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Great sporting duels

The Tour de France duel between Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej  Pogacar – which the former is currently shading by a small lead – has made me recall and share great ones of the past.

In boxing one thinks of Ali v Frazier – or before them – the brutal 3 bouts between Tony ‘Man of Steel’ Zale and Rocky Graziano.

In tennis there was Borg v McEnroe.

In golf, the 1976 Open contest between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson was never bettered – till Stensen v Mickelson.

In athletics, in the Golden Age of British middle distance running, think the elegant Sebastian Coe v the edgier Steve Ovett.

In team games, it’s harder to identify individual duels – but Alan Donald peppering Mile Atherton in Jo’burg in 1995 takes some beating.

In football, I knew Harry – an Arsenal supporter for 80 of his 100 years.

I asked him how footballers rated over his years. He replied that the modern player was streets ahead in terms of fitness and technique, except for the duel between Stanley Matthews v Eddie Hapgood.

The Ipswich player Eric Gates and Spurs Steve Perrynan made no secret of loathing one another, whilst Leeds United defender Jack Charlton’s black book was said to include Peter Osgood and Ian Hutchinson of Chelsea – both clubs despising each other … earthy Yorkshire versus ‘Fancy Dan’ debonair Kings Road …

No shortage of duels in horse racing: Grundy v Bustino – and Denman v Kauto Star – spring to mind.

Sport moves in cycles.

Sometimes one player dominates – like Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Rod Laver and (after Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal) Djokovic, but the duel is the essence of sporting theatre.

Back to the Tour.

As it started in Bilbao it reached the mountains of the Pyrenees in the first week, whereas normally it’s played out in the flatlands of Flanders with the Alps  the first mountain stage.

Tuesday Vengegaard established a 1 minute lead over Pogacar but yesterday with the daunting Col de Tourmslelt this was reduced to 24 seconds after an epic battle between the two.

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About James Westacott

James Westacott, a former City investment banker, acquired his love of the Noble Art as a schoolboy in the 1970s. For many years he attended boxing events in and around London and more recently became a subscriber to the Box Nation satellite/cable channel. His all-time favourite boxer is Carlos Monzon. More Posts