LEEDS RHINOS coach Brian McDermott has outlined his admiration for the “crazy” Tour de France riders who are gathering in Leeds ahead of this weekend’s Grand Départ.
This year’s Tour, which begins on Saturday, covers 3,565 kilometres over 20 stages – including six in the mountains of the Alps and Pyrenees – before finishing in Paris on Sunday, July 27.
Saturday will see the riders race from Leeds to Harrogate, before stage two travels from York to Sheffield the following day.
“Sport for us is 80 minutes,” said McDermott. “For them, it is three weeks, day after day after day of riding, anything between 100 and 150 kilometres every single day.
“You talk about dedication and toughness in sport, but they are crazy the cyclists – you have to be a bit crazy to do that, to have that mentality to stay on a bike and tough it out for so long.
“If you look at cyclists’ physiques, they look ill some of them. They are as fit and healthy as anything, but their bodies are conditioned to such a degree where they have changed shape completely.
“They get my utmost respect and I have been telling my kids and anybody else who will listen, if you are lucky enough to have them cycle past you, you are in good form.”
Cycling has been marred by a series of drugs scandals over the years, the biggest surrounding Lance Armstrong, who won seven successive Tours de France from 1999 to 2005 only to be later disqualified and banned for life from the sport after admitting to using banned performance-enhancing substances.
McDermott insisted the issue does not affect his respect for the riders and he stressed: “I really admire them. I am opposed to the use of drugs in sport and I know it has been an issue in cycling for years, but I also recognise that the cyclists work very hard.”
McDermott claimed cycling is not the only sport to have an issue with doping.
“I don’t mind saying drugs in sport has always been there,” he said.
“There has been drugs in rugby league, there have been occasions when people have taken drugs and it would be naive not to think so but I don’t think we have got a huge problem or ever have had.
“I went through the whole of my career without taking drugs and I think we are a very clean sport.”
Rhinos wore a special one-off yellow kit in the 32-31 win over French outfit Catalan Dragons last Sunday, to mark the Tour’s visit to Leeds.
The club had requested a home fixture against Catalan the week before the Tour de France begins, as a way of kicking off celebrations for the Grand Depart.
McDermott revealed he is a big fan of what is described as the world’s biggest annual sports event and he urged even non-sports fans to line the roadsides this weekend.
“It is such a tough event and such a big, high-profile sporting event throughout the world,” he said.
“You don’t get a chance too often in your lifetime to be at these things. It is actually coming through my village in North Yorkshire and it is massive.
“Every village you go to in North Yorkshire, up in the Dales, has made a real big thing of it.
“I know there was a bit of a fear that people would not get involved with it, but it is absolutely huge up there. The legacy it might bring to Leeds and Yorkshire is brilliant.”