I love watching the Tour de France. I look forward to it every July and I try to watch every stage. For most people cycling is a niche sport. Those who are into it are really into it and those who are not are oblivious. If you asked TC Mits (the common man in the street) to name three great cyclists they would probably say Lance Armstrong and then maybe, if they are attune to personal feuds that make headlines, utter “Landis?”
I started watching the Tour several years ago while training for a triathlon. I found watching other cyclists suffer helped the time pass while pushing pedals on my bike trainer.
At first, I didn’t understand the race. How can the guy in the yellow jersey finish minutes behind the stage winner and still be winning the race? What’s the deal with points and the green jersey and the polka jersey? Why do so many look content to ride in a group? It’s a race, "Go for it!”
Over the years, I learned to appreciate the sport; to recognize the calculated strategy and see the race within the race.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
You don’t have to win every race to win the race
There are some who are out to win the day. There are others who are out to win the race. Some days you’ll watch as others get all the attention. That’s okay. You’ll arrive in Paris before they do.
Know your job
Most teams have one leader. Everyone else on the team is there to support the leader. The support riders are called domestiques, which literally means ‘servant’ riders. They are there to protect the leader, pace the leader, and fuel the leader. On long hot days one rider will ride back to the team car, which trails the race. He’ll pack his bike and stuff his jersey with as many water bottles as he can, then hustle back up to where the race is happening and deliver the bottles to his teammates. That is his only job for the day. It's an important job. If you’re a domestique, do your job well. One day you may to tapped to be the leader.
There is a reason cyclists ride in a peloton. By sticking together - and working together - they conserve energy. Painful is the path of a rider caught-out alone. They rarely finish first.
One of the things I love about the Tour de France is... France. I love watching the French countryside pass by with its lush pastures, medieval villages, and rugged mountain ranges. I wonder how often the riders are struck by the beauty of the land or ponder the rich history of the people who’ve lived there over the centuries. I doubt they think about it. How often are we so focused on the race that we fail to see the wonder of it all?
A WRITER AND TRAVELER KEEPING THE FAITH IN LOS ANGELES