onsdag 23 december 2009

Discovering The Tour De France: More Than A Simple Bike Ride

By Damian Papworth

Throughout Europe, there's no sporting event that quite manages to captivate audiences year after year, dividing friendships and families when people choose their allegiances. Is it The World Cup? That's small potatoes compared to The Tour de France.

For people in the United States, the idea of a bunch of grown men on bicycles pedaling through the countryside might not seem like a big deal. Worse yet, there might even be gross misjudgment in place that makes it seem like a delicate or easy endeavor to participate in.

But make no mistake about it--rather than a simple leisurely bike ride through the countryside, The Tour de France is one grueling bike race, and the trials and tribulations of even making it to the finish are why it's the most famous race in the entire world. Rides from all over the world are competing not just against one another, but also against the landscape, the conditions, and their own psyches. The three-week long race is broken into daily segments, with very little time for recovery from day to day.

In fact, a number of riders have actually not survived The Tour de France, whether it was succumbing to heart attacks after ingesting methamphetamine while climbing part of the hills, or simply not being able to keep a bicycle on the road in times of great exhaustion. Riding the race has been compared to running in a marathon non-stop for a month, and it's no wonder why this seems an appropriate description once viewers take a single look at those treacherous mountain passes.

Though most of the accidents seem to occur during stretches through crowded mountain areas, as well as on the more hilly terrain, the race isn't all climbing and sprinting down mountains. There is a substantial amount of distance endurance riding through moderately hilly countryside, as well as some of the most famous stretches in cities, including that final lap through Paris, where thousands of locals and visitors congregate to see their favorite rider pass through and complete his epic race through France.

Aside from that, the race is known for being daunting emotionally, since much time is spent alone, unsure of one's standing in the race, and dealing with the very real thought that, after the next hundred miles, 900 more are waiting. It takes a lot out of anyone, even a famous bicyclist, to compete in this race.

And while Americans might not have historically cared very much about bicycle racing, that all changed in recent years.. Not only were all of the Americans hanging on the daily results, but there was a huge rise in the popularity of long distance bicycling. Ever since this historic reign of terror, interest in the race has been the standard.

Who managed to change American opinion on The Tour de France? A single rider, Lance Armstrong, who managed to win The Tour de France not once, not twice, not three times, but SEVEN times, in a row. He managed to come back from a devastating cancer diagnosis to triumph in the race, and led to a lot of bicycling-related patriotism for those Americans who might not have even been interested in the race in the first place.

And finally the Americans understand what it is that the French, the Swiss, the Italians, and so many others have been enjoying for years and years, since the races' humble beginnings almost a hundred years ago. It's not about the sport of bicycling, so much, it's about the idea of a single person, on their own on the side of a mountain, trying to last until tomorrow. The physical and mental endurance of taking on a race that lasts almost a month is legendary, and no matter what the vehicle, worthy of a great deal of applause.

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