Once again American cycling fans get to watch what our European pedaling brothers and sisters simply take for granted, non-stop television coverage of professional cycling. The Tour de France started July 1st and since that date I have been glued to the television and the computer.
For the next three weeks I will watch all the drama unfold as 198 cyclist, on 22 teams cover 2,200 miles. Just to give you some idea what a herculean effort this is over the course of twenty-one days, with a couple of rest days scattered in, these guys will ride on average 100 miles per day plus climb and descend countless 6,000 and 8,000 foot high mountains with funny names to us Yanks like Col du Tourmalet.
To give you some perspective from an old fat 56-year-old cyclist, on a good week, during the Summer, I might ride 100 to 150 miles with an overall elevation gain of about 2,500 to 3,000 feet. Tour riders do what takes me a week (short of climbing 6,000 foot high mountains which would kill me) in one day, then eat, get a massage, sleep and do it again the next day.
I got into cycling late in life. Growing-up in the South names like Heiden, Phinney, LeMond and Armstrong didn’t have the same prominence as Petty, Yarborough, Allison or Earnhardt. If you were talking about racing you were talking about NASCAR not guys riding around on bicycles in colorful shirts and tights. The perception was back then, and as I have discovered still holds true today among some of the Neanderthal Bubba types in my community, that there is nothing masculine about cycling. Skinny guys, wearing girls clothes pedaling around the countryside for no rhyme or reason. Hell you can’t drink beer or chew tobacco riding a bicycle. These guys don’t eat fried chicken or cheeseburgers and none of them have beer bellies? It simply makes it hard for the average Southern Joe to relate.
NASCAR drivers have nicknames like “The King”, “The Intimidator”, “Smoke” and “The Ice Man” cyclists have nicknames like “The Butterfly of Maastricht”, “Der Panzerwagen”, “The Seagull” and “Cash Register” (the one exception I can think of is “The Cannibal” but Merckx was the ultimate badass). “The Butterfly of Maastricht”, I mean come on what self-respecting Southern man would have a butterfly tattooed on their back when you can have a life-size portrait of Dale Earnhardt or the number 3 between your shoulder blades. Sadly, I have seen this on more than one sunburned back.
On July the 4th my wife, daughter and I did a short forty mile ride in the foothills. The heat, hills and humidity were unbearable at least for me. When I got off the bike I was toast and my wife got a migraine later. That was just one day, 40% of the miles a Tour cyclist will pedal in a day plus 10,000 feet of climbing. It will take me two days to recover, Tour cyclist will wake-up the next day and do it again, and again for three weeks.
Bubba won’t admit that the skinny kids in girls tights are badasses but I am here to tell that they are even if they don’t look the part. They are finely tuned athletes who abuse their bodies for 21 days. I can’t think of any other sporting event that is as grueling as a three-week long Grand Tour cycling event. It is a super human feat, one that I will watch from the comfort of my sofa, with a bag of chips and a cold beer or two because I still got a little Bubba in me.
Last years post: Le Tour Y’all
“Cyclists live with pain. If you can’t handle it you will win nothing” – Eddy “The Cannibal” Merckx