James Spackman, publisher of our Pursuit Books cycling imprint, on why the Tour de France is like Game of Thrones.

Liveried bands of rivals locked in an epic contest for one ultimate prize; casualties, alliances, betrayals ... the parallels between the Tour de France and Game of Thrones - the seventh season of which premieres on Sunday - are there for all to see. And turns out it’s a devilishly tempting diversion for publishers who shouldn’t really have the cycling on as they work, to try to match the Noble Houses to their equivalent World Tour equipes. (For the record, I’m saying capable-yet-disaster-prone BMC are dead ringers for House Baratheyon, and no I don’t think Team Sky are House Stark or the White Walkers.)

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Fine, no one gets castrated and no eyes are gouged out at the Tour, but there have already been two bits of nasty elbow action this year, one which smashed Mark Cavendish into a barrier at 70kph and ended his race, the other a less hazardous but distinctly pointed barge by Chris Froome on pretender to his title Fabio Aru, which reveal the varied perils of pro bike racing and almost justify the contrivance of this piece.

Seriously though, a Grand Tour’s richness comes from many sources. Swooping helicopter shots of mountains, chateaux and sunflowers provide a spectacular scale. The sheer physicality of the effort (and injuries) the riders sustain over three weeks lends a heroic aspect. But it’s the plotting, the scheming, the Machiavellian tactics that really make the Tour compelling. And that’s why it’s really like Game of Thrones.

This year’s edition of the Tour hasn’t (yet) seen an epic double-cross, in the vein of Bernard Hinault’s (one of our Hardmen, featured in the book of the same name by the Velominati) attempt to defeat teammate Greg Le Mond in ‘86, having promised to support him. Or the frankly Jon Snow-style gang-up that denied Robert Millar victory in the ‘85 Vuelta a Espana.

game of thrones

What it has had is a classic episode of road-diplomacy, of the sort that always generates heated debate during Grand Tours. On Stage 9, Chris Froome, in the leader’s yellow jersey, got his gears stuck and raised his arm to call his team car to assist. Rival Fabio Aru chose that exact moment to accelerate away, only to be cajoled into easing up by other rivals - friendlier ones - of Froome’s. Froome was relying upon the debatable tradition of not attacking opponents when they have 'a mechanical' or go for a wee. Although, come to think of it, he was actually asserting that pseudo-rule, rather than just relying upon it. His reputation will have intimidated some of his rivals into compliance. And his years of room-sharing with one of them - ex-teammate Richie Porte - seems to have created a lasting alliance (subservience?) that cuts across team divisions. The elbow action that followed, in which Froome barged Aru into the crowd, then issued an exquisitely pass-ag 'sorry mate' wave, was just the endgame of that particular power play.

GOT, for all its fantastical setting, is grounded in well observed, universal human psychology. Likewise, the TdF presents us with near-superhumans in a wholly contrived scenario, which sees them play out equally human dramas of ambition, fear, kinship and hostility.

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