Friday, 13 May 2011

The Tour de France

I may be an apathetic person, but its almost time for the Tour de France and you'll find no apathy from me here folks! I am really looking forward to it this year. To many Brits of my age the Tour de France is the sport that ushered the 'slick' presenting skills of Richard Keys into our homes, and introduced us to house hold names such as Chris Boardman and Lance Armstrong. However in the days before every house had sky - let alone sky sports, just about any sporting event that was shown on tv was something to get excited about. Now this may explain why I began watching it, but it does not explain why I have continued to watch it faithfully, every year, since 1993.

The Tour de France spans 21 days of racing, covering more than 2,000 miles of mountain climbs and flat roads, with one ultimate result. Every other sporting event, be it the London marathon, test match cricket match, or the olympic triathlon is brief in comparison. Riders must finish each stage or be disqualified. At least a full quarter of those who start usually can’t finish, as a result of injury or fatigue. None of the other professional stage races in the world are equal to the length and demands of the Tour! It is not only the ultimate test in cycling, it is among the most epic of human endeavors. Even the rider placed last on the final day, dubbed the lanterne rouge, earns ubiquitous respect for merely completing the entire course.

Personally I am nothing more than a amateur hobby cyclist and I average around ten miles an hour. However At the Tour de France level, the average speed, sustained over hours of riding in a day, can be more than 30 miles an hour or more. Mountain descents can hit more than 60 miles an hour! Danger is an obvious, ever present possibility. More than one professional cyclist has lost his life on a road, as was demonstrated this week in Italy by the tragic death of Wouter Weylandt, who was an undeniable talent and a fantastic human being.Very often, when we see cyclists going down descents we fail to realize that they really are like tightrope walkers and sometimes the walkers do fall off the rope. On the Tour de France anything can happen, and it usually does.

Many perceive the Tour de France as an event that is dominated by Europeans due to the success of cyclists like Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, and Sean Kelly. However this is a long way from reality. The great Greg Lemond, the 1986, 1989 and 1990 Tour champion, was a great American pioneer who bucked the trend of European dominance of the event. His 1989 and 1990 victories came after a tragic gunshot accident that left him nearly dead, requiring an amazing recovery. Then there is Lance Armstrong, his comeback from an advanced testicular cancer is one of the greatest inspirations in human history. With Seven consecutive Tour wins from 1999 to 2005, he is without doubt finest cyclist ever.

A true Tour de France fan finds love and appreciation while cycling, often struggling, carried along in disbelief at the achievements of the Tour de France competitors. Last summer I went to the lake district to attempt to cycle up into the hills on my old lightweight Peugeot. It was a dam hot day, however I started the more than two-hour ascent. It was unbelievably steep in the last few miles! So steep that I knew if I stopped I’d never get the bike going again, and walking was not an option. So I kept digging the pedals up the hill, chanting a mantra to myself near the end: “allez! allez! allez!”, as I imagined the old Channel 4 Tour de France theme tune in my mind. When I finally reached the summit, with tears in my eyes from exhaustion, there was only one thought screaming through my head, “I love cycling"!

And here is the original theme from channel, I know my good mate The Rabbit will appreciate this

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