Every morning for the next three weeks I get out of bed at the crack of dawn. I make my coffee, then turn on the TV, and watch these skinny guys in ridiculous clothes ride their bicycles 2500 miles around France. I love it. Most people I know don’t understand my passion for it even a little bit. Cycling on TV? It’s like watching paint dry. Even people who respect my own riding obsession, or practice it themselves, can’t make the leap to the sport of it.
But pro cycling is glorious. It embodies science and feeling: preparation, nutrition, recovery, pain, exultation, sacrifice, satisfaction and loss. It has stars and laborers, specialists and generalists. It is the most egalitarian of sports, practiced by working class men who know how to suffer, men who would be working in a factory if they didn’t have a freakishly high VO2 max. It is the most international of sports, men from many nations participating on teams that know no national boundaries. The 176 riders of the TdF peloton ride shoulder to shoulder at 30 miles an hour, handlebars overlapping; a moment’s inattention can have disastrous results. (check out Lawson Craddock’s face.)Yet they persist.
Although a given day may feel like a Grateful Dead concert (hours of noodling punctuated by moments of transcendence), over a three week tour high drama develops. There are five separate competitions within the race. Storylines emerge and become incredibly compelling. Some storylines extend over many years (like beanball wars in baseball). These years, Chris Froome of Team Sky is the campionissmo, the big dog of the tour. But he fell and lost a minute on the opening day. Can he persist? Will Richie Porte, his former lieutenant, lead Team BMC to truly challenge him this year? (Here’s what happened to Porte last year) On Saturday, Bastille Day, French riders will give their all for a stage win. Can they succeed? Every day there is a breakaway, unknown men riding off into the future, chasing the dream of a stage victory in the Tour de France. But the peloton is unsympathetic. Today’s 4 man break was caught in the final kilometer after being away for more than 100 miles.
I am completely absorbed. Even though I’m a real shlepper, I know what these men are feeling. What is in their heart is in my heart. The world falls away, and it is you and the bike and the road, constantly bargaining for the success of the ride. So when you wake up tomorrow morning, give a thought to the old guy sitting on his couch with his coffee and his imagination, eating the dust of the riders of the Tour de France.