Something I do every July is watch the Tour de France.
With COVID still making a mess of things, the Tour was postponed...but it’s back!
Obviously it is very different than years past, with fewer spectators and everyone having face masks on except the riders, at least while they are riding.
But so far, the racing is exciting and watching the scenery of France is always beautiful.
Many Americans started watching the Tour when Lance Armstrong started his dominance. Some even before that, when Greg LeMond won his 3 tours. But since then, cycling’s ugly secrets have been exposed. Drugs, blood transfusions, anything to give these athletes an edge.
The Tour started in 1903, and I would argue, the riders have always looked for advantages. Back in the beginning, riders did not have team cars (or even teams), they carried their own tires and food and tools to fix their bikes. They had to rely on themselves to complete the planned route around France. The races before World War I were rife with cheating. Fans would beat up rival racers as they pedaled. Due to the length of the stage, many raced in the dark, and since no one could see you cheat, some either "cut the course", our received outside assistance.
Riders would use various "substances" to help them get to the finish line. At first it was cigarettes, alcohol, cocaine. Later, different pharmaceuticals would push the peloton up and over the Alps and Pyrenees and around the rest of France. The most dramatic evidence being the death of Tom Simpson in 1967, just 1km from the summit of Mont Ventoux. He was not feeling well at the start of the stage, but was pressured by his manager to continue. The autopsy found that Simpson had taken amphetamines and alcohol, a combination that was fatal when combined with the heat, the hard climb and the dehydration he was already suffering from.
Although the race and cycling's governing body put in place testing, and banned certain drugs, the "doping era" hit it's apex in the 1990s and 2000s. Systematic doping by teams was widespread throughout the peloton. Huge scandals, such as the Festina affair in 1998, and Operation Puerto in 2006 forced cycling to rethink how it governed itself, and how to track down those who would dope.
Regardless of the scandals, the Tour de France is just a beautiful and crazy bike race. There will always be something to complain about. Riding your bicycle 3500km (2175 miles) along the French coast, through the mountain ranges, into Paris is just silly, especially in just 21 days. But it would also be so cool. And to watch the sprinters racing at almost 50 miles an hour, trying to win the stage, or the climbers, dancing on the pedals going up Alpe d'Huez, the sheer physical and mental test is a wonder to behold.
I will never be a bike racer, but I enjoy watching bike racing. The scandals may have left a bad taste in my mouth, but it is still a beautiful sport. I just can't stop watching.
There are very few sports where you can just show up on the side of the road and watch the athletes. You don’t have to pay an admission fee, and you may have to walk a ways, or possibly even spend the night in your car. But for a few minutes (possibly seconds), you are in the middle of the action. That is cycling.
This year, with Covid, the massive crowds are gone, and those that are there are wearing masks. There is a lot of speculation...will the tour make it to Paris? The Tour director tested postive last week on the first rest day. This seems to be the most asked question, more so than who will win? Although that is becoming quite a race!
The other thing about the Tour...it reignites my spirit. Watching these men push themselves to their limits helps me get back on my race horse.
Usually I hit July, and I start to feel worn out. It is the height of the tri season. In past years, I will have done a couple of running races, a couple of sprint tris, and possibly a Half Ironman. Also, I'm usually training for a second Half Ironman for August. So, after months of training, July hits and I get tired out. I just want to go for a nice leisurely bike ride. I don't want to go do hill repeats, or speed work on a run. I want to lay on the beach, instead of swimming 4000 yards.
But watching the Tour, psyches me back up. It helps to push me again...to continue the training. It would've really helped this year as the training would've been twice as much as I had prepared for the Ironman at Mont Tremblant.
But as we know, this year is a bust. There wasn't a season at all. No running races (the Half marathon that was rescheduled from April to September was cancelled), no triathlons, nothing to train for.
And yet...here I am, watching the Tour, and just like it did before, it is pumping me up. I want to go for a run. I want to go ride my bike. I want to get back to training. I want to start eating healthy again. And I will. Just this week I rode my bike almost 100 miles over 3 different rides--that is more that the previous 4 weeks combined!
The Tour has done what it has always done...exciting me to get going again. And if all goes well, it will do it again next July, as I prepare for IMMT on August 22, 2021.
Thanks Tour de France for the inspiration and memories. Vive le Tour!