I really enjoyed watching last year’s Tour de France, despite the fact that the rider I had rooted for didn’t win and the one I wanted least to win did. If for nothing else, the spectacular scenery during the days in the mountains and through the Chateaux-land with it’s open fields was worth watching. And because I really enjoyed watching last year, I’ve been following cycling in a very casual way so I’d stay familiar with who was riding and how they were doing – things like that. (I think this is the way it starts, — right? This is Stage 1?) I haven’t found another race yet, however, that holds my attention like “the Tour”.
And it’s not just the scenery that keeps me coming back to it every day during July. There’s something about the day-to-day change in outcome that keeps it fresh and new every day. Each day the riders need to contend with the weather (will it be windy? Scorching hot? Rainy?), terrain (near the coast? In the high mountains? Along a stretch of scenic farmland?) road conditions (highway? Gravel? Narrow?) and come up with a ride of over 100 miles (some days up to 140 miles) that’s better than the other 200 guys. And avoiding crashes – that’s important. Don’t crash and don’t get stuck behind a crash. When the bikes go down, they go like dominoes. You don’t want to get stuck behind one of those. All of these things eat away at your cumulative time. In 2010 the race was won by 39 seconds. One of those big traffic-jam crashes can make all the difference.
People line the route in the cities, and through the long stretches of farmland, and as they whiz through the small towns. They line the tops of the mountains, they plan their summer vacation to camp along the way, they create a series of small festivals in trying to show off their village or specialty of the region. They paint their bodies blue or green or yellow. They wear costumes and wave flags. It’s a month-long travelogue of France and some of the neighboring countries, such as Holland, Italy or maybe Spain. It’s pure admiration for the accumulated accomplishment of each rider – cheering on each rider who is giving his best ride to be the first to the finish – all the way to mass hysteria on some of the more grueling mountain ascents when the crowd can be just inches from the rider’s elbows as they struggle to maintain forward motion in a man against mountain struggle to a lofty triumph – sometimes several times a day! It’s an acknowledgement of man’s triumph over his environment – sometimes in spectacular fashion on the top of a mountain.
Two years ago I accidentally ‘discovered’ the Tour when I was on vacation at my mother’s house in New Jersey. It was an afternoon program that she never complained about watching. I saw bits and pieces of the race – probably forgetting about it when I returned to work. Last year was my first full year of actually paying attention to the entire Tour (ok, maybe I missed a few stages, but I really wanted to see the whole thing!). In previous years, I was vaguely aware of the Tour – something about bicycles and teams and mountains in France. I did NOT realize how long a race it was and that there was so much specialized riding going on. I was amazed at the team aspect of a race for which there would be just one possible winner. But they rode together. They rode for each other. They rode for themselves. There’s some new drama every day.
I’m going to come flat out and admit it: I have a fantasy team for the Tour de France. There. (I think I’m in Stage 2 now.) I don’t do well, but I rose some 3000 points since yesterday. That’s a win in my ‘fantasy’ world. I beat out 3000 people more than I beat out yesterday!
Ok, it’s over two weeks into the Tour and today’s a rest day for the riders. For me, it’s a day of withdrawal. Fortunately, I do have something else to take up my time today, otherwise, I’d be just climbing the walls waiting for the next Stage. I’m still amazed watching these men battle summit after summit, descent after descent, and come back the next day to do it again. They’re lean, sleek racers, barely wider than the bikes they ride. Their sheer determination continues to astound.
In just six more racing days, they’ll be in Paris, the culmination of the whole shebang. I’ll have to go back to my rerun watching and dreaming about next year. But until then, I glue myself to the television every night for three hours, hanging on every visual and every battle the cameras choose to treat us to.
Yes, it’s an obsession. But, c’est la vie!