Archive for July 13th, 2009

climbing-in-the-tourIt’s that time of the year again and I’m always surprised at how interested I can become in the Tour de France bicycle race.

I realized this today when I came into the studio and remembered that this was an off day on the Tour so I wouldn’t have the race on the television in the background here in the studio.  I found myself I little disappointed, much to my surprise.  

I’ve always been a sports fan since I was a kid but primarily the big sports like baseball, football and basketball.   Boxing, a staple of the Wide World of Sports, was also a favorite although over the years I have lost all interest.  But when I was a kid, boxing held more prominence in the public eye and Muhammad Ali was at his peak.  I remember even wanting to be a writer for Ring magazine when I was 12 years old.

But bicycle racing never got a lot of coverage here and the idea of it as a watchable sport seemed kind of far-fetched.  I mean, guys on bikes pedaling in big packs for a hundred miles at a clip through all kinds of terrain, going over the highest passable peaks?  It seemed kind of slow paced and didn’t have a lot of action even though the racers sometimes flew down steep precipices at crazy speeds.  The coverage never really captured the spirit of the competition.  Besides, we didn’t know the stars of the sport, who were almost always European.  We didn’t have our own horse in the race, at least anyone who could contend and pull in our interest.

American Greg LeMond changed that a bit in the late 80’s when he won three Tours.  He drew the initial glance from the American public and created a slight sensation.  But his name sounded so, so- how do I say this- French.  The casual fan was never quite sure if he was American.  There wasn’t the same level of of coverage and technology didn’t provide for the instant worldwide dispersal of information that it does today on the web.  

No, it took Lance Armstrong to pull us in.  No wondering about that name.  We now knew we had a horse in the race.  And what a horse he was.  He brought drama to the race, from his unlikely return after his battle with cancer to the way he dominated Tour after Tour in his cool, methodic manner.  The French press and bike racing establishment despised him and that only elevated him in our eyes.

So his victories made us finally watch and the coverage became better and more comprehensive, allowing us to see the real drama and beauty of the race.  To see how truly epic were the efforts of these athletes.  I ache just watching these guys struggle over these impossibly steep mountain passes day after day.  I am amazed at the level of dedication it must take to compete at this level.

So, it has become one of my habits in July to flip on the tube as I work and have the Tour there.  Skinny men with huge legs.  I would have never imagined.

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