Back in the day when Ibam Mayo was the great orange hope of beating Lance Armstrong in the mountains and winning the Tour de France, things got pretty crazy.
The orange-shirted, fully inebriated Euskatel-Euskadi fans were a defining and dramatic feature of the Pyrenean stages. When Mayo failed to deliver the goods, it was painfully obvious to see and the Euskatel DS said he wished their bright orange jerseys weren’t so visible.
I were excited to see the Orange fans on the mountains last year until I started hearing the scary stories from tour vet journalists. Rocks and beer bottles thrown at cars, drunken altercations with police and media and a near-riot after one stage.
I had sailed through the nice, clean and orderly Alps without an incident but wondered if I shouldn’t have taken the full insurance package on my rental car as the Pyrenees approached.
Oh sure, I saw a few groups of wasted, potentially confrontational fans in orange t-shirts. But I saw plenty of those kinds of fans from every country, dressed in every color. No rocks, no trashed cars, no riots.
In fact, my signature memory of the supposedly drunk and lawless Basque fans was seeing a group of thirty Basque fans in their 30’s and 40’s, quietly enjoying lunch at a long table set up for their tour group. They were as amiable and harmless as a group of retired folk out for an afternoon of birdwatching.
So I’ll be excited to hit the Pyrenees and deepen my understanding of the Basque love for bike racing. It’s a very cool and unique culture and don’t even get me started on the tapas and wine. If you have contacts in the Basque, please pass them on. I’ll be working on a longer piece about the Basque sports culture during the Tour.