So for the next three weeks Americans will get to experience what European cycling fans have long enjoyed, television coverage of bicycle racing. In my house this is akin to some Bubba from Redneckville, Alabama getting to watch Dale Earnhardt, come back from the dead and race in the Daytona 500 for 21 straight days in a row (if you resemble my portrayal of a NASCAR crazed southern gentleman my sympathies to your Bubbette).
I spent the entire past weekend explaining all the strategies, subplots, ploys and tactics of the Tour de France to my mother who thought it was just a bunch of skinny guys in tight shorts (“Look how pretty his blue shirt is”) riding their bicycles for three weeks. I told her about the General Classification (GC) teams, whose goal is to have their leader win the overall tour. Sprint teams, whose goal is to have their team leader win the handful of sprint stages. That each team of nine has a leader then eight cyclist whose job it is to take care of their leader. That means giving him their bike if he has a flat tire, riding in front of their leader, protecting him from the wind and other teams for miles and miles until they puke. These worker bees (domestiques) will use themselves up, or as we say, turn themselves inside out, and then be discarded, replaced by another team member with fresher legs and relegated to the back of the peloton struggling with the other used up domestique to make it across the finish line, recover and do it all over again in the morning. Once she understood, once she saw how the story-lines played out, she was hooked, though she still pulled for the team with the pretty blue shirts and matching bicycles.
Everything I do, my job, yard work, paying bills, being social, suffers because of Tour. I watch it in the morning when I am getting ready for work. I watch in my office on the computer. Then I come home at night and watch it all over again. I already know who the day’s stage winner is, but I don’t care. I have to cram a year’s worth of television coverage into these three weeks because this is all us American’s will get (I don’t count the Tour of California or the Tour of Utah. These races just don’t have the level of competition the European events do). There are other great cycling events out there, races that honestly are more exciting than the Tour (the Giro d’Italia for one) but this is the one American’s know (the Lance factor) so it is the only one we get to watch.
And just as fast as it comes, it ends. Three weeks of sensory overload, three weeks of living vicariously through my cycling hero’s sharing their victories and their pain. Three weeks of enjoying a sport that my European neighbors get to enjoy a season of, gone. I will mope around the house for months after the Tour ends, having withdrawals, reading what I can, watching YouTube replays of other races that follow Le Tour but nothing compares with watching it live, watching the day’s events and drama unfold before my eyes. This is my Daytona 500, Super Bowl, and World Series all rolled into one event, my Bubba moment in Lycra, y’all.
“To be a cyclist is to be a student of pain….at cycling’s core lies pain, hard and bitter as the pit inside a juicy peach. It doesn’t matter if you’re sprinting for an Olympic medal, a town sign, a trailhead, or the rest stop with the homemade brownies. If you never confront pain, you’re missing the essence of the sport. Without pain, there’s no adversity. Without adversity, no challenge. Without challenge, no improvement. No improvement, no sense of accomplishment and no deep-down joy. Might as well be playing Tiddly-Winks.” – Scott Martin