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Yet Another Left Turn
 
By Staff
Date: 7/14/2005
Yet Another Left Turn
 

Yet Another Left Turn
By Dave Shields

The other day I got the opportunity to watch the Tour de France on a big screen television in Times Square. The Discovery Channel Cycling Team was being broadcast by the Outdoor Life Network on a screen owned by the American Broadcasting Corporation. That, in itself, is an incredible feat of media cooperation. The one bit of cooperation they were unable to get was the right to amplify sound (apparently they don’t want the serene nature of Time’s Square polluted by noise), so we watched without commentary.

That’s not necessarily challenging for someone who knows the faces of the key players, is familiar with the strategies, and understands the profile of the day’s course, but it’s incredibly confusing for everyone else. Most of them would watch for a moment and then decide they had something better to do. You could practically see them thinking, “I thought Lance was supposed to win this thing. He’s stuck in the pack again, though. I don’t get it.”

As the race progressed the crowd grew, but it never reached the sorts of proportions it would have if we’d been watching the Daytona 500, an event where they only turn left. Why is that? Is automobile racing inherently more interesting? Do asphalt ovals transfer to the big screen more readily than rural French roads?

Comparison's between the two sports are interesting, and their history is intertwined. Did you know that professional track bike racing was once the most popular sport in America, much later to be surpassed by baseball? Cycling was also the first professional sport to become integrated long before baseball by Major Taylor. 
Taylor went on to win the worlds championship and at one point hold seven concurrent world track records. At the turn of the twentieth century there were velodromes all over this land, and they drew huge crowds. Six Day races were sold out events in most major USA cities. The "Madison" track event is named after the famous New York city Madison Square Garden where it originated during this era. The first paved roads were paved for bicycles, for the newly horse-liberated Americans!
With the advent of the automobile America turned its attention to a new sport, car racing. Meanwhile, European love for the bike never diminished.

On screen graphics in NASCAR races show us how each engine is performing, and this year the Tour de France is providing comparable info about heart rates. Cycling is well behind auto racing in some of the technical aspects of the broadcast, though. I recently saw a NASCAR race where computer graphics pointed out which car was which as they screamed down the backstretch. Even seasoned cycling fans might benefit from this sort of feature in a chaotic field sprint.

I’ve never even seen a Telestrator, one of the on screen drawing devices that are so effective in many sports, used in cycling. Imagine how much more quickly non-cyclists could catch onto the sport if the commentators could point out, on screen, who they are talking about.

To me, cycling’s potential advantages over NASCAR are numerous. First, faces and bodies are much more interesting and expressive than cars. Second, human performance is more relevant to our lives than mechanical performance. Third, intriguing mind games are always at the forefront in endurance sports. Fourth, with many times the number of competitors, cyclists can be more accessible to the crowd than NASCAR drivers (this is one of the things that NASCAR is famous for). I could go on and on.

One of the main reasons I wrote “The Race” was to show readers how the high speed poker game of cycling is played. Cards have faces like pain threshold and conditioning. Alliances and quick decision making can transform a career. I figured if I could engage people in a good story, they wouldn’t mind learning a bit about this sport along the way.
The response from this group has exceeded my highest expectations, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. Once I convince a movie maker to put cycling on the big screen, though, watch out. It’s going to be an intense viewing experience, and I’ll bet some of those NASCAR fans will find themselves taking a second look at this sport that doesn’t always turn left.

 Dave Shields is the author of Amazon’s #1 Selling Sports Novel, The Race. In June the book became the first sports themed novel ever to win the Ben Franklin Award for Best New Voice in Fiction. See more at www.ReadTheRace.com.

Editors note: David has been busy working on his follow up novel to the successful "The Race." Scheduled for publication in Spring of 2006. Get a taste of the continuing action as the young Utah native Ben Barnes continues his adventures in le Tour.

Read chapter one of Dave’s upcoming sequel to The Race: The Tour.

 
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