Sunday, June 30, 2013

Vive le Tour

"The Tour transcends sport and becomes life itself" -Johan Bruyneel. The 100th Tour de France started yesterday. Despite its relative unpopularity in America, it's actually the largest annual sporting event in the world. I personally love the Tour and suspect that much of the running community does as well. The Tour embodies European culture beautifully, in my opinion. Cycling is absolutely insane in Europe. In many countries you either play soccer or ride your bike. The Tour is the absolute culmination of that passion. There's nothing more amusing than watching a French coach scream out of his window (from the team car) at his rider. The Peloton rides through the absolute most beautiful landscapes in France, up and down the Pyrenees and Alps, and finishes in Paris. It is truly the most epic race ever, but, like everything, it's not perfect. Cycling's Dark Side is of course the incredibly widespread doping that has plagued it for decades. The UCI generally has not been interested in enforcing its doping rules, and understandably so, when it was nearly impossible to accurately test people and teams had full-scale doping regimes in place, complete with multiple doctors and wealthy benefactors. Cycling has definitely become cleaner than in the 1990s, but it's foolish to think that it's completely clean now. There's just too much at stake. In the 90s, cycling in Europe was financially viable enough for guys that in the risk of cheating is not even regarded. And why would it be? If it was your understanding that the entire Peloton was shooting EPO, and you've worked your entire life chasing this dream of riding in the Tour, why in the world would you NOT take something that would somewhat level the playing field? Again, the Tour is starting to come out of its Dark Age. It remains a three-week celebration for everyone involved. Cycling  is probably the most fascinating sport. You see so many things that are unheard of in other sports; riders sprinting ahead of the Peloton only to pull over and greet their family roadside, no admission fees, spectators wearing speedos and sprinting up the mountain to keep pace with the riders and scream in their faces, absolutely no protection for the riders from fans as they ride over a hundred miles almost every day, a caravan of over a hundred vehicles that follows the riders, farmers mowing images of bicycles or messages about the Tour into their grass for the helicopter camera to pick up, and the fact that it's three weeks long, probably the hardest endurance event in the world ("In a three-week stage race, the suffering is intense it becomes spiritual" -Michael Barry.) Cycling should continue to cut down on doping and the Tour will continue to bring people together and be a source of hope for the millions of people in over 180 countries that watch it every day, and the millions of people from around Europe that travel to France to watch the grandest tour of them all. As they say in France, Vive le Tour.

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