Martin Bruin: Tour de France has improved over the years

“Earlier, the riders were put up in cheap hotels, and now there are proper arrangements. That’s a major victory,” says Bruin.

Martin Bruin is one of the veterans in the racing circuit who has seen it all. As a chief commissaire, representing the UCI, Bruin has covered six Tours.   -  Special Arrangement

Think about the terrains.

Deal with the difficulties.

If one were to keep a close tab on Tour de France, these are the two essentialities that are must-know. The pictures which show the cyclists breezing past the rough, rocky terrains across the French towns and the wayward lanes, don’t always tell the real story. What the lens fails to capture is the struggle, the anxiety and the palpable tension that hovers around the organisers of the event. With every lap, the men who manage the stuff, pull up their socks and get ready for tougher battles in the next round.

That’s how it has been over the years.

The prestigious race has grabbed eyeballs for issues not related to the sport — for cyclists breaching code, falling in the dope trap, in-taking performance boosting substances — but amid all this, the fact that it takes immense struggle to logistically manage such a mega event often goes unnoticed.

Things would be no different when this edition of the race gets underway from Saturday. As the cyclists across the globe would be breezing past the track in search of glory, from one corner of the circuit, a few people would constantly monitor every bit of the race. To ensure all are safe.

Martin Bruin is one of the veterans in the racing circuit who has seen it all. As a chief commissaire, representing the UCI, Bruin has covered six Tours. Be it the infamous 1998 Tour, when a drug scandal threw off the Festina team to seeing Lance Armstrong testing positive — the veteran administrator has had a medley of experiences. And, he agrees that over the years the Tour has evolved a lot. “It is a beautiful race. It has improved over the years. Earlier, the riders were put up in cheap hotels, and now there are proper arrangements. That’s a major victory,” Bruin tells Sportstar on Thursday evening.

This time, the riders will visit the neighbouring countries of Germany, Belgium and Luxemburg. To cap them all, 34 counties across France — which has varied terrains — will also be visited. That certainly would throw up the challenge. “Nowadays we have those splitters and there are traffic islands. More and more policemen and civilians are out to help the riders to avoid freak accidents,” Bruin says, adding that even the riders need to be careful while taking turns or crossing the roundabouts. “I keep telling the team managers to make sure that the riders don’t take unnecessary risks and fall prey to injuries. If you have 1,000 spots, it is not possible to protect all areas. Riders need to be alert,” he points out.

As he speaks, Bruin can recollect that evening in 1994 when a policeman and a couple of riders got involved in a freak accident in the final lap. Trying to capture a few moments of the race in his camera, the policeman came in the middle of the track, and suffered a collision with the cyclists. “They were heavily injured and things had to be brought under control. Since it was the final lap, the placing had to be right, so that was managed. The policeman and the riders had to be shifted to hospitals. Such scares happen in races,” the seasoned commissaire recollects.

But then, he believes such things could be handled better now. “There are ambulances in each and every spot, with specialised doctors. There are motorcycle doctors and also helicopters are there to monitor each and every stage. If any accident happens, riders can be airlifted in quick time. There has been a major change in the Tour now,” Bruin says.

He, however, admits that for both the organisers and riders, the Time Trail throws up major challenges. “That’s where you would see the difference. There will be rough terrains, strong winds. All that needs to be taken care of. Managers need to tell the riders to go slow,” he explains.

The last time he was part of Tour de France was two years back, and Bruin admits that UCI’s decision to reduce one player each from the team from next season would actually help improve the quality of the race. “That would improve the things a lot,” he says, adding, that these days, the organisers have made it a point to clear the areas while a race is on. “Things have definitely improved in terms of organisational structure of the Tour. Safety is always the first priority,” he says.

Personally, he doesn’t see Christopher Froome making it count this time. His money is on the Australians. But all that prediction would change once the Tour hits off.

The rough terrains don’t believe in favourites!