198 riders started the 100th edition of the Tour de France this year. Along with each rider comes a story. Given a chance, all would delve into the perseverance, dedication, sacrifice, and circumstance that landed the participants in cycling’s premier event. All would be deserving of recognition.
But, out of the 198 riders, three are Canadians, and one of those Canadians, Svein Tuft, has a story that truly defies imagination, even as its latest chapter is being written at this year’s Tour.
To call Tuft a late bloomer would be an understatement. As a 36-year-old rookie he continues to live the “We will never be here again” motto tattooed on his right forearm, a mantra that has inspired him his entire pro cycling career. When I wrote about Svein five years ago, I suggested the choice of the pronoun “we” was no accident.
Tuft is an eight-time Canadian national time trial champion, a world championship silver medalist – despite a flat tire and a bike change, and a 7th place finisher at the Beijing Olympics, amongst numerous other top results. Since 2009, Svein Tuft has been leaving his mark on the pro peloton of cycling’s World Tour in a subtle, but steady fashion.
After one particularly epic performance during the 2012 Tirreno-Adriatico multi-day race, where Svein “pulled” the entire group of riders for almost the whole length of the day’s stage, fellow rider and World Champion Mark Cavendish tweeted: “Ride of the day…No, make that ride of the millennium goes to GreenEdge’s Svein Tuft. 200km ALONE controlling the peloton! Respect.”
So, getting back to the “we”, despite his individual successes, Tuft is, and always has been the ultimate team player. Fast forward to this year’s Tour and we see his team, Australia’s Orica GreenEdge, winning the fourth stage team time trial by less than one second. Little mention is made of the role this unpretentious Canadian played in that victory. He was singled out by the team’s race director for his huge effort, but there was barely a mention in the press, Canadian or otherwise, as to his invaluable contribution.
Truth be told, he was instrumental in the team’s success, leading his teammates for long stretches from the outset, pulling them to victory, and in so doing, helping to place one of his teammates in the yellow jersey of the overall race leader – a first for the upstart Aussie squad.
Interviewed after the stage, Tuft was his usual laid-back, understated self: “I had a dream day. I felt that good. I knew, coming home, I was just going to bury it, and if I got dropped, I got dropped. But, I had to get the guys going as fast as they can. I tend to accelerate slowly, so it can save the guys, getting up to speed. I knew my job, and I just had a great day.”
As a further testament to his unassuming nature, he was content to remain slightly off to the side as the team assembled on the podium to receive their honours for the stage win, finally being coaxed up when space was made available for the requisite team photo – typical Tuft.
On Wednesday July 10, Svein Tuft will ride stage 11 of the 2013 Tour de France, a 33km individual time trial from Avranches to historic Mont Saint-Michel. According to team director Matt White, it is a stage Tuft has targeted. No doubt, he will approach the ride the way he always does, aiming to leave everything out on the course, testing the limits of, as Svein likes to say: “How much I’m willing to hurt.” He will ride the time trial as part of his team’s Tour goals. But, perhaps more importantly, he will get to ride it for himself.
As a cycling enthusiast, and a Canadian, I’ll wake up earlier than normal, riveted to the television as Svein Tuft continues to live his dream, competing at the highest level in his sport. He may not be making the big headlines, and for Svein, that’s probably just fine. But, his is a great story, and one that deserves to be shared.
Bonne route Svein. Allez, and chapeau!