Scallywag

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Here’s To The Tour de France

June 28th, 2013 ~ Est. reading time: 3 mins, 20 secs

Watch out for the Tour de France!

Watch out for the Tour de France!

I’m a late entrant into the Tour de France. I’ve only been watching this Herculean phenomenon for the past ten years. But, despite the fact I’ve not been there for all the stuff of decades past, like so many fans, I’m there in spirit.

What is the Tour de France? In case you don’t know, it is the most superhuman sporting event in human history. It’s madness. Crazy beyond belief. Yet its insanity also crosses over into pure inspiration.

Sitting up late to watch it on TV live (we Aussies are used to seeing bright sunshine on the screen on wintry nights) the Tour has become an annual event to anticipate.

“Darling the Tour de France will soon be on!”

“Yay! That’s great?”

So what makes a not very sport-minded fellow like me get excited about a bicycle race? Well, it’s difficult to explain. Which is why I recommend you take the opportunity to watch it for yourself. For the Tour de France is a lot of things these days, not merely a bike race.

For starters, it’s French. That might not mean much to you. But to me, well I love that aspect already. That idiosyncratic Gallic way of thinking and doing things wins me over as it makes me smile. So that alone gets me in.

Then there’s that marvelous French countryside that is beautifully captured from majestic helicopter shots. As a broad sweeping bend in the road is revealed (flanked by fields of tall sunflowers), a magnificent crag or splendid Chateau comes into view, complete with knowledgeable commentary (not bad for a sporting event, non?).

Then there is the cyclists themselves. Quite apart from enough eye candy to make a woman faint, their strength and endurance demonstrated over some 2000km (1600 miles), riding up and down spectacular mountains takes your breath away. This is what makes the Tour de France magnificent.

Over years, we have gradually been learning that this is a complex event, unlike any other. One point, riders can be battling it out, busting their guts riding up a steep mountain pass. Then, in another, they all decide to come to a stop to make a statement to race organizers or pay tribute to a fallen great. It’s fascinating and takes some engagement to work out what on Earth this race is all about.

The Peleton, the domestiques, drafting, Teté de la course, and Hors-categorie are terms unfamiliar to Anglophiles. Which is what makes the Tour de France such a feast. Watching absentmindedly for a few quick minutes is not enough. You’ve got to watch it for a while and, let me say. That’s how this infernal race gets you hooked.

The adventure, challenge, dangers, courage, intrigue, and splendid scenery are more than enough to hook your attention. Still, who can resist the addition of a section on French cooking? Yes, watching the Tour de France via Aussie TV’s SBS Television means you also see a French chef cook up something delicious to compensate for the strain of watching all that physical effort. Now that’s what I call a sporting event!

Yet, there’s one more element that hooks me and every other Australian who has suddenly discovered this outrageous race. The Tour de France 2012 saw something extraordinary happen for the first time in its 99-year history when a competitor from Australia won the race. A humble cyclist, Cadel Evans, had been building up for this momentous win over the course of a few years and in 2012 he did it.

Everything about the man and his racing shows he is no drug cheat, which regrettably cannot be said for many who couldn’t see themselves achieve without cheating (which of course is no achievement at all). Just like the Olympics, in the Tour de France people play to win and, sometimes, that gets in the way of them becoming true champions.

Unless you are Australian, I doubt you’d care too much about Cadel Evans’ win in the Tour de France 2012. You might even be less than impressed just because it’s held on French territory, or even that it’s “just a bike race”. But I can tell you that this event is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s more than sport. The Tour is a great cultural event that brings happiness to millions of people worldwide. Amidst its intrigues, it also includes more than its share of scandals and shames.

Then again, the Tour de France is a race like no other, with a pedigree that spans a century. If nothing else, watch it with me, check it out, and get a glimpse of the biggest free sporting event in human history (not bad for a bicycle race that takes two weeks).

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