Friday, July 10, 2009

CONFESSION OF A MANIA

I'm addicted to the Tour de France. There. I've said it.

EVERY JULY. I try to keep a lid on my enthusiasm. I know most folks really don't care to hear about it. But they hear about it from me anyway. I bend my schedule around it. I read everything I can and tune in to little online video windows to watch early in the morning. I buy expanded cable access for one month to watch the specter. For ten years running now, I've had a mania for the Tour de France.

BEYOND BIKE HIKING. I enjoy bicycling nearly every day, either on my road bike or mountain bike. I participate in regional group cycling events like the Hilly Hundred and NITE Ride. I guess I'm what you'd call a bicycling enthusiast or advocate. I've even ridden 2,000 miles on a bicycle through India. But none of this explains to me the mania that emerges full force when the Tour de France rolls around each July.

FIRST WATCH. I began following the Tour closely after reading an article in Bicycling magazine about Lance Armstrong's bout with cancer and his upcoming attempt to ride the Tour de France. I followed that first post-cancer campaign with real interest, unaware of the nature of the Tour de France, the terms the announcers used (peloton, escape, breakaway, wheel sucker, bonking, etc.), or the real test of stamina and power it represented. By the end of it, however, I was hooked.

TEN-YEAR ADDICTION. It's been a decade of this July enthusiasm. Who would've imagined Lance Armstrong winning seven Tours in a row? Even after the American disappeared from the scene, my intense interest held. No doubt, the presence of real American contenders in the Tour like Levi Leipheimer and Christian Vande Velde, kept me particularly interested. But now the return of Armstrong to the Tour heightens my interest significantly.

SEARCHNG FOR SOURCES. My mania must be some combination of love for cycling, recognition of the pain and struggle of being in the saddle long hours and struggling up steeps, the complexity of the Tour's diverse stages and format, the incredible beauty of the countrysides, villages, and mountains of the Tour, the team strategies, the unexpected breakthroughs and turns in the drama of the race, the presence of Americans in a European-dominated sport, and the post-cancer feat of Lance Armstrong. It all adds up.

GOTTA GO... I'd write more, but Stage 7 is underway. I don't want to miss what could be the defining stage of this year's event. It's the first day in the mountains. The long stage has a Category 1 mountain climb in the middle and a Hors Categorie--beyond categorization--mountain climb at the end. Armstrong said yesterday that this stage "separates the contenders from the pretenders." We'll see where he stands in that assessment. If he's a real contender, he could be wearing the Maillot Jaune--the yellow jersey of the overall race leader--at the of the day. We'll see!


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