Sportsthoughts (32) – Why I love the Tour de France

July is the the month when football goes to sleep, rugby too.  A very short breather. Friendlies start getting hyped midway through the month, by the TV machine. There’s the tennis and the cricket of course, and the British Open golf. But the sport that really keeps me going in this fallow month is the cycling, the Tour de France.  Here, nine days into the current Tour, are 10 (plus one) reasons why I love it so.

1. The cyclists on the Tour must be the toughest sportsmen going. A hundred or so miles a day, over 20 stages (and the prologue). 3497 km in total this year, 2186 miles. Sometimes along flat territory, but then other times up and over the most hideous mountain slopes.  When I’m battling up a quite steep slope in Ealing, or some other place nearby, I always think, the Tour guys wouldn’t even blink at this one.

2. They come through some horrible crashes.  This Tour has had a whole series of disruptive crashes which have put some riders, like Frank Schleck, out of the running for the yellow jersey. But unless they have broken bones, they get up, have the bike fixed, and get going again. Cycling through the pain. Stoics.

3. It’s such a fantastic advertisement for France.  the variety of scenery, the beautiful towns and villages. Visit this country now!

4. The enthusiasm of the fans.  Some of them are close to being a danger to the riders, but it is amazing to watch the riders fight their way up the mountain slopes, or through the time trials, egged on by those fans.

5. The sprint finishes. Extraordinary for a start that you don’t get crashes when the top guys surge for the line, centimetres from each other’s wheels. Last year the Mark Cavendish team, HTC, in their V formation, was a thing of wonder, as they led the race on the flat stages, placing Mark for that catapult finish.  He doesn’t have that support this year, riding with Sky, and possibly his focus is on the Olympics.  But he won the second stage, magnificently. There is a more even competition this year, more depending on the individuals themselves.  Smaller support teams, if any.  One reason, it is said, why there have been so many crashes. everyone is vying, but not leading.

6. The way that the peleton somehow catches and sucks in the breakaway groups on most stages. I find this remarkable, as I watch the highlights on ITV 4. You know the breakaway group will be caught.  They know, the peleton knows.  But why? And why break away if you know you’ll just be destroyed close to the end?  A little bit of glory, I guess. But why do teams allow one of their riders to break away, given that it does them no good? No idea.  But that moment when the mouth of the peleton opens and devours the breakaway riders is always a thing of awe.

7. The technology – the helmets on the time trials, the new chain wheel which is not quite circular, so that it maximises thrust from the pedal force… apparently. Everything, basically.  A nerd’s delight.

8.  The mystifying accumulation of points for the Green jersey and King of The Mountains – especially the latter. I think I’ve just about got the idea of the intermediate sprints, which garner points.  And the TV has started showing them a lot more.  But King of the Mountains truly is a mystery. To win the Tour you have to be brilliant in the mountains, and in the time trials. So how come the winner of the Tour, or maybe second or third, isn’t the winner of that fabulous polka dot jersey? Makes the title a misnomer. But then, if the King was just the Tour winner or runner up, why have the polka dot jersey? Hey, who cares, it’s a great thing to be… King of the Mountains. I’d like that.

9.  The respect shown as the likely winner becomes clear. At some point, usually after the Alpine or Pyrenean stages (depending on which comes last)  after the battles to break each other, the peleton acknowledges the winner.  There seems to be a massive respect from thereon in. An acknowledgement, I guess, of the shared effort and pain in reaching those final stages. Mutual respect. I love that sense of fellow feeling and respect. A truly honorable sport.

10. The way that new stars emerge, so quickly, at least to us non-experts, whose focus each year is really only on the Tour de France. This year it is the young Slovak rider, Peter Sagan, who has swept all before him on the flat stages and won three stages in his first ever Tour. That is an amazing achievement, especially as he doesn’t seem to have much of a team in support. And closely rivaling Sagan, the Team Sky rider, Chris Froome, who won a mountain stage, is helping Bradley conquer the big slopes, and came second in the time trial on Monday, edging out the legendary Fabian Cancellara, who takes yellow until the mountains kick in.

Crank it up to eleven!

11. And finally, the fact that our own Bradley Wiggins, the Mod, the Jam and Who fan, the lad, who crashed out with a collarbone  fracture last year, but who is being supported brilliantly by Team Sky, this year, is favourite to win.  It’s not certain – it only takes one bad day to set things back. But after the Monday time trial, he opened up a gap of almost two minutes on the feisty Aussie, last year’s winner, Cadel Evans. That will be hard to claw back.

That’s another amazing thing, really.  After thousands of miles cycling, it all comes down to a couple of minutes difference. The fine margins of top sport…

About John S

I'm blogging about the things I love outside work: music, sport, culture, London, with some photos to illustrate aspects of our wonderful city. And anything else that I happen to think is worth writing about!
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32 Responses to Sportsthoughts (32) – Why I love the Tour de France

  1. Working 14 hours a day. I feel like I’m the Tour de France. Did not read every word, but there’s no one else who can get me to read anything about sports at all. I like your sports, but I like your music better.

    • John S says:

      Thanks Resa, for checking the blogs when you are working so hard. Dare I ask what at? Ignore if private, of course. I like my music better too as a creative exercise, but I enjoy blogging on my favourite sports, not least because it will be a bit of a reminder of great moments from now, in the future. If you see what I mean. And great to get comments from fellow sports-lovers.

      And Olympics coming up!

  2. Jeremy says:

    6. Is easy to answer – coverage of the rider(s) in the break generates sponsor exposure on live TV. After all, le tour itself was set up to promote a newspaper.

  3. DyingNote says:

    I’ve followed the Tour ever since it started being telecast live here – usually the last 2-3 hours each day. This one has seen the least organized team efforts in my opinion. So many crashes, and quite a few of them due to rider stupidity. But still, I love the event.

    I had broken ribs from a crash while going downhill on a tour here and that’s horrible. So it is amazing how these guys brave through the injuries.

    6. As Jeremy says above, it’s mostly about visibility for the sponsors and sometimes the breakaway sticks. It almost did once this year.

    8. Points for sprint stages and mountain climbs which are usually grabbed by those in breakaways, although some could still be picked up at the finish. Again ties into the visibility bit above.

    But for toughness, I doubt anything comes close to the Race Across America. No money, no sleep, not much glory since it’s not much advertised, over 3000 miles covered in 8-12 days (depending on your category – they have finishing time limits).

    • John S says:

      Ouch – where is “here’?
      I’ve never seen the Race Across America, but it sounds awesome. Must check it out.

      • DyingNote says:

        India. There’s an amateur, and by far the best known, cycling tour in this country called the Tour of Nilgiris every December that covers about 850 to 1000 km (depending on the route for the year) mostly through hilly terrain of 3 southern states over 8 days including a rest day.

        The last I knew, RAAM is hardly covered on TV, if at all. It’s run and contested by a bunch of fanatics (lunatics?). If you’re the book-reading type, I strongly recommend Amy Snyder’s ‘Hell On Two Wheels’ for an account of that race. You can even check http://www.hellontwowheelsbook.com/

    • Jeremy says:

      For sheer bravado/stupidity, you can’t beat the great divide race. That ones been on my list for years!

      • DyingNote says:

        Thanks for pointing me to this. Wow! I see from your blog’s “About” section that you’re into mountain biking. When you say “it’s been on my list” do you mean to participate or to just be there?

      • Jeremy says:

        Would love to participate given the opportunity

  4. DyingNote says:

    Saw today’s stage profile. They’re doing the Grand Colombier today, or given parts of it that have 12% gradient I should say, the Grand Colombier will do them 🙂

    Sorry to put a dampener, but Bradley Wiggins is not really the climber that Cadel Evans is, is he? I wonder how much of an advantage the Sunday TT time gap Wiggins built will be over the mountains. Honestly, I hope he stays in touch with Evans – I’d like Wiggins to win

  5. DyingNote says:

    Well, one of your questions got answered today 🙂

  6. surroundedbyimbeciles says:

    I’ve been watching the Tour de France since the 80s and am amazed by what they do. One day, I am going to see a stage in person. My dream vacation is to go to Wimbledon, the Open, the Tour de France and the running of the bulls in the same trip.

  7. John S says:

    That would be some trip! Couch potatoes in the UK can watch three of the events live on TV. Not sure I’d go near those bulls – they usually manage to gore someone!

  8. DyingNote says:

    Wiggins well on his way after today’s results, dropping Evans like that 🙂

  9. Boneshaker says:

    Nice piece again, John, and I very much enjoyed all the contributions. Some pretty serious cyclists in your group, and it’s really good to get a closer take on the wonderful Tour.

    I’m loving it too, and in fact the live afternoon coverage is a bit too tempting for a home-based freelancer like me. I hugely enjoyed yesterday’s Stage 13 to Cap d’Agde, and was very entertained by Wiggins’ late attempt to line up Boassan Hagen for the sprint.

    There’s something quite compelling about Wiggins – engaging, articulate (if potty-mouthed), funny, charismatic, a bit arsey, and very mod, as you say. (He even LOOKS like Paul Weller.) Hope he hangs on through the mountains and nails it next Sunday….

    Can’t wait to see some of this lot in the flesh for the Olympics Road Race on the 28th. I’ve got Beach Volleyball that morning – yes, I know, again – but thought I’d aim to see them coming through Central London (maybe Knightsbridge?) as they approach the finish. Don’t suppose you’re around to do that?

    • John S says:

      Will get in touch about the road race – would love to see it. Jon G interested too. Talking of Brad’s Paul Weller resemblance, saw the great man at Latitude last night. Blog to follow! And four days of the Tour to catch up with on the ITV4 highlights. It’s a hard life!

  10. Lulu says:

    Ahah the moutain slopes are my favourite stages! It’s were you see which one really deserves it. I went to see the Tour a few times as my dad is a cyclist. I remember booing Lance Armstrong and screaming “ALLEZ RICHAAAAAAAAARD !!!” when Virenque was still riding. It’s really fun to see and to participate to! But I’m sorry I’m not ruling for Wiggs, we’re dying to finally have a french yellow jersey on the Champs Elysées!

    • John S says:

      Maybe not this year for France – not sure any Frenchmen are close to the yellow at the moment. Of course I’ll support the British riders, but it would be good to see a French rider back at the top. What has happened to them all?

      • Lulu says:

        Maybe other countries use drugs we don’t? ;-). Really I don’t know, french riders have a great fighting spirit but when it comes to winning…
        I think in France we don’t like winners. For us winning means cheating, whereas if you lose after an epic fight in the moutains, then you’re a hero and the winner didn’t deserve it! Maybe we are too used to losing and it is our way to get over it!
        I guess it is different in GB, you seem to have a great winning spirit.

        (Sorry I’m not sure I was very clear here…)

      • John S says:

        You should see what the press writes about the English football team – even when they are fighting hard. I think our nations are quite similar when it comes to criticising our sports men and women. Just wait for the Olympics!

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