You Mean to
Say, the Tour de France is Televised?
I drop onto a stool at a Manhattan Sports Bar. “Can you put
the Tour de France on one of these televisions?”
“Is that the bicycle race Lance Armstrong wins every year?
Are you sure they show that on TV? What channel?”
I’m only slightly stunned that a man in his position could
be unaware that the world’s second largest spectator sport is actually
televised. After all, over the last few weeks I’ve fielded hundreds of questions
from sports radio hosts and other experts who know almost nothing about this
race, even though Lance Armstrong is one of the most popular and highly paid
athletes in this country. It’s incredible that such headline news could slip so
completely beneath the radar.
It’s a shame that no one has ever successfully explained to
the American public that the Tour de France is far more than the average Joe
assumes it is.
Sure, it includes every bit of the pain and endurance they imagine, but in
addition their are about twenty layers more. Pro cycling, possibly more than any
other sport peels back the layers and shows us what the competitors are made of.
These athletes are asked for and deliver an almost ridiculous level of
Probably the most common question I’m asked is, “How can
bicycle riding possibly be a team sport?” If you’ve read this far it’s likely
that you’ve already got a good understanding of the massive impact drafting has.
You’re fully aware of the reasons that any legitimate competitor needs to spend
his effort judiciously. You know that when one athlete turns on the gas it’s
going to have repercussions for every man in the field. And more than anything
else, you’re probably already addicted to those moments where the race implodes,
forcing athletes to redefine themselves.
The bartender has finally found OLN on the television. The
first image we see is of Lance wearing yellow, four men back in a select group
of half a dozen hammering up a hors-category peak. The fans at both sides of the
road are going insane.
“How come they’re riding so slow?” the bartender asks.
My mouth drops open, but then I make an effort to see what
he’s seeing. Armstrong’s wearing a poker face. Basso seems to be smiling. Fans
are running alongside the bikes and easily keeping up. Added to that, the
television lens has flattened a frighteningly steep incline the way no bulldozer
The bartender slides a drink in front of me. “We have a
regular customer who goes over there and rides the race every year.”
I look at him skeptically. “You mean that he goes over to
watch the race, right?”
“Nope. This cat rides his bike a lot. He takes it to France
every July and enters the Tour de France. He’s a stock broker.”
I smile. “Trust me. He’s a tourist. That’s a common way to
watch the race. One of the really cool things about cycling is that fans can
ride hills in advance of the pros. Fans like your customer pick and choose bits
of the course to cycle for themselves. Another great thing is that he’ll be
within arms length of his heroes in the heat of battle. There aren’t many sports
where that’s possible.”
“I don’t know. I’m pretty sure this guy said he rides with
“Those guys are beating Lance. Isn’t he supposed to be the
I explain some basics. The bartender keeps returning to me
to watch and ask questions. Bit by bit he’s beginning to make some sense of it.
Now the cyclists are screaming downhill. The bartender grits his teeth as a
cyclist takes supplies from his team car at forty-five miles per hour, slipping
energy gels into his back pocket while riding with no hands.
“That looks dangerous. Man, this dude can really ride a
“Yeah,” I say. “He makes it look easy, doesn’t he.”
The bartender nods, eyes glued to the screen. “Yeah. This
is great stuff.”
Not long afterward we see George Hincapie cruising along
behind Oscar Pereiro. Hincapie sprints by effortlessly and crosses the finish
line with his arms raised.
“Why weren’t they racing?” the bartender asks.
It takes me quite a while to explain why things played out
as they did: how the tactics going on behind put Hincapie into a no lose
situation. I pay my tab and thank him for allowing me to watch the event.
“No, thank you,” he says. “I’ll definitely turn this on
again for the last stage to see if Armstrong can win the stage in Paris.”
Looks like I still have a bit of explaining to do.
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. To learn more or purchase the
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: