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You Mean to Say, the Tour de France is Televised?
By Staff
Date: 7/19/2005
You Mean to Say, the Tour de France is Televised?

You Mean to Say, the Tour de France is Televised?
Dave Shields

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 commitment.

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 ever could.

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 Armstrong.”

I shrug.

“Those guys are beating Lance. Isn’t he supposed to be the fastest?”

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 bike!”

“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 novel go here.

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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