July 21, 2011

Tour de France - A Primer

Okay skating fans, buckle up, because I'm giving you a tutorial on the race, in case you ever wondered why so many would get excited about spending twenty-one days, three or more hours at a time, watching guys ride a bike.

Yes, Ms. Charades, when you put it like that it does seem boring.

Nope, not at all. And here's why:

1. The scenery - it is beautiful, especially from here on out. They're racing in the Alps for the next three days and on Sunday, they will be in Paris. It you have a nice HDTV, consider this a poor man's European vacation. (Wine and cheese sold separately.)

2. The strategy- it isn't just about the winner of the yellow jersey. While that is the overall winner after all of the races, a.k.a. stages.

But there is always a contest going on for who will win that day, who will win in the sprint category (green jersey), who will win climbing the mountains (a.k.a. King of the Mountain, in the red and white polka dot jersey), and who is the best rider under the age of 25 (white jersey). Yes, while under 25 is quittin' time for figure skaters, it is "young" in racing.

This sport favors maturity and experience. It favors endurance (drugs), training (drugs), and team tactics (more drugs).

That is what is so disheartening if you're a fan of this sport. At some point you have to give in to the notion that MOST, if not close to ALL, of these guys are doping. It's a suspension of belief that the guy standing at the top of the podium was clean when the rest of the top ten were not.

Okay, back to the race.

Another incredible aspect of pro cycling is the notion of domestique riders. Their sole purpose in the race is to help their best rider (called the GC rider - General Category) get up the hill and over the finish line faster. Can you imagine your pro career being all for someone else's benefit? That's how they roll.

Why are they so important? Drafting, that's why. The rider at the front of the race has to break the wind and it takes a lot more energy. Think of when you see birds flying in "V" formation, they are riding the slipstream to conserve energy.

I think this quote best explains why domestiques are crucial to winning the Tour:

It is team tactics which so often win or lose races - and the lieutenants and the dog soldiers who expend their energy blocking chasing moves when they have riders up the road in a position to win. It is they who ride out into the wind so their aces can get an easier ride tucked inside their wheel [close to the rider in front and in his shelter]. Rare indeed is the major victory that cannot be credited in large part to the groundwork laid by the domestiques

Yeah, dog soldiers. Kind of like the chorus in an ice show. Without us expending our energy in some ten-minute, drawn-out production number as trees or Smurfs or something, the principal wouldn't get to soak up all of the applause in their two-minute solo, free of any scratchy, migraine-inducing "skin" or headgear.

("Skin" is the industry term for being engulfed inside a costume. Think amusement park characters.)

Bitter much, Ms. Charades?

Yeah, sorry about that. I shouldn't be bitter. Dressing up as a tree isn't so bad when you get to do it in another state or country the next time.

Enjoy the race, kids. Today will be gorgeous scenery and probably the most exciting stage yet.

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