel||Andreas Klöden||Alexandre Vinokourov|
|Rhede||Germany||Fabian Wegmann||Jens Voigt||Christian Knees|
|Heerlen||Netherlands||Oscar Freire||Robbie McEwen||Joost Posthuma|
|Gmünd||Austria||Bernhard Kohl||Martin Comploi||Gerrit Glomser|
|Schriek||Belgium||Jürgen van den Broeck||Erwin Vervecken||Niels Albert|
|Steenwijk||Netherlands||Steven de Jongh||Michael Boogerd||Koos Morenhout|
|Wolvertem||Belgium||Axel Merckx||Robbie MeEwen||Niko Eeckhout|
|Monein||France||Cyril Dessel||George Hincapie||Mathieu Ladagnous|
|Roosendaal||Netherlands||Oscar Freire||Thor Hushovd||Pieter Weening|
|Castillion-la-Bataille||France||Christophe Moreau||Davide de la Fuente||Sandar Casar|
|Surhuisterven||Netherlands||Robbie McEwen||Thor Hushovd||Pieter Weening|
|Marcolès||France||Sandy Casar||Cyril Dessel||Christophe Laborie|
|Antwerpen||Belgium||Robbie McEwen||Niko Eeckhout||Nico Matten|
|Maastricht||Netherlands||Joost Posthuma||Philippe Gilbert||Karsetn Kroom|
|Lommel||Belgium||Kevin Hulsmans||Tom Boonen||Johan Vansummeren|
|Oostervorne||Netherlands||Michael Boogerd||Philippe Gilbert||Maarten den Bakker|
|Maarheeze||Netherlands||Braam Tankink||Michael Boogerd||Johan van Summeren|
|Buggenhout-Opstal||Belgium||Niko Eeckhout||Robbie McEwen||Nico Mattan|
|Dun-le-Palestel||France||David de la Fuente||Christophe Mengin||Gilberto Simoni|
|Pijnacker||Netherlands||Fränk Schleck||Bram de Groot||Jimmy Casper|
|Emmen||Netherlands||Fränk Schleck||Michael Boogerd||Addy Engels|
|Kortrijk||Belgium||Niko Eeckhout||Leif Hoste||Wim Vansevenant|
|Zwolle||Netherlands||Michael Boogerd||Servais Knaven||Fränk Schleck|
|Lorsch||Germany||Jens Voigt||Andreas Klöden||Erik Zabel|
|Hamm||Germany||Robert Förster||Erik Zabel||Bruno Risi|
|Krefeld||Germany||Dirk Müller||Danilo Hondo||Sebastian Flaskamp|
|Betekom||Belgium||Niko Eeckhout||Marc Wauters||Gert Steegmans|
|Bochum||Germany||Robbie McEwen||Mark Cavendish||Andreas Beikirch|
|Unna||Germany||Erik Zabel||Jens Voigt||Alessandro Petacchi|
|Vayrac||France||Fränk Schleck||Cyril Dessel||Cédric Vasseur|
|Fyen Rundt||Denmark||Alex Rasmussen||Jacob-Moe Rasmussen||Thomas Kristiansen|
|Zevenbergen||Netherlands||Koos Morenhout||Aart Vierhouten||Marc Wouters|
|Wilrijk||Belgium||Leif Hoste||Niko Eeckhout||Jens Renders|
|Dahme||Germany||Marco Villa||Bruno Risi||Robert Bartko|
|Betzdorf||Germany||Erik Zabel||Gerald Ciolek||Jens Voigt|
|Vergt||France||Juan Miguel Mercado||Pierrick Fedrigo||Mickaël Delage|
|Stolberg-Gressenich||Germany||Karsten Vogel||Torsten Schmidt||Stefan Ganser|
|Lusignan-la-Petit||France||Nicolas Jalabert||Christophe Moreau||Sébastien Hinault|
|Kleve||Germany||Jens Voigt||Fabian Wegmann||Matthias Friedmann|
|Source: Mémoire du Cyclisme|
You may have worked out by now that I am not wholly a fan of the harshness of the old critérium circuit. I don't mourn the passing of the Shadow Tour. That, of course, is easy to say when I stand back and look at the circuit as a whole. But pick an individual race and it's not so easy. Take the critérium that used to be held in Callac.
Starting in 1946, on the first Tuesday after the Tour ended, the citizens of Callac and the surrounding area welcomed the men of the Tour. For five days they celebrated the feast of St Barbara, and the Tuesday critérium was central to their celebrations. As many as thirty thousand people turned out to watch the race. At its height - at the end of the seventies - as many as ninety riders participated in it.
The critérium at Callac attracted the cream of cycling's crop. Luis Ocaña, Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond each took a victory at Callac just days after winning the Tour. Raymond Poulidor won there, as did guys like Cyrille Guimard and Jean-François Bernard. Louison Bobet, Bernard Thévenet and Laurent Fignon won there. Eddy Merckx won there. In 1967, Barry Hoban was given the win, in memory of Tom Simpson.
And then, in 1999, it all ended. Stéphane Heulot, Sébastien Hinault and Jaan Kirsipuu filled the final podium. Callac's critérium ceased to be. Fifty-odd years of cycling history and then ... gone on the wind. Today, Callac's critérium is remembered in a little book, Le Critérium de Callac, in which the authors - Arsène Maulavé and Marcel Le Roux - gather together memories from the people who made the race happen. Similar books could - probably should - be written for many of the other critériums that have disappeared.
France in particular, as I've said, suffered the most decline in its critérium circuit. Not all of this is down to rising appearance fees and greater competition from the official calendar. Urbanisation took its toll on some races. Others disappeared simply because the people organising them faded away. In some cases, age simply caught up with people. In other cases, it was the passion that died. Particularly in the nineties, it wasn't easy to retain your passion for this sport, not when the bodies were piling up on mortuary slabs and no one seemed to want to do anything about it. And then, of course, there's the state of French cycling.
And there you may have something that's important abut the critérium circuit: local races need local stars. Germany and Austria made their mark on the critérium circuit when they had the riders. Post 2006 and 2007, the taste for cycling there is obviously down. Look at the crit in Luxembourg, which has steadily been moving forward in the calendar since it started as a September race in 1996. Now, with the Schlecks to cheer for, it's a July race.
Or look at Britain, which became part of the circuit in the eighties on the back of the success of British and Irish riders. Who knows what's going to happen there next: will the current series of city-centre races, particularly the Nocturne Series, become part of the post-Tour critérium circuit in the near future?
The picture painted here of the critérium circuit isn't particularly pretty, I know. Which is unfortunate, for crits are fun. Any race where you have time to walk to the bar, order a refill and get back to the barriers in the time it takes for riders to go around again is bound to be fun. So one happy story abut crits for you, this one from Stephen Roche's autobiography: it was at a pre-Tour crit in Paris that he first set eyes on the woman who would become his wife, Lydia Arnaud.
"One evening we were riding a critérium in Longjumeau on the south side of Paris. Before the start all the ACBB guys were talking about a girl who was there. Before the end of the race, all eyes were on this girl. All through the race I was watching her. I wanted to win and attacked every time there was an opportunity. Each time I was recaptured until I went away and stayed clear. After winning I made sure that I saw the stunning-looking girl before going home."
The next night Roche went to another crit, this time as a spectator, "in search of the girl with the blonde hair." He'd already found out that her brothers, Thierry and Michel, were both racers and one of them would be at this crit in Menthes, on the West of Paris. From there, they met up a few more times. Then, in August, Roche was riding two critériums as part of the Grand Prix de Gauches. During the first, he was away with another rider, Yves Renaud, when he saw someone he knew chatting to Lydia:
"They were getting on well and each time Renaud and I passed, I noticed the two of them together. After four laps of watching this, something had to be done. Casually slowing down on the hill, I moved over to where they were and, nodding towards Lydia, I said, 'Hey, Jean Louis, she's mine. Hands off.' Half joking, half serious. Quickly I rejoined Renaud. He told me he was from Gauches and that it would mean a lot to him to win. I did not mind who won in Gauches and let Yves have it."
Who wouldn't be swept off their feet by such a display of masculinity? You can smell the testosterone from here and have to brace yourself from swooning, no? In the second critérium, Roche decided to put on a show for the girl with the blonde hair, even put on new tyres - the cyclists' equivalent of putting on an ironed shirt, I guess - and cleaning his bike "until it sparkled." First corner in, he rolled a tyre and had to retire. You're thinking: 'Clever bastard. Now he can spend the rest of the race with the girl of his dreams.' And Roche figured that's exactly what his ACBB boss would think too. So he set off for a two-hour training ride before seeking out Lydia. That's discipline for you. But from that race on, the two officially became a pair, stepping out together. And the rest of that story, I guess, you know.
* * * * *
When looking at the critérium circuit, something that has to be considered is the role it plays in cycling's ecosystem. And here I mean its role beyond cycling's doping culture. As everyone knows, changing something in one part of the ecosystem can have knock-on consequences elsewhere.
In the era when many riders made most of their money riding crits, those races exerted influence on the rest of the cycling calendar. A lot of influence. Here three groups of people come into play: the critérium organisers; the riders themselves; and the riders' agents. The organisers and the riders were too diverse to exert any real power. But there was only a handful of agents. They became the sport's real power-brokers.
Organisers negotiated riders' appearance contracts with the agents. In order to get a ride in critériums, riders needed to make sure the agents were aware of them. The obvious way of doing this was to win. Winners were - and will always be - the heroes of this sport. But cycling can be perverse. We like our losers too. Of course, we don't call them losers, for us, they're heroic failures. We celebrate not their losing, but the manner in which they lose. These riders represent something for us.
At an extreme here is the lanterne rouge in the Tour. Even he - simply by virtue of being the last man to finish the Tour - could expect to receive a substantial number of critérium invites. He too was a star and the public wanted to see the stars of the day. But in between finishing first and finishing last, there's ample room for other forms of heroic failure.
There's the escape artists, the guys who dangle off the front of the peloton, often-time getting swallowed up and spat out almost within sight of the finish line. Pull off a great exploit - stay away until the finish line was almost in sight - and you too could fill your pockets in the post Tour critériums.
It would have been cruel had the demise in the importance of the critérium circuit caused the demise of the escape artists, the guys who enlivened a lot of dull days of racing. But, fortunately, the money that poured into cycling to feed the new salary structure also fuelled a rise in the TV coverage of the sport. And - as live TV coverage of races, particularly the Tour, expanded - sponsors wanted to see one of their riders going up the road if for no other reason than to get his jersey on TV for an hour or two. For a time, you could even predict the moment at which an escape would happen: it would coincide with the moment when live TV coverage commenced. So exploits continued to enliven races. Killing the butterfly in Borneo didn't cause a hurricane in Holland.
Critériums - even in their diminished importance - have continued to exert some influence on the peloton. Take a story Chris Boardman tells, from the 1997 Tour. Boardman was riding for Roger Legeay's GAN squad - he was the team leader - when his team-mate, Cedric Vasseur, went for a long one on the road to La Châtre. Boardman's version of the story:
"The full story is that, before the stage, the team were talking about the critériums, the circuit races organised by towns during the summer, which provide the riders with some extra cash, and Cedric was asking if there were any for him. One of the managers said, 'No one has asked you because you're not very visible.' So that day he decided to be visible for an hour or so."
The hour or so turned into the stage winning break. In attempting to land a ride in a post-Tour crit, Vasseur won a stage in the Tour. (There's another side to that story: Vasseur hadn't sought his team leader's permission before poking his nose out of the peloton and Boardman was mightily miffed with him: "it was a classic example of lack of trust within a team, and it shows how easily the authority of the team leader can be undermined.")
There is though another factor that needs to be considered here when we look at riders' agents and their role in the critérium circuit. Their control over who got to ride what races on the critérium circuit gave them influence over what happened elsewhere. Get on their bad side and you could wave goodbye to a lot of potential income. Be on their good side and it could be fill your boots time. To get an idea of the way critériums were organised here's Paul Kimmage, in A Rough Ride:
"Critériums were a French tradition in August. The Tour would generate huge interest for cycle racing in July, but in August there was nothing. The critériums were a means of avoiding the cold turkey syndrome. A placebo for an addicted public until the Autumn Classics. The mayor of a small village would decide he wanted the stars of the Tour de France in his town and would contact a critérium manager. The manager would submit the price of engaging thirty professionals and the mayor would hand over the money. The manager then set about contacting the riders. He would sign up three or four really big names, the Tour winner if possible, the French champion, and two or three Tour stage winners. Most of the mayor's cash would be spent on these, for these were the men who drew the crowds."
The rest of the riders were the also rans of the peloton - some local heroes and the rest of the field made up of journeymen domestiques. And this was the way the agents gained their power: they decided who those additional riders would be.
In Belgium, the critérium market was controlled by Jean van Buggenhout. In the sixties, he had had one chief rival, a Catholic priest, Father Van Landeghem, who for some reason decided to get into the cycling game, undercutting Van Buggenhout and promising that his profits would go to the Church. Generally though, in Belgium, Van Buggenhout was the real power-broker. Here's a story Vin Denson tells:
"The man who really called the shots with Solo [the trade-team Denson rode with, lead by Rik van Looy] was the Belgian riders' agent, Jean van Buggenhout. Whatever he said was law. He had been a rider but he'd found better prospects in management, and the whole of Belgium cycling was in his pocket. He took a percentage from almost anybody who turned a pedal in that country, and he was so powerful that he could almost make or break a rider with his say so."
Freddy Maertens tells this story about Van Buggenhout:
"At the start of my career, Jean van Buggenhout held absolute control when it came to critérium contracts. He certainly lived up to his reputation of being a 'Merckist.' I can remember my first meeting with Van Buggenhout in a cafeteria on the quayside at Ostend in 1973. He presented me with over twenty contracts. I thought I was worth BF 10,000 per critérium in view of the fact that I had finished second in the Tour of Flanders and had turned out to be the revelation among the young riders. However, Van Buggenhout saw it differently. 'You can ride all the critériums for BF 6,000 each or you don't ride in any of them,' he said. 'It's one or the other.'"
In France two super-agents came to power: Roger Piel and Daniel Dousset. One extreme example of the power they wielded comes from a story told by Raphaël Géminiani in his Les Années Anquetil, recounted by Paul Howard in his Anquetil biography. This comes from the sixties, when Gém was Jacques Anquetil's directeur sportif. Here he is reporting Anquetil's words to him one day:
"I've just had a long conversation with Roger Piel. He made me understand that winning the Tour for the fifth time would be meaningless. The public would still be against me. On the other hand, if [Raymond] Poulidor won, it would be great for me, as I'd become much more popular. Poulidor and [Fiorenzo] Magne know nothing about it, but Piel has guaranteed me fifty well-paid after-Tour contracts as well as fifty-thousand francs [about five-thousand pounds in old money]."
It might seem crazy to think that unimportant little critériums in towns even natives would be hard placed to find on a map could exert such influence over the rest of the cycling season. That they could decide who won - or, more likely, didn't win - the Tour de France. Certainly, in the case Gém was talking about, nothing came of Piel's attempt to influence Anquetil. Maître Jacques ignored Piel's advice, rode that Tour - the 1964 Tour - and made it four Tours back-to-back and five overall. But there's another story from that era. Two stages from the end of the 1965 Paris-Nice, Anquetil was trailing his bête noir, Raymond Poulidor, having been beaten by Pou-Pou in a time trial. Anquetil offered this on what happened next:
"I thought, what would happen if the results were reversed: first Poulidor, second Anquetil. Then I'd have been written off straight away. One lone defeat would count for as much as fifteen or twenty victories. Was that fair? I could already picture the crocodile tears being shed because of my supposed decline."
On the last stage, Poulidor had to fend of multiple attacks from Anquetil and his team-mates, but also from others who still fancied their chances of overall victory. Eventually, his team-mates having fallen away, Poulidor was left alone. And when Anquetil attacked forty kilometres out from the stage finish he couldn't go with him. At the Promenades des Anglais in Nice, Anquetil had taken sufficient time to reclaim the lead and take the overall victory.
But then the allegations began. That Anquetil's domestiques had ridden Poulidor's guys into ditches. That other teams had been bought. Poulidor, speaking to l'Équipe was in a bitter mood:
"I note simply that Anquetil is still the patron of cycling. I don't deny his strengths, nor even his superiority in many domains, but I consider that his team-mates did not behave well on the road to Nice. Jacques Anquetil would acknowledge as much if he is honest himself."
Anquetil was in typical form with his reply, adding fuel to the polemica's fire:
"Poulidor is a cry-baby. The interview in which he repeated the accusation made by his team, to cast a doubt over the correctness and sincerity of my victory, that interview is not worthy of a champion, and I will find it difficult to forgive him."
When Paul Howard was writing his Anquetil biography, he got this version of events at that Paris-Nice from Poulidor:
"The rivalry had grown even fiercer since the Tour in 1964, and it culminated in our confrontation in Paris-Nice. He [Anquetil] had great difficulty in accepting defeat, especially his entourage, those people around him. So when I'd beaten him by thirty-six seconds in a time trial, his speciality, he wouldn't accept it. The result was that, on the last day, rival teams teamed up, it must be said, and what shocked me the most was that these arrangements happened in front of the race director [Jean Leulliot]. He let it happen, as he was closer to Anquetil than to me. They played tricks on my team-mates - [Barry] Hoban and [Joseph] Spruyt - tipping them into the ditch, and everyone attacked. Orders had been given. Anquetil had done nothing - I've nothing to reproach him for. When he attacked me, I was at the end of my tether. People say I'd wasted too much effort chasing after others, but [Michele] Dancelli attacked - he was only two minutes down - and [Vittorio] Adorni was the same."
It was Poulidor's belief that Gém had bought the other teams off, paid them to work for Anquetil. But Philip Brunel offered Howard an alternative explanation:
"There were two managers - agents, if you like - in France, Roger Piel and Daniel Dousset. Dousset had Anquetil, [Franco] Bitosi, [Lucien] Aimar, [Rudi] Altig and [Vittorio] Adorni. Alliances in the peloton were arranged by the managers, not between the teams. Sometimes there were link-ups determined by a race, but there were also alliances to protect the 'aristocracy.' In this Paris-Nice, there was Adorni, who raced for Anquetil because Dousset told him he had to. He said, 'I need to maintain Anquetil's prestige for the critériums' [so he could maintain the value of his own ten per cent]."
Stephen Roche tells this story about Dousset and how his power extended even into the personal lives of the riders he represented:
"Daniel Dousset, who was then manager to all ACBB riders, invited Lydia and me around to his house to eat. During the evening Dousset managed to separate Lydia and me; he ended up with Lydia in the dining room and I with Madame Dousset in the sitting room. He lectured Lydia for an hour on the facts of the cycling life and how she could ruin my career. When you are sixteen years old and going out with a boy that you like there are things you do not want to hear."
What of the agents of today? What power - if any - do they exert? Has the diminishing of the critérium circuit's importance taken the wind out of their sails? Or, like the agents of old, are they still the invisible hand guiding things along? For some reason, I think there must be a really interesting story to be told there. Let's leave it as a story for another day though. Let's get back to critériums and try and wrap this thing up.
Economic Darwinism put paid to the critérium circuit's importance, killed the Shadow Tour. The circuit still exists today and - occasionally - it does still exert influence over other races. But the severity of the circuit has been reduced. For those who still pile in and fill their boots, riding a dozen or so crits in the weeks after the Tour is still something that deserves a degree of admiration, especially from those who think that most cyclists today hang their wheels up as soon as they climb off on the Champs-Élysées. Today's critérium circuit is still, I think, something we should celebrate, applaud. It is still a spectacle.
What of my question about the role the Shadow Tour played in embedding cycling's doping culture? Does the taming of the Shadow Tour offer an answer to that question? Perversely, that did nothing to help clean up the sport. Rather, the new money that fuelled the Shadow Tour's demise created a new race to ever greater extremes. But because everyone was winning - because everyone was benefiting from all this new wealth - no one with the power to do anything about it cared to. And then one day the sponsors - some sponsors - got a conscience. And the teams - some teams - realised something had to change. And the UCI - finally - was spurred into taking action. Economic Darwinism saved cycling.
The problem with leaving it up to economic Darwinism to solve all our problems though is this: no one takes control over the way events unfurl. Shit happens. Sometimes it's good for the roses. Sometimes it just stinks the place up. Which - I guess - brings us around to the topic I'll have to look at next: Jonathan Vaughters' latest attempt to put a bit of order on things with a salary cap. Should we attempt to limit teams' budgets in order to save us from the next great evolutionary leap forward? Or should we just strap our helmets on and enjoy the ride?
* * * * *
Sources: Sam Abt - In High Gear; Chris Boardman - The Complete Book Of Bicycling; Mark Cavendish - Boy Racer; Vin Denson - The Full Cycle; Malcolm Elliott - Sprinter; Laurent Fignon - We Were Young And Carefree; Paul Howard - Sex, Lies And Handlebar Tape; Steve Joughin - Pocket Rocket; Paul Kimmage - A Rough Ride; Freddy Maertens - Fall From Grace; Benjo Maso - The Sweat Of The Gods; Richard Moore - In Search Of Robert Millar; Allan Peiper - A Peiper's Tale; Stephen Roche - The Agony And The Ecstasy; Tom Simpson - Cycling Is My Life; Willy Voet - Breaking The Chain; David Walsh - Kelly: A Biography of Sean Kelly; Les Woodland - The Crooked Path To Victory; Les Woodland - Cycling Heroes.