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On the Italian side of the Timmelsjoch Pass these cycling jerseys flutter in the wind like prayer flags – or washing – depending on how you see them 🙂  The climb on this, the southern side, is steep and ragged with hairpins, so much so that it is impassable to larger vehicles. However, it is the very nature of the climb that makes it a popular route for motorcyclists – and cyclists who like their challenges to be big. These jerseys, torn to deter souvenir hunters, bear witness to the fact that a cycling tour must have recently passed this way and what these guys do never fails to impress me. The sheer mental and physical determination is phenomenal – and that’s just the tours. What about the endless hours in the saddle, the training, the sacrifices, the physical and mental punishment …..

This post sadly coincides with the loss of a hero as Lance Armstrong, seven times winner of the Tour de France, is buried in a deluge of bad press and the tatters of an illustrious career after the US Anti Doping Agency’s report stated that he was part of “the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen”.

He is a hero to many as, whilst seemingly at the peak of his career, he was diagnosed with cancer and given less than a 50% chance of survival. He went on to beat the cancer and return to cycle racing, taking the sport by storm and winning more accolades than I’m sure even he can remember. Doping in cycling is an enormous problem and he is by no means alone but when he celebrated his record-breaking seventh Tour de France win he said: “I’ll say to the people who don’t believe, the cynics and the sceptics: I’m sorry for you. I’m sorry you don’t believe in miracles.”

I wanted to believe in miracles – I still do, but now I feel hugely disappointed. Some miracle. However, for me, the saddest thing to come out of this whole sorry episode is the fact that others, striving of their own endeavour, were denied their chance to win and all that goes with it. When all the sacrifice and endless hours of training result in the pinnacle of their physical and mental performance and that brief moment when, along with a touch of lady luck, it all comes together. For many a once in a lifetime combination – lost forever.

(All images are copyright to Noeline Smith)

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