... to the Tour de France!
My family and I have been watching it every year for about 6 years now--the year before Lance's (supposed) retirement. It's definitely not a sport that U.S. Americans typically pay attention to, but I love it.
The experts say that perhaps Americans don't watch because it's too complicated--you keep track of an overall winner, but also pay attention to who wins each individual day's race. Riders compete on a team, but in the end only one guy gets the big prize. There are points to be gained for climbing hills best, or sprinting best... But I don't exactly buy the "too complicated" theory; I'm able to grasp how the Tour works, but the ins and outs of (American) football escape me.
Maybe it's because the sport is just too European. The big prize (besides the money, of course) is the right to win the maillot jaune--the yellow jersey. Srsly? wearing a yellow shirt is all that? As my sister says, only the French would think that was a great prize. :) Bicycle racing has a long, much-known history in Europe--people there can tell you who Eddie Merckx and Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain are/were, just like people in the U.S. can tell you who Joe Namath, Joe Montana, and Jerry Rice are. Thanks to Greg Lemond (the first American rider I remember having noticed, years ago) and especially Lance Armstrong, Americans at least know that the Tour exists. Of course, we know a LOT about Lance Armstrong.
But my family and I actually watched the Tour, with much excitement, in the years Lance was retired. So it's not just the privilege of watching Lance that hooks us--though that is pretty riveting! There's something about this sport that we find compelling.
Perhaps it's the fact that these guys are really athletes. They are racing for three weeks with only two rest days, and they're going incredible distances in the heat and rain, up and down the Pyrenees and the ALPS, for goodness sakes, enduring a lot of pain for the love of what they do. Yes, the past few years have seen some awful and embarrassing doping scandals. But, in fact, I actually admire that the Tour organizers, and racing officials in general, are on top of this problem. If a rider even refuses to take a test, they're out of racing, banned. How different the stories here in the U.S. about baseball players...
So. We love the Tour. I am hopelessly addicted to it. If I didn't control myself, I'd be watching both the live broadcasts in the morning (I love the play-by-play by Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett) and the evening re-cap (especially for the commentary by Bob Roll)--that would amount to at least six hours of tv-watching every day. That's just not okay for a mom who limits her kid's tv intake.
This year it's especially exciting; I know everyone is talking about Lance, and that he's sucking up all the attention in the media, but really, people. He has been retired for four years, and he's been in the TOP TEN in this year's race SINCE DAY ONE! That just doesn't happen in other sports... and in this particular sport, these guys are in amazing physical shape, and he's 10 years older than a lot of the riders, probably most of the pack. A lot of people have Expectations about Lance, but I'm just impressed as heck that he's in the top THREE right now. Amazing!
When I see myself getting caught up in the Tour--craving for news (and, more often than not, not finding any--the American media stinks at providing info. about it), getting excited about a breakaway (who's in it? how far ahead are they?), and YELLING at the tv as the riders get closer to the finish--I'm kind of shocked. As anyone who grew up with me will tell you, I am not a sports person, either as a fan or a participant. I did not grow up "doing" sports; I was kind of clumsy, and those were the days before every kid was on a soccer team. I was more likely to be reading a book than running around outside (sad to say) or playing a game. (Just ask my sister; I'm afraid this annoyed the heck out of her when we were kids!) I wish being active was a more regular part of my day--I could stand to lose 20 pounds right now. (Truly. I'm not just saying that.) The only sports I've followed in the past are the Three-Day Event and Figure Skating--oddball choices, certainly.
So no, sports and I have not been chums over the years. But here I am, in my 40s, absolutely addicted to the Tour, even hoping to get to France some July so I can experience it in person. Will wonders never cease!
I hope you find something to be excited about today. Maybe try the Tour! :)
P.S. Though I would not be able to handle even one tenth of a stage of the Tour de France, I am a participant in the Tour de Fleece. But I'll write about that another day!
P.P.S. I was hoping to include a fabulous photo of some of the racers in this entry, but I am wary of violating copyright laws. If you want to see some great photos, try going here or here or here!