Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Le Tour de France: The Real Amazing Race

I will be forever grateful to my son for introducing me to the finer points of bicycle road-racing in general, and the Tour de France in particular.  The battle for the hallowed yellow jersey is over a century old, and is one of those classic international professional sporting events that has withstood the test of time.  From the work of the domestiques shuffling back and forth for their teammates in the peloton (the main pack of racers slip-streaming off each other) to the incredibly high-tech machines they ride on cobblestones, asphalt, dirt and everything in between, the carefully-timed recapture of the breakaway lead group of the day, and even the euphemistically-named "natural breaks", it is an amazing race - one that puts the unreality show of that name to shame.  It is a race that respects tradition and has its own code of conduct which is trifled with at great peril.  Most amazing of all is the tactical game that unfolds, changes with the daily results, and ultimately plays out over the 23 days of racing.  It is a team sport.  No one wins the overall ("GC") title in Paris without the support of the lead-out men, sprinters, climbers and time-trial specialists on their squad.  These have to be some of the toughest athletes on the planet; climbing mountain after mountain in the summer heat, surviving crashes at 60 plus mph with only a helmet for protection, and keeping their cool when fans (some friendly and some not) are in their face on the run into the finish each day.  Le Tour is also a French government vacation ad, with just the right emphasis on the incredibly beautiful countryside to make this old codger want to go.  So, my advice is to watch at least the last hour of one of the mountain stages of the race on OLN, and maybe check out some of the background information on the Tour website before you do.  But be forewarned: you might get hooked on Le Tour, as I obviously am.  Go Hesjedal!