Jul 10, 2023
Local cyclist Mike Woods won stage 10 of the Tour de France on Sunday, the 2nd win in 2 years for Canada. He follows his teammate, Hugo Houle’s win at the 2022 Tour after a 34 year drought since Steve Bauer’s first Canadian win. Canadian pro cycling is having a moment, and Ottawa in particular, with Woods biggest career win coming on the heels of Derek Gee’s performance at the Giro d’Italia. It was a thrilling victory on an iconic climb of Puy de Dome, that Le Tour that had not visited in 35 years.
It’s a credit to the strength of the local cycling scene in Ottawa, and Gatineau Park is one of the finest closed cycling loops in Canada. Cyclists of all ages and ambitions can test themselves in the Gatineau hills, whether it be casual cyclists in slacks and a regular city bike, local youth teams learning the rules of the road or the more ambitious riders play-racing on the evening loops. Much like Mike Woods himself did, staging his comeback from a running injury and finding in cycling a new way to express his cardiovascular skills.
Le Tour has always inspired sports writing that is more literary than other sports journalism. Perhaps due to its start by Henri Desgrange as a vehicle for the sports newspaper, L’Auto and its role in creating the national mythology of France. These early races provided ample material for myth-making as the races tackled the high Alps and La France profonde. This year the Tour got underway in the Basque country of Spain that Ernest Hemingway describes in The Sun Also Rises. As Hemingway writes, It’s the nature of cycling itself that gives ample time for observation, reflection and dreaming:
It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.
This spirit of discovery by bicycle has been picked up by Graham Robb in his histories of France, The Discovery of France and his newest book, France An Adventure History, “some of the protagonists may be familiar, but appear here in a very different light—Caesar, Charlemagne, Louis XIV, Napoleon Bonaparte, General Charles de Gaulle. This extraordinary narrative is the fruit of decades of research and thirty thousand miles on a self-propelled, two-wheeled time machine (a bicycle).”
One of the greatest cycling stories is that of Gino Bartali, who used his cover as a cyclist to smuggle documents that would help save countless Jewish lives from the holocaust.
In modern cycling, French pro cyclist Guillaume Martin has written a number of books as a cyclist including Socrate à vélo.
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