Written for In the Bunch

You’ve got to love the French when they allow themselves to get all emotional.

And, let’s face it, there are few things that rev them up quite like the Tour de France on the one hand and Bastille Day on the other. Whether by design or fate, the fact that these national “treasures” coincide is just plain romantic.

This year Le Tour dictator Christian Prudhommius and his band of merry men certainly outdid themselves when they hatched their latest master plan of introducing the first high mountain stage on this momentous day of liberty.

If a rider with even trace levels of Gallic blood should manage to crest Luz Ardiden in the Pyrenees first, there won’t be a dry eye in all of liberated France. This is also where the plan is fundamentally flawed.

Since the retirement of Sir Richard Virenque, who had achieved this mountainous feat in 2004, the French have been going mainly downhill and it’s difficult to envisage who of the current crop could take up the mantle with the required swirl of panache.

In any event, that doesn’t mean that the French-dominated peloton will die wondering.

Traditionally they line up on this day of remembrance for the honour of being sacrificial lambs – all in the hope of delivering on the expectations of a French public that despises mediocrity.

But, I suspect, these musketeers will live and die by the sword somewhere in the valleys that connect the day’s ultimate challenges in a one-for-all-all-for-one type of way à la pre-revolutionary France.

Those days the Gauls were sworn to the motto Liberté, égalité, fraternité ou la mort and I can’t help but think it’s particularly apt for their descendants in this year’s race: Freedom, equality, brotherhood or death . . .

A battle for a different kind of right is set to unfold in the wake of their demise: the right to wear the maillot jaune.

Generals and their faithful lieutenants have infiltrated from far-off countries for more than a century in a do-or-die effort to assume this most revered of cycling rights on elevated battlefields across France.

This year D-Day is set for the slopes of Luz Ardiden in the rugged Pyrenees and from there survivors will troop their way to the majestic Alps for a final rendezvous at the fortified village of Huez.

These mountain territories have been under Spanish rule ever since the invasion of Albertius Contadorius and his Spanish armada in the previous decade.

Contadorius has been under siege in recent times – most notably from Luxembourg’s Schleck dynasty – and although suffering huge losses, he has been able to maintain his stronghold.

But the great ruler has been a worried man over the past few days. Word from his trusted advisors is of a hostile peloton approaching from behind enemy lines.

Their mission, he has been advised, is to attack, disarm and uncloak. But, even more worrisome, are persistent rumours of a food poisoning conspiracy from within his own ranks.

Contadorius suddenly feels old and wonders whether he still has the appetite for all of this. Perhaps it’s time to anoint his successor?

He won’t show any signs of weakness, he decides. War is a game of strategy – it always has been – and that requires to be one step ahead of the enemy.

Prepare the troops, he orders. We’ll attack at first light . . .

Coetzee is a former journalist and full-time cycling fanatic whose PR company focuses on sports communications. E-mail him at coetzee@fullstopcom.com, visit  www.inthebunch.co.za or follow him on twitter (fullstop).

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Coetzee Gouws
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