There are few events like it in the world…a month of cycling races around one of the acknowledged most-beautiful countries in the World. Even without the racing, it is a gorgeous month-long history lesson. Getting specific…why do we like it so much? Here are four very good reasons:
The common man participates, even the farmers. Especially farmers. From people hoisted in tractor buckets to crop designs, the tour involves everyone in France. This picture is a giant bicycle created along the route, people as the wheels, rotating around rope “spokes”. Where else is there this kind of non-commercial local pride?
While passing through Brittany on Stage 3, French rider Anthony Charteau, while passing through his hometown was ‘allowed’ to ride ahead of the pack without a pursuit because he wanted to stop and say hello to his family along the route. He rode ahead, searched for his family, dismounted his bike to kiss and converse, and then climb back on his bike with just enough space to come back up to speed with the peloton. Where else would this be an unspoken rule? I can’t think of a single sport.
Years back, when Lance Armstrong hooked his handlebars on a plastic bag waved by an overzealous fan, his crash was a bicycle-breaker and could have been race-ending. Instead, Tyler Hamilton sprinted to the front to alert the other riders that Lance had gone done. The riders slowed the pace long enough for Lance to get another bicycle and catch up to his position at the time of the unfortunate crash. Where else would fellow athletes give up an unexpected advantage to allow their fiercest competitor to reenter and have a shot at the race?
Winning over the long haul
The Tour de France has many intermediate events that award points to riders based on personal performance. Sprinters, time trial riders and hill climbers all have something to gain daily or at specific events. The riders that win the tour, however, are the ones that do the best in the GC, or General Classification. The ones that can put in a consistent performance day after day. Lance Armstrong was the king of the GC and had seven wins to show for it (current scandal not withstanding). For others, it is simply enough to win a stage and to throw everything into a single day, only to exhaust themselves and sometimes drop out afterward and not finish the Tour. One thing is clear for the GC: The rider that wins has a supporting cast of team riders who protect them in the peloton by forming a protective rolling perimeter, ‘pulling’ them along throughout the race, and helping to propel them to the front of the pack in the moments that matter by setting the pace for their rider. These riders have a most unflattering nickname in French: Domestique. Yup, like domestic help. Like the cleaning person or the gardener, but with brighter colors and a lot more work and danger. What other sport is as grueling, with 21 stages over 24 days, and 3430 km (2131 miles) that include rain, heat, wind and super-steep climbs in the Alps and Pyrenees?
There are many more strategic aspects to both individual and team performance in the Tour de France, but these are four of our favorites. The Tour has Stage 7 starting tomorrow, and it can be watched on television and on the web. See the Tour de France website for details.