LE PUY-EN-VELAY, France (CT) – The Tour de France is known for high-profile guests, with a range of celebrities attending the event over many decades. The latest to visit was the former U.S. presidential candidate and past Secretary of State John Kerry, who was a guest of the Cannondale-Drapac team on Sunday’s stage 15.
“It is the most beautiful spectacle. I was here [years ago] with my father,” he told journalists at the start in Laissac-Sévérac l’Église. “I saw all the old riders – Indurain, Eddy Merckx, Anquetil, all that. That was my introduction.
“This is incredible – the spectacle of these three weeks, with the completely inhuman stages.”
Kerry has ridden a bike most of his life and said that when he was younger, he wanted to be a Tour de France rider. Instead his life headed in a different direction; he served in Vietnam, worked in law and then went into U.S. politics.
He ran against George W. Bush in the 2004 U.S. Presidential elections, but lost out. He then served in the Obama administration, working as U.S. Secretary of State between 2013 and January 2017.
He is a friend of Cannondale-Drapac CEO Jonathan Vaughters, and attended the race because of that.
“I am going to follow in the car for the first time in all the years I followed the Tour,” he explained in the run up to the stage start. “I have never done that, so I am going to follow. I followed a time trial segment [before], but I never followed the entire, all-day-long segment. So that is going to be fun.”
However he said there was another reason for his attendance, and that it was linked to politics. Kerry is an opponent of current U.S. President Donald Trump’s policy against climate change and made his feelings clear on the subject.
“I am really pleased to be riding with Cannondale today because Cannondale is making a powerful statement about the environment, and the need to keep the earth’s temperature at the two degrees centigrade that we set in Paris,” he explained, referring to the Paris Accord signed in April 2016 and since abandoned by Trump.
“So I am very happy that there is a team that has put the environment on the agenda. And cycling is a sport that is environmentally respectful and friendly, so I think it is something that is very appropriate.”
Cannondale-Drapac announced the initiative earlier this month. Called <2ºC, Slipstream Sports President Matt Johnson said that they wanted, “to keep the spotlight on the progress being made to achieve the primary goal of the Paris Accord — maintain global temperature increase to less than 2 degrees Celsius.”
Details are still being worked out, but one near-term goal is to offer individuals and businesses a way to quantify and highlight sustainability efforts. It will also see the team implement its own verifiable carbon emissions reduction initiative.
Kerry said that it was important that people don’t assume all Americans are in agreement with Trump’s withdrawal from the Accord.
“Given the decision that the president made about pulling out of Paris, I want people to know that in the United States, many people and many states are remaining absolutely committed to Paris,” he said.
“They are going to get the job done. They are going to continue to reduce emissions, to do our part and to live up to our responsibility. And I am proud of that, and I want to emphasise that in the context of what Cannondale is doing to emphasise the environment.”
‘The respect I have for these guys is enormous’
Political and environmental issues aside, though, Kerry made clear how passionate he is about the sport. He gave a motivational speech on the Cannondale-Drapac bus before the start, using a Nelson Mandela quote to urge the riders on. “It always seems impossible until it is done,” he stated, something which riders such as Rigoberto Uran and Taylor Phinney took on board.
Kerry emphasised his admiration for what the Tour riders do day in, day out.
“I don’t know how they do it. I have done 120, 150 miles or something,” he said. “I didn’t get on a bike for a couple of days. Your legs are numb and everything. These guys do it every day.
“It is one of the most challenging endurance individual sporting efforts in the world. They go out there jostling and jockeying for position, going sometimes 60 miles an hour down a hill and fighting to go up 10% or 14%. It is really tough stuff.
“So the respect I have for these guys is enormous. You have to get up, get out of bed, and be willing to say, ‘oh my God, I have another six hours in the saddle here, that is my office. I am going to work.’ That is tough.”
However he has shown his own tenacity in relation to the sport. In May 2015 he crashed while cycling in France and fractured his right femur.
“I was going up one of the cols during the Iran negotiations and I was trying to get away for a couple of hours,” he said. “I wound up hitting a kerb and breaking my leg. But, you know, you get up and go on.
“I was very lucky and fortunate, and back on a bike and careful. I went back up that mountain [afterwards] and slayed the memory, so it was fun.”
‘One of the great sporting spectacles of the world’
Asked if there were parallels between politics and sport, Kerry made clear he saw similarities.
“It is an endurance sport, and so is politics,” Kerry stated. “[Both] are up and down, absolutely. The hardest part is getting through, endurance. It is always endurance.”
“But it [cycling] is a great sport. A lot of people don’t understand it, but it is a wonderful way to stay in shape. It clears your head, you think on a bike. You have miles to go, you are seeing things. It is environmentally friendly. I recommend it.
“The Tour is amazing … it is one of the great sporting spectacles of the world. To have so many moving parts, so many different people who help make this happen. And when the riders get on the road, some of the strategy and the photography is very beautiful. It is a display of France and the countryside of a sporting challenge.”
Asked about this year’s event, he said that he hadn’t been able to follow every stage, but was in touch enough to know about stories such as the crash-prompted withdrawals of Richie Porte (BMC Racing Team) and Mark Cavendish (Team Dimension Data) plus the disqualification of world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe).
“It is very interesting because it is a [real] race,” he said, emphasising the spectacle of this year’s contest. “The last few years has been a one-man show. This may be [in the end], but right now it is a matter of seconds. All within a minute or around a minute. So it is a real race. There are some young legs that are proving pretty competent, but we’ll see what happens.
“The last few times, Froome has been very dominant and you didn’t know the sense of the race. But with the change of the jersey yesterday and Froome now back in it, and several other people within a minute of that, that is very competitive.
“So with the mountain stages that are left after today – and today is a tough stage, with a couple of first category climbs – a lot of things could happen. It is going to be very interesting. I am not going to predict … except that it is going to be a hard-fought race.”