Why I (STILL) Love the Tour de France
Are you like me? Do you start each morning in mid to late July reading over the
day’s stage route with your morning coffee? Even though you read it yesterday?
Have you ever called in sick on a rest day?
by the Pedalin’ Poet
Are you like me? Do you start each morning in mid to late July reading over
the day’s stage route with your morning coffee? Even though you read it
yesterday, could maybe even recite the five categorized climbs, and read it each
day before that—stretching back weeks to when you ponied up $6.95 for Cycle
Sport TdF Yearbook.
Have you ever called in sick on a rest day? On the day of the Queen Stage? Do
you imagine echelons forming, the pacesetting of super-domestiques, and sprint
finish lead-outs, while fighting headwinds on the commute to work along the
river bike path? Are the Canadian Geese clustered there—beaks open, baring
tongues, hissing—looking more and more like the nutjobber fans mobbing Pyrenean
and Alpine climbs?
Do you set your bike computers to display kilometers per hour? Do you spend
your lunch hour at the work computer, reading the live stage report on the
Internet? Do you make your co-workers look at Vino’s bandages in the race
highlights? Do you go into long-winded diatribes on the intricacies of blood
doping when they mistakenly ask what’s up with the Tour after hearing your
rushed intake of breath in the next cubicle? Do you feel them tune you out like
a ranting bus station lunatic? Oh, that guy…they whisper at staff meetings: He’s
nice enough to work with. Just don’t ask him about bicycles in July.
Do you cook dinner in a casquette when it’s too rainy to ride and it’s almost
dark when you get home, anyway, because you stayed at work until 7:30 reading
about the latest crisis in this year’s Tour? Did you cry at your desk, alone
there in the dark, when you read of Rasmussen’s dismissal from the Tour and from
Rabobank - just moments after reading of his triumph atop the Aubisque. Have you
tried to imagine being forced to peel a yellow bike jersey from your back after
10 glorious days spent with the skin of the sun emboldening your pedaling and
easing your suffering while ascending climbs at speeds of which we can only
dream, wonder and lust?
Okay, you get the gist of all these questions… I’m a bike geek. Like you. And
all the other poor schmucks clogging this website’s server.
We like to think we have the answers. Everyone in every chat room has all the
answers. At least I know I like to think that. I know why the pros dope and
cheat. Riders have always done it, I say, reciting the usual litany of names:
Tom Simpson, Bjarne Riis, Richard Virenque, Marco Pantani, Willy Voet, Festina
But what is going on in the psyche of a rider who succumbs to the pressure to
cheat? How do these gifted young men—so willing to suffer, to crash, even to
die, for a sport most of the world ignores - make the decision to dope?
Actually, for me, the more honest question is this: do I cheat and lie about
my riding? Okay, maybe I only averaged 30 kph (18.6 mph) for an hour’s ride.
That’s probably a little different than ‘about 20 mph’ which I may have once
been heard to mention to folks not used to the metric system. And that ride last
Saturday… The one that was 60 miles long. Maybe I rounded up… And that hill…
Okay, it wasn’t a freeway overpass, but it wasn’t Mount Ventoux either…
I’m probably not alone in this practice. At least I hope I’m not alone… And
I’m just a 45 year old Children’s Librarian with too many bikes… Not even
remotely close to professional bike racers in Europe. To get up the Alpe d’Huez
I’d need to borrow a front chain ring from a Swiss watch, a rear cassette from
Big Ben, and a stiff tow cable.
So what do we mortals get from investing ourselves, our time, our energy, and
our weeknights, hammering away on keyboards across the world about the state of
We get this: connection to something beyond ourselves. A yearning to taste
what sloshes merrily in the champagne flute of a hero seven times over. A whiff
of the fog curling on the just-paved sheep herders’ path up a gnarled mountain
between two countries in a storied land on another continent. And these
transcendent moments - like streaking from the Arc d’Triumph down a street named
for a field existing in a mythical Greek paradise - make us feel something
beyond our lives, give us an image, an archetype, after which to model our own
Our two wheels track the same kind of marks through puddles that stretched
behind Vino when he raced the clock, his anger, and his frustration during the
time trial after losing a half hour in the mountains. Our jerseys speckle with
gritty rain dots just like those folks in the nifty matching kits across the big
pond. Some of us can even pull wheelies at the top of a hill like Robbie McEwen.
(I’ve seen my buddy Greg do that.)
These foreign strong men live and ride on the edge of our fantasies. And yes
- they are ambitious and highly competitive. They make tragic decisions we rue,
betraying their teammates, families, and homelands, putting themselves and their
futures at incalculable risk. They - some of them, anyway - suffer consequences,
the pain of which we cannot imagine. But through their strength and their
courage and their legendary abilities we are brought closer to greatness.
Is what I get from being a fan of professional cycling idealistic and dreamy?
Yes. Can I live without it? Not sure. Am I naïve and hopeful enough to believe
that cycling will survive and adapt so we may continue watching and reading?
Fred Kirchner is the Pedalin’ Poet. He believes that
if we sent the most powerful men in the world on a long, unsupported bike tour
there would be no more war or hunger or reality TV. He has two poems in the
anthology, The Art of Bicycling: A Treasury of Verse (Breakaway Books). His
first chapbook won a national literary prize and is called Platform of an
Unacknowledged World Legislator. He lives and rides in Dayton, Ohio.