Every track rider will be all too familiar with the event known as ‘The Unknown Distance Race’, a ‘scratch race’ with no formally agreed ending, like a climb with multiple false summits. Eventually a bell rings & only then do you know it’s one lap to go, 250 metres warning. This years Tour is starting to look like it may have some of the same characteristics, nobody targets an ‘Unknown Distance Race’, it’s a filler that nobody really cares about in a track meeting, it’s the ‘Ant Man’ in the Marvel franchise, it’s ‘The Living Daylights’, it’s series 2 to 9 of ‘The Walking Dead’, it’s not a serious thing anybody pays any attention to.
The similarities to the track race:
1: Will it, won’t the bell ring?
Nobody knows if an ‘Unknown Distance Race’ is 2 laps long, or if the judges are brewing up a Colombian blend coffee (see, managed to mention them) to give themselves a break in proceedings, but you could be sure it would never really be over 30 laps. Sometimes they’d sneakily wander over to the bell the bell, then back, just to make it interesting. Covid is the unpredictable bell ringer here, you pretty much know what the maximum distance is, but it could end anywhere in between.
2: There’s a chance I could sneak this!
Attacks in an ‘Unknown Distance Race’ are often wild as riders fire off early, hoping to take victory by chance, ignoring the fact they will blow a gasket in a couple of minutes at that pace. We could see this in the Tour, normally the jersey is passed around in week one like a ‘Scabby Queen’ in a card game by the GC teams, all unwilling to commit themselves to work. This time it looks like they’ll be very keen to hold the jersey, just in case things change rapidly.
3. Will France prevail?
In some events containing an ‘Unknown Distance Race’, rumours would abound that the bell would only be rung when favoured riders or favoured clubs were in a position to win. Secret whispers between riders perched on weather beaten plastic chairs at Meadowbank, that only home (Edinburgh) riders could win these races, often by riders who couldn’t win any of the other ones. Would the same happen if the race was stopped when a French rider was in the lead? You betcha it would, probably forever!
The Gist Of It
This years Tour is looking very much like the equivalent of an ‘Unknown Distance Race’, we have no idea if the words largest annual sporting event event will run it’s full course, based on how 2020 has gone so far, it won’t. Covid cases are currently on the rise in France, even if the Tour village & teams are controlled, the journalists forced to stay out of the local Petit Casino to fill up on Gummy Bears & Bernard Hinault avoids any social interaction with agricultural workers, there’s almost no way to fully police the fans inappropriate touching & breathing their hot “Allez” on the riders. All it takes is one infection to wreak havoc on a Tour peloton, and we only have limited information from ASO on what constitutes a reason for the race being stopped.
If the final bell of the Tour is on the Champs Élysées it will be a triumph, the Tour will have prevailed against yet another adversary unlike any other it’s encountered. If however, the silent bell tolls one evening, with the event not carrying on the next day and this Tour ends early, questions will be asked over the Tour was stopped at that precise moment. How many riders or teams can be removed from a Tour de France for it to retain it’s status? Was anybody told the Tour may end before the official announcement, giving them a chance to throw caution to the wind?
It would be wise for the Tour organisation to make a statement on this, otherwise a deserved winner of the event may be embroiled in doubts & questions for the rest of their life on whether or not they won the Tour fairly, or if it was just some chancer’s ‘Unknown Distance Race’ that deserved the winner the respect as the applause given to the driver of the giant chicken in the publicity caravan.