Le Tour de France 2019 edition, the 106th, began Saturday. It’s already provided thrills, drama and unexpected results. I won’t give you any spoilers here in case you’re streaming and are already behind like I am. But I wanted to share a few thoughts about the sport of professional cycling’s biggest annual event.
Why I Watch Le Tour
I watch the Tour because of the strategy, bravery, suffering, personalities and sport of it are all interesting to me as a bike rider and human being. I want to see how the stories of the 176 riders on 22 teams develop over the nearly 2,220 miles in 21 days. Flat sprints, mountaintop finishes, individual and group breakaways, treacherous downhills – it’s quite amazing what these guys do. It’s the hardest bike race, and some say sporting event, in the world. So, yeah, it’s kinda a big deal. Ask Sheree of A View from the Back, who lives in France and follows cycling, and is a cook and cyclist herself.
Of course, there are the vistas of France to enjoy as well, in lieu of a real vacation. Sadly, Paul Sherwen is no longer co-announcing the race after passing away in December. NBC had a nice tribute narrated by long-time partner and Tour legend, Phil Liggett. Stepping in the box with Phil is Bob Roll, a former Tour racer who’s a character in his own right. Taking Bob’s place in the studio is Chris Horner, who won the Vuelta a Espana at age 42. I like his somewhat droll delivery and counterpoint to the more excitable Christian Vandeveld, who also raced it. RIP Paul. Your memory lives on, and you can be sure they’ll be dancing on the pedals with anger.
The US only has four riders this year and does not include Austin-based Lawson Craddock – the guy who finished even with a broken scapula and blood on his face from a crash on day one. Chad Haga is from McKinney, Texas, though, so I’ll root for him, though he’s a support rider, not an overall contender. Tejay van Garderen is a good racer, but he always seems to crash or choke or both, so I don’t have big hopes for him.
Past, Present and Future Champions
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Belgian champion and first of five Tour wins by Eddy Merckx. He’s been present at the start in Brussels and on day two and three, when the route headed into France. His storied racing career goes back to 1961 and includes 525 victories. His career was not without several allegations and short disqualifications from doping, however, he disputed them.
This does not seem to take away from his pretty widely agreed upon status as GOAT – Greatest Of All Time. It’s interesting to see the race honor “The Cannibal,” and overall it seems he’s done great things for the sport. At 74, he still goes out on Saturdays and rides about 45 miles with still surviving teammates.
With four-time TdF winner Chris Froome blowing his nose, and his chances, there is not pre-annointed race winner. Among the favorites are two of his teammates, last year’s winner Geraint Thomas and upstart Colombian Egan Bernal, but a number of other strong contenders with good teams. But Team Ineos, formerly Sky, has the largest budget, and that has a huge impact on their chances. They have not won the Tour six out of the last seven times by chance. When you can hire the best riders that get their own individual mechanics, soigneurs, masseurs and so on, that makes everyone’s job that much easier. I have no personal favorite and don’t bet on the horses; I just want to see a good race.
The Tour Inspires Biking
Many of the riders say that watching the Tour as a kid inspired them to become racers. For recreational, commuter and ordinary bike riders such as myself, bike racing is not in our future. So one could wonder, what’s the point? Well, for me, watching can be fun, educational, and yes, inspiring.
The latter definitely applied to me after watching the Team Time Trial on Sunday. I found the urge and the energy to get on my bike. I felt like getting a little bit out of the city, so found my way to a nearby town I’ve been to on group rides. Chatting with the convenience store owner, taking pictures of some public art, just listening to the quiet and looking at the greenery were all good for me. Had I left earlier in the day I might have ventured further onto some country roads.
Returning on the usual trail and stopping at a closed bike shop, I noticed my average speed was just shy of 13 miles per hour after two hours. That’s faster than I’ve been going for a while. Why? I think The Tour really did inspire me. I stopped to dawdle several times, so by the time I got home I had slowed considerably after 33.33 miles, but I was fine with that. A 135-mile week, plus 167 miles the week before and 100 before that totaled 405 miles in three weeks. That’s quite good for me. Maybe someday there will be a Tour de A Dude Abikes.
See for Yourself
Until then, while I can, I’m tuning in to watch the tough boys fight it out across France. The winner usually beats his rivals by minutes or seconds. At one level, it’s just a bike race. Sometimes, it’s a bit boring. Even the broadcasters know that and will skip long sections. You can watch it too, either by going to bars or bike shops, signing up for a streaming service, or on TV if you’re in Europe.
If you allow yourself to get into it, you’ll experience an epic, exciting, mesmerizing moving chess game on wheels — full of highs and lows, adrenaline, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat – blood, sweat and tears. It’s Tour de France time. And it’s always a good time to go for a bike ride.
Do you think there be salary caps in professional cycling?
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