To honor the start of the Tour de France on Saturday, here is a silly little email I wrote back in 2013. I was just starting to get serious about cycling, bought a carbon fiber road bike, and decided cycling would be my main form of exercise.
Fast forward to the 2021 race, the defending champion is a Slovenian, Tadej Pogacar (pronounced Po Ga Cha). He is only 22, weighs a mere 146 pounds, but proved to be the best in 2020. My personal favorite is the sprinter, Peter Sagan from Slovakia. You can see he is built for sprints, not the long haul.
Perhaps I will attend one of these years? Or take a cycling trip on parts of the TDF route? I really meant “Tour de France”, the world’s most famous bicycle race. Now that I am a bit of a cyclist, the race has taken new meaning. This means I can actually watch a rather boring event like this, though the last mile or two are generally the best or most action-packed. I know I will never wear the famous yellow jersey, given to the winner of each stage, and worn by the leader of the race.
Most people do not know the race started in 1903, as a means to increase paper sales for the magazine L’Auto. It was stopped twice for both World Wars. This year’s race is the 100th year of racing. Though the route changes each year, the format stays the same. The Tour is so popular in Europe that over a million people line the route each year. Media coverage extends to 10 different languages.
I find it difficult to root for these racers, knowing that so many of them were juicing, like Floyd Landis and Lance Armstrong. Doping has plagued the race since its beginning. Fortunately, the race contains so many colorful characters over the years. The greatest professional racer ever is considered to be Eddy Merckx from Belgium. He won the Tour de France and the Gira d’Italia five times each.
Actually, there are four Americans who could win. They are Tejay van Garderen of BMC Racing, Andrew Talansky of Garmin-Sharp, Taylor Phinney of BMC Racing, and Joe Dombrowski of Team Sky. A total of 219 riders started the race. Each day, some participants drop out due to injury or failure to achieve the minimum amount of time, based on the leader’s time.
One of the most remarkable, but logical aspects of the race, is that it is free, for the entire course. The only ticket required would be VIP seating near some of the finish lines. How would you even begin to collect tickets or control the crowd? They line the course, often spilling into the roads and city streets.
Some other numbers related to the course are:
21 stages, and 2 rest days.
200 bottles of water or drink mix riders are likely to consume during the race, depending on the temperature.
3 stages in Corsica for the first time in tour history.
Alpe d’Huez has 42 switchbacks. Riders will climb the Alps twice in one day.
90 kilometers of time trials, one team and two individual.
5 is the number of bikes most teams bring, per rider, with 3 for the road and 2 for time trials.
160,000 is the average number of calories that racers will consume during the three week tour.
29 climbs ranked as Category 2, Category 1, and HC* or beyond category.
*too challenging to fit into conventional listings
Though I am hardly a Francophile, I cannot imagine a more spectacular ending to the race than the Champs-Elysees. It might be fun to watch some of the race, then head up to the Champagne region and taste champagne for a week or so. Anyone interested?
And yes, I still think the riders are “juicing” in some manner, whether blood doping or “better living through chemistry.” How does a guy nobody ever heard of (Pogacar), at the age of 21, win the biggest cycling race on earth? Whatever it is they are doing, I could certainly use the help on these long, hot summer rides.