Monday, July 12, 2010

Just the highlights, thanks

A few years ago I read Daniel Coyle’s book about Lance Armstrong called Tour de Force. I’m not sure how this book made it onto the Fam Fibro bookshelf, as we are not noted sports biography lovers, but this was a riveting read. Coyle writes really well. Armstrong cycles really well.

But what really captivated me was The Peloton.

I have become an ardent follower of the Tour de France. When I say ardent, I mean that in a ‘6pm highlights’ kind of way. Watching four hours of cycling in the middle of the night, every night for two weeks, would make me a Tragic. I'm more a Slightly Sad. But if it’s quality, not quantity, of ardour you’re after, I’m your girl.

I love the tactics of the TdF. I’m sure all bike races are just as interesting, but I don’t watch them, so I wouldn’t know. The TdF features not only cyclists riding aggressively, but lots of lovely bucolic scenery and the occasional Chateau to admire. Plus I get two weeks of highlights to remember how it all works. So it wins my passion.

The rigours of cycling aside – and it’s worth watching the riders get skinnier and skinnier as the race progresses – the teamwork of the race is fascinating. Riding your backside off (literally in the case of some of the smaller team members) to catapult some other bloke to the winner’s podium is an extraordinary way to live. No wonder they’re called ‘domestiques’.

I love listening to Phil Liggett talking about cyclists “wearing the mask of pain” (which frankly makes them look like they’re smiling). I love watching the cyclists collect their ‘feed bags’ and spend a few kilometres shoving protein bars into the various nooks and crannies of their lycra shirts. They even read the labels.

I love watching the bravehardy fools form breakaways and slog away for 100km, only to be mown down by the mighty Peloton with 500 metres to go. As Coyle points out in his book, sheer physics means that the Peloton travels faster than any group of small riders, so, if the Pack puts their minds to it, they will always reel in a breakaway.

Why do they do it? Why? In the crazy hopes of being Sylvain Chavanel, who has now won two stages of this year’s race using this breakaway business? Possibly. To avoid crashes on narrow, cobbled streets? No doubt. For a less-obstructed view of the fabulous scenery? Probably not.

There is one more week of the race to go. Cadel Evans – who seems to have acquired a much friendlier personality this year – is wearing the Yellow Jersey. Can he keep it? Will he crash? Or will The Peloton, silent but for the whirring of 100 expensive wheels and the gasping of breath, drag him back to the pack.

I’ll just have to wait for the highlights to find out.


  1. Oh yes. Every night on Channel 4 at the moment for the highlights. My husband has explained all the rules to our son and they watch it together. He even went a couple of years ago when it was in Britain. Drove for hours and hours to see them whizz past. I have bought him all the books. He still has lots of cycling gear which he can't now fit into but keeps anyway. I followed Phil Liggett on twitter for a while (my husband is resisting twitter) just for him.

    The tactics and the crashes are spectacular. Me? I just like seeing men in tight shorts.

  2. Love this post...and not just because I have become a sad sack who has too frequently watched "live" as my children have switched to a semi-vampiric (sp?) sleep schedule and forcing me to stay up later than they.
    The dedication, strategy and, let's face it, crazy rage that seems to live just under the surface ready to pop out at the slightest brush of handlebars makes watching it much more fascinating than I'd expected. Or perhaps it's sleep deprivation talking.
    Anyway, the book is actually on the shelf at this flat we're staying at...normally housed by a cyclist who is, you guessed it, in France to watch some of this excitement close up. Think I'll take a peek once I've finished Lisa Heidke's latest :)

  3. I am a devotee. Of the tragic kind. Completely zonked at this stage in proceedings (thank God it is a rest day tonight - I can get some sleep!) Love everything about the TdF - the bikes, the scenery, the blokes, the lycra, Phil Liggert's voice, the tactics... everything! I'm rooting for the Schleck bros this year. Hot hot hot!

  4. @MM - I'm with you on the Schlecks. Not the hotness - too tall and skinny by half for my liking - but I love that they're brothers and stuff. I think Frank's out though, isn't he? I'm sure I saw that in the highlights...

    @anjwrites - start the book tonight and I swear you'll be hooked. And it will make the tour even more exciting. You'll feel like you're IN the Peloton. Oh my.

  5. I'm not into the TdF at all, but I do LOVE that bike in the photograph. Reminds me of a style called the Chopper that was around back in the day! Cool.

  6. @ Victoria - it's a cracking bike isn't it? Don't think it would do that well up the Pyrenees or anything, but how stylish one would look riding it!

  7. Have never watched so much as a swaying multi-coloured lycra arse disappearing up a mountain, but(t) your writing has me believing that I am sorely missing out. Will tune into tonight's highlights and see what I'm missing!

  8. My husband's the Tour de France tragic -which combined with being a World Cup fanatic meant not a lot of sleeping's been going down in this neck of the woods lately. I must admit, I only tune in for Gabriel Gate's Cooking the Tour {bless him and his accent that's stubbornly held on despire living in Aus for so many years} and the scenery - those lycra clad bums don't do it for me. After watching a doco on the chefs behind the scenes, and reading your post, I'm quite keen to properly check it out.

    PS: That dragstar? I'll be needing it!

  9. Yes ditto on Maxabella's comment. Never been interested before, but your writing on the topic certainly has captured my attention :)

  10. Hi Allison,
    Thanks for dropping by - I love your blog and you are right..high school is a metaphor for life!!
    'Peloton' is such a juicy word...I came across it lots last summer doing Ocean Swimming...I'd never heard it before...that would be because my butt and bicycle seats are better kept apart!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Cheers Liz

  11. I root for whoever's wearing the polka-dotted jersey myself. Love that one!


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