I was drawn to the Tour de France sometime during Lance’s chain of seven victories, beginning in 1999. It was the story of his bout with cancer, his work ethic, the best technology and team possible in Postal and then Disco; the Look, the Fall, his unstoppable, ruthless will.
The exquisite beauty of the setting didn’t hurt, with its rolling farmland, ruined castles, immaculate manors, and quaint haystack sculptures. The stuffed lions.
But what keeps me watching is so much more complex. It’s the test of human limits, the constant need for the riders to prove themselves each day, the need to be a teammate and sacrifice for the leader, or reap the benefits of the team should you lead.
The technology, how refined we can get with the simple need of a human powering two wheels.
It’s human nature manifested. The breakaways, which are such risky power grabs. The climbs, which seem to require more sheer force of will than anything. The sprinters, the rock stars of the riders, relying on their teammates to position them for a win, then nailing it with sheer power, timing, strategy, and luck.
The time trial, with its space-age gear, and the team time trial, when it happens anymore, a diagram of aerodynamics. The power of the people, the peloton, that chugs along like a freight train. The monumental endurance required.
It’s the one sport I watch where the commentators are a key draw. Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, on Versus, speak intelligently and in impeccable, British-accented English and work together seamlessly. Bob Roll, the jester, is nonetheless extremely insightful and amusing.
And this year, he has managed to learn how to pronounce Tour de France with a French accent. Okay, apart from the Tour de France, Versus can be erratic, but at least they cover cycling.
Ah, yes, and then there’s the doping. It blew up in earnest a couple years ago, but it seems like the shattered fragments are coming back into place, piece by piece, slowly. Shamed exiles like Floyd Landis are rejoining the fold, and the riders are subject to incredible scrutiny.
Teams are making it their mission to ride clean. Baseball’s steroid usage has finally come out of the dark to suck some of the media’s hunger for perps.
And if there’s one good reason for Twitter, it’s to follow some of the pro riders. Learning what someone had for breakfast really isn’t all that interesting, unless it’s Lance Armstrong, who had pasta and eggs this morning. Mmmm.
He also tweets when he gets drug tested. Sure, it’s PR for him, but it’s still interesting picking the brain of the most laureled cyclist of our time.
We can track these nomadic pros all over the world, and it connects us to them on an intimate level. Which is good for the sport in the way Armstrong’s return is, even if you have mixed feelings about him. If Armstrong is peerless on his bike, wait til you see his tweets. The man is a marketing genius too.
But you all know that because you’re all following his Twitterfeed already, right?