I got hooked on Le Tour de France
about four years ago, which means my entire tour experience to this point has involved watching Lance Armstrong repeatedly dominate this event. You can only imagine then, how much more entertaining it is now that he is no longer there, not to mention the fact that a significant number of the other major contenders are out of the race. In many sports, this would be cause to look away with disinterest, but not in cycling. With stage 15 now complete, it is quite a luxury to still not have any clear idea of who will be wearing the yellow jersey at the end.
I'll admit, watching cyclists till 1.30am for three weeks straight may not sound terribly appealing, but I am often surprised to find out how many, like me, are doing this (and how few I would have picked to be cycling enthusiasts). I guess there are a number of reasons why people watch the event, despite no particular interest in cycling as a sport. One would surely have to be the scenery. If le tour doesn't get you in the traveling mood, then quite frankly, nothing will. France just looks stunning - even the boring flat bits look great. The camera work used in the coverage is as fixated on capturing the scenery as it is the cyclists.
Another reason I suspect people watch, and increasingly so as the stages roll on, is the undeniable human element of the race. It is quite simply one of the most grueling events on the sporting calendar, and many elite cyclists are unable to complete it. As someone who rides regularly, and occasionally attempts long distance rides (>100km), watching these guys do it day in, day out for three weeks is just jaw dropping stuff.
A potential third reason people get hooked is the mystifying tactics that are employed by individual riders, and teams, to get the job done. Perhaps most fascinating is how rivals work together to better there overall chances, before turning on each other as the finish line draws near. It's a bit like Survivor on wheels. For the tactics and motivations of the riders and teams to be understood, quality commentary of the event is required. In my opinion at least, this is certainly the case.
Then, of course, there are the more morbid, but nonetheless entertaining, moments of le tour when riders come crashing off their bikes, often in fine style. Given these guys are all elite cyclists, one may be forgiven for thinking this is a rare event - but au contraire
- violently gruesome falls happen with impressive regularity. Watching the peleton take on a 10km descent can be as tense as watching any Hollywood thriller, particularly when the riders decide they need to gain some ground by positioning their entire body weight over the handle bars (or close enough to this). It is usually at this point that Phil Ligget, one of the world's most respected cycling commentators, duly reminds his audience that these riders are profesionals, and this should not be attempted at home. Thanks Phil!
Another addition to this year's race coverage, enhancing the arm chair le tour experience considerably, is the use of Google Earth
. Le tour's website
allows you to download a file which can then be loaded into google earth, allowing you to view the entire route in google earth. It includes all the stage markings, and where all the points (ie. Sprinting, hill climbing) are available. I'll admit, there is something particularly geeky about sitting up until 2am watching the cycling with a laptop by your side, but it does add extra interest to the event.
If you haven't been watching, I highly recommend tuning in over the next two nights at least, if only to see the spectacular French Alps. This will also be when a lot of the supposed contenders for the yellow jersey will either step up and show just how good they are (here's hoping Cadel Evans, our best placed Aussie for the yellow, will), or crack under the strain of these brutal stages. What ever happens, it will surely make for fantastic viewing.
So viva le tour!
I say - and, as I also say every night - better them than me!