Pick Your Sport

La Grande Boucle, The Tour de France Rolls On

Every July,  the Tour de France comes around so we get to see some tidbits of it happening in the news.  Back in the heyday of Lance Armstrong, it was broadcasted and Americans took notice.  Even Armstrong’s exploits took years to develop before there was a viewing audience.  Over in Europe, the Tour de France riders are treated like celebrities and fans are heavily engaged.

Most sport fans, like myself know of the Tour de France and think of it as an endurance race through the countryside of France.  What we see on television is masses of riders,  all riding  together with a few strays leading the pack.  After a little research, you will find out that this is a race that is very involved and has a long storied past.  I don’t want to bore you with the chronological history of this race, but what I will tell you is that it started in 1903.  I don’t know of any other race that has been going on this long.

Can you imagine what kind of bikes they were riding back then?  They probably weighed twice of what they do now.  What you will find out that it was originally a race for Frenchmen and now is an international race for the best of the best the world has to offer.  It is also not just an individual pursuit but also a team sport with nine member per.

The race has one overall winner but that same rider might not be the one finishing first on the last race of the tour.  The race takes three weeks to complete covering approximately 2200 miles and each day is a new race.  The race is broken into stages with portions dedicated to time trials and hill climbing.    One thing you will hear on every broadcast on your local sports station is who is wearing the yellow jersey.  This is the overall leader with the lowest overall time. The tour also awards those with the best hill climbing times, the best youngest rider under 26, and time trials for sprinters and teams.  There is a lot for fans to cheer for, not just the guy on the news broadcast.

The more I delved into this event, the more fascinating I found the history more than the race itself.  As most every person knows of Lance Armstrong, he certainly is not the only controversial rider ever to get on the saddle.  The history is long and storied with a cast of characters that Hollywood could never dream up.  In fact, there could be a great movie waiting to make involving just one year at the Tour.

This year,  the winner was Chris Froome from Great Britain, who defended his title successfully.  Froome’s family immigrated from England to Kenya where he was born.  He since migrated back to England and rides for team, UCI Pro Team Team Sky.  Froome began racing when he was a young teen and has reached the pinnacle of his career with  two Tour victories and slew of other prestigious races as well.

If you like history, especially sporting history, this race is a good one to look up.  Like the sport of baseball in the USA, cycling in France is and was engrained in the culture.   The only time the race hasn’t taken place was because of the two World Wars.   What was once an event that was started to promote newspaper sales has become a celebration in France and a worldwide showcase for the best of the sport.  Le Tour de France est la meilleure course sur deux roues, Salut.

Photo by Andrzcj Gucwa