This past week, Lance Armstrong won his record tying fifth straight Tour de France. While most Americans are familiar with Armstrong and his inspiring triumph over cancer, very few are familiar with the Tour.
It is understandable that the TDF may never be a “mainstream” event. Most sports fans follow the big four: football, baseball, basketball and hockey. However, the American media seems to pay a lot of attention to golf, which is where I draw the line.
Golf is mainstream because so many people can play it, so they can relate to it. On the surface, it seems a little strange watching men ride bicycles in tight shorts and ridiculously colorful shirts. However, what most sports fans don’t know, in large part due to poor marketing from the cycling world, is that the Tour de France encompasses great danger, pain, courage, skill and teamwork.
The TDF covers not only over 2,000 miles in 20 days, it does so in all types of weather… there are no rain delays in the TDF. If the thought of riding 2,000 miles in 20 days isn’t enough, consider the following:
* At least five days of the tour are spent in the mountains, including the Alps and the Pyrenees. Most of us dread walking up 20 stairs when we’re tired; imagine cycling up the steepest ascents in the world.
* Going downhill with hairpin turns at 60 mph on wheels one eighth of an inch thick. There is not much room for error. In the 1995 TDF, an Italian rider was killed when he crashed going downhill. The sport has extreme risks.
* With over 150 cyclists in the TDF, many of them are clustered together for much of the ride. There is some elbowing and contact for position. A wipe-out among the crowded riders, or “peloton,” can send 10-30 riders off of their bikes and onto the unforgiving pavement.
Tyler Hamilton, an American from Massachusetts, fractured his collarbone on the second day of the tour in such a crash. Somehow, Hamilton taped himself together and finished fourth in the 2003 Tour de France. In my book, Hamilton is as much a story in this year’s tour as Lance Armstrong is.
I don’t mean to knock golf; I couldn’t hit a putt from one foot out. But the next time I hear a golfer say that “walking the course wears you down a bit” or “a cell phone distracted them on the 16th hole,” I’ll think of Tyler Hamilton gritting his teeth, climbing the Alp de Huez with a fractured collarbone.
I bet Jack Lambert would drink a beer to that.