Thursday, July 21, 2011

Watching the Tour de France

Cycling can be the hardest sport in the world. The most beautiful. The most brutal. The most technical. The most exciting. The most tactical. Almost any superlatives will work when describing a bike race. The viewer is in awe at the triumphs and aghast at the mishaps. The flat stages may seem boring but as much team planning goes into riding a flat stage as it does in riding a mountain stage.

Watching the teams with sprinters take control at the end of a race, jostling for position for their lead-out trains is a lesson in management. Marveling at a breakaway and hoping against hope ( as do the riders) that the break will stay away until the end while watching the pelaton gobble up the kilometers, making the catch just before the finish is a lesson in elation and despair. Seeing Thor Hushovd beat out Jeremy Roy at the finish of stage 13 was heartbreaking both for Roy and for the spectators. Even Hushovd's fans must have sensed both the glory and the tragedy of the occasion. Roy did get the King of the Mountains jersey, but to lose the stage win was devastating. I don't ever remember seeing a cyclist in tears coming over the line. I'm sure it's not uncommon, but it struck me all the same.

Today's stage to the top of the Galibier in the Alps was one that could leave you breathless, in awe of riders who take that sort of punishment as just part of the job. Cyclists know what it's like to go on a long ride, climb hills, manage downhills, but most of us aren't racers. We don't do a grueling three-week race once in a lifetime where a professional will ride one-day, one-week, and three-week races routinely throughout the season. Few of the stars try to win more than one grand tour, as the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia, and Vuelta a Espana are known. Perhaps part of Alberto Contador's problem in this Tour de France stems from his emphatic win in the Giro. He's tired, he's had some bad crashes, and his knee is bothering him. All this affects his climbing ability when he should be shining in the mountains.

But to get back to the Galibier ... What could have been more stupendous than seeing Andy Schleck powering away from the pelaton on the Col d'Izouard? More courageous than Thomas Voeckler's dogged fight to keep the maillot jaune? More exciting than seeing Cadel Evans tenaciously dragging the pelaton up the Galibier to limit Schleck's time gain? Yes, a bicycle race can be beautiful, brutal and all the rest. But, at it's best, cycling can be inspirational, showing, as Browning said in Andrea del Sarto, "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp/Or what's a heaven for?"


  1. Anonymous8:17 AM

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