Chris Froome wins 2016 Tour de France
Chris Froome wins the 2016 Tour de France

On Sunday, July 24, Chris Froome celebrated his third Tour de France victory. He is the first person since the legendary Spaniard, Miguel Indurain, in 1995, to win consecutive Tour de Frances. (Of course, that doesn’t include the American cyclist who must not be named.)

But despite winning the premier cycling event of the year, Froome wants to bring gold back to Britain at the 2016 Rio Olympics. In fact, Froome was on Team GB at the 2012 London Olympics, where he and his teammates ensured victory for Bradley Wiggins in the road race. This year, Team GB will be looking to propel Froome to gold.

According to the BBC, Froome “can climb and time trial with the best in the race and has one of the strongest teams ever assembled around him.” In the tour, he did just that, and also, fortunately, avoided injury.

As sometimes happens, the crowds on the narrow mountain roads can narrow the path like so-much cholesterol. On Mont Ventoux, a television motorbike was forced to stop suddenly, creating a quick pile up. The speed was slow, but cyclists fell and bikes became unwieldy. Froome’s bicycle was crushed by another motorcycle, so he simply decided to jog up the hill, finding bicycles along the way to get him where he needed to go.

His biggest rival, Tom Dumoulin, was not so fortunate. In a separate incident, he collided with another cyclist, and ended up breaking the radius bone in his left forearm. With essentially, a broken wrist, it is unlikely that Dumoulin will recover in time for Rio.

Other rivals include Nairo Quintana of Colombia and Alberto Contador from Spain will compete on the 241.6 km course that starts at Fort Copacabana that goes West along the beaches, sweeps North and then East inland, before returning to the fort. Barring injury, Froome is looking to pull into Fort Copacabana and take the road race gold medal for Great Britain again.

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Cycling Olympic games-1964-Tokyo
Part of the road cycling route on the Hachioji Highway.

In 1964, there were 20 new countries participating in the Tokyo Olympic Games. Malaysia was participating for the first time, a newly formed federation that included Singapore, Sarawak and North Borneo.

If there is one thing you need to know about Malaysia, it is a part of Southeast Asia, which means temperatures are high. As they say in that area, there are three seasons: Hot, Hotter and Hottest. October in Malaysia is probably in the season “hotter”, with temperatures routinely around 27-30 degrees centigrade (80 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit).

Unfortunately, on the day of the 190 kilometer road race in the Western part of Tokyo, it was rainy and cold.

The new Malaysian Olympic squad had 9 cyclists, including Hamid Supa’at of Singapore, a long-distance road racer. Hamid found the conditions very difficult. “My cheeks were red. My hands were very cold. And I could see smoke coming out of mouth,” he told me. “My coach told me to stack newspapers under my shirt to keep me warm. I had never raced in that weather before. It was always hot, hot, hot for me.”

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Hamid Supa’at, third from the right, with his teammates at the Cycling Village in Hachioji, not far from Mt Takao_from the collection of Hamid Supaat

Hamid was a spry 19-year old, someone who had raced long-distance road races many times. In fact, he had participated months before in the Tour of Malaysia, winning two stages and two time trials. But nothing prepared him for the cold. And the lack of experience didn’t help either.

Hamid Supaat 5The Europeans were all up front, and most of the Asians were in the back. The roads were wet, so it was very slippery. In the first few kilometers, we were all in one big bundle as we entered the first climb, where the road was very narrow. A few cyclists crashed, so those in front sprang ahead, while the rest got stuck.

Hamid was fortunate that he did not fall, but he had to do quite a bit of waiting before he could pick up any speed behind the crowd. He said he remembered everyone talking in many different languages how they were stuck and couldn’t do anything. In the end, the cold, wet weather took its toll on about 25 of the 132 cyclists who failed to complete the 190-kilometer course. Hamid told me he lasted only about half the race before he bowed out.

But he said it was a great experience as he had a clear view on how the Europeans, the best in the business, ran their race: what gears they used in the climbs, how they took turns, what kind of bicycles they rode. “The Europeans were all very tall and strong,” said Hamid. “If we were motorcycles, they were 1,000cc machines, and we were 500cc.”

Hamid had similar feelings about being in Japan. As the bus took the Malaysian team from

Individual Men's Road Race_Merckx
Eddie Merckx in the blue shirt and Belgium tri-colors (at least I believe it is). From the book, Tokyo Olympiad 1964_Kyodo News Service

Eddy Merckx is called the greatest cyclist of all time. As listed by Sports-Reference.com, he had won or had tied for the most championships in “the Tour de France (5), Giro d’Italia (5), World Championship road race (3), Milano-Sanremo (7), Gent-Wevelgem (3), La Flèche Wallonne (3), and Liège-Bastogne-Liège (5), and in that list, only Merckx’s five Tour de France wins has been surpassed, intially by Lance Armstrong, with seven, prior to his doping disqualifications.”

In 1964, this cyclist from Belgium in 1964 headed into the Tokyo Olympics as a favorite to win the gold as he had won the Amateur World Championships in Sallanches, France. Merckx was called the “Cannibal”, for his ferocious competiveness, and his attacking, devouring style towards the end of a race. And at Sallanches, he showed early evidence of this aggressiveness according to author, William Fortheringham in his book, “Merckx: Half Man Half Bike“.

He fell on the quarter after a few kilometers of chasing. He had barely given himself time to breathe before he attacked again…one by one his erstwhile companions fell back. Accelerating again to the final climb of the road that climbed to Val d’Assy, Merckx forged a lead of a hundred meters in spite of the courage Luciano Armani showed in hanging on to his back wheel. It was enough of a lead to earn him the world title by a clear margin. He was the youngest world amateur champion to that date: nineteen years old.

From there, it was on to Tokyo with dreams of gold.

Individual Men's Road Race
From the book, Tokyo Olympiad 1964_Kyodo News Service

The Men’s Individual Road Race in Tokyo took place in a twisting winding 194 kilometer-race, that was essentially 8 laps of a 25 kilometer course. This course took the 132 cyclists on a tour of Hachioji, a suburban town on the outskirts of Western Tokyo. According to an AP report, “the route took the competitors past the Tama Mausoleum of Emperor Taisho and Empress Teimei eastward on the Koshu Highway and through Hachioji City. The riders then pedaled toward the town of Hino and across the Tama River. They then sprinted on a three-kilometer flat stretch between the towns of Tachikawa and Akishima. From this point on, the road starts climbing on the Tama Mountain range, and winding then through a scenic rural area and returning to the starting point past the town of Tobuki.”

 

Roger Swerts and Eddy Merckx Olympic Village.gif
A quiet evening dinner in the Olympic village in Tokyo with two members of the Belgian AMATEUR cycling team: ROGER SWERTS and EDDY MERCKX.

Despite being a heavy favorite to win gold due to his recent Amateur World’s title, Tokyo was an early blip on Merckx’s legendary career. He finished twelfth in the men’s individual road race. As explained by Fortheringham, his cannabilistic tendency was not so apparent. And the author claims that Merckx was not yet so entitled that the three other members of the Belgian cycling team would naturally support him, and that perhaps a failed attempt to monetarily persuade led to his mediocre results:

Merckz achieved his dream of racing at the Tokyo Olympics later that year, but while the ambition to ride the event had driven him since his early teens, the race itself was anything but a defining occasion. As the amateur world champion, he was no longer just another rider. He was heavily marked by the entire field as he attempted to split the race apart – not the last time he was to find this happening. He suffered from cramp. He rode a less restrained race than in Sallanches, and was chased down by Gimondi when he made his move three kilometers from the finish. Fate had stepped in. the night before, his wallet had been stolen from his room in the Olympic village; in it were the 12,000 Belgian Francs he had brought to pay his teammates. That was the best way to be absolutely certain that they would help him to win. Instead the Belgian team rode for themselves: the gold medal went to an Italian, Mario Zanin, with Godefroot winning the bronze medal and Merckz tweflth. His meteoric amateur career was all but over. Merckx turned professional on 24 April 1965 for the Solo-Superia team led by Rik Van Looy.