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
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 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
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
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
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
Ben Barnes continues his adventures in le Tour.
Read chapter one of Dave’s upcoming sequel to The Race: