Tour de France 2017 Starts Tomorrow

This year, as in every year, I briefly thought I would watch the Tour de France casually. I would not become obsessed and thus avoid the highs and lows of cycling in July and the gutted feeling when it is over and forgo getting up at 5:30 a.m. PST.

Then I got this email.

Screen Shot 2017-06-24 at 9.51.21 AMI bought the NBC Sports Gold pass for cycling during the Tour of California in May. It did not include the Giro but it will include the Tour de France. I watch on my computer, follow VeloNews and the @letour on Twitter and watch every episode of Orica Scott Backstage Pass on YouTube. Screen Shot 2017-06-24 at 10.06.51 AM

The favorites are Chris Froome (Sky), RIchie Porte (BMC), or Nairo Quintana (Movistar) for the overall General Classification or yellow jersey. The race begins on July 1 with a time trial in Dusseldorf, Germany. Will my favorite Tony Martin win on home turf? Will Germans Marcel Kittel or Andre Greipel turn themselves out to win a stage at home? Will Mark Cavendish be healthy enough to compete? Will best rider in the world Peter Sagan win the green jersey again? We’ll know when Le Tour finishes in Paris on July 23rd.

If you like listening to podcasts. My cycling favorite is The 3 Domestiques. I listen on the Stitcher app to Matt Keenan, Sam Edmunds and Dan Jones discuss pro-cycling with great interviews.

So set your alarm and don’t miss the drama, the athleticism, and the tradition.

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I bought this fan kit in England and mailed it home in a box of books. It just arrived!

 

Are You Ready for Tour de France 2016?

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Stage 1 of Tour de France 2014 in Yorkshire

Today is the first official day of the Tour de France (July 2). I have been following the Tour since Greg LeMond raced, although back then I could only read about it in the newspaper. The “golden years” for me was Versus coverage on the cable sports station. It was thorough. I could watch live in the morning as soon as I got up (most stages start before 5 a.m. PST), then watch again in the late afternoon as soon as I got home from work, and then watch the evening program with Bob Roll and others doing special reports. 

I know this sounds nuts. Afterall, I already knew the outcome of the race on the second and third viewing. But, as any good Kiwi can tell you, there is a lot to be learned by watching a sporting event a second or third time. Plus I find cycling and the commentary as relaxing as listening to baseball on the radio.

In 2014 I made the commitment to follow the Tour from team introductions to the finish line. While the overall experience is richer, it is actually harder to follow an entire stage in person. Television coverage continually improves too. GoPro cameras and a better satellite feed mean that you see more of the race and from a greater variety of vantage points than ever before. 

However, now I do not own a television (only a computer) and watching the Tour de France becomes more of a challenge. I thought I had it figured out because I have Xfinity Comcast internet service with the extra television package. I have not tried to use it before and, alas, I do not subscribe to NBC Sports. I did download the NBC Le Tour de France Sports Gold app on my iPad. For $29.99 I will have live access to watch the racing for this race and many others.

I am a little disappointed that I cannot review the race when it is complete via the app. This is a challenge mainly because with the summer heat I also like to ride my road bike when the Tour de France is broadcasting.

Thanks to the internet there are lots of awesome resources. Most of the teams have websites, so I watched Mark Cavendish pull on the yellow jersey at the award presentations on Team Dimension Data website. I have mentioned in this space the terrific Orica Backstage Pass videos: the Stage 1 video gives you a taste of what is in store on the Tour de France. There is also the websites of Cycling News and Velonews for in depth coverage and videos. Here is Cycling News great recap of Stage 1

Twenty more stages to go. I am ready.

One month until Tour de France

I pedaled to the Avid Reader in Sacramento–the only bookstore left between Arden Fair Mall and Elk Grove where new books and magazines are sold. I was looking for a specific book and browsing for new fiction to read this summer. Much to my surprise and delight the Velo Tour de France 2015 Official Guide was on the newsstand!

Ultimate 2014 winner Vincenzo Nibali heads to the starting line wearing the yellow jersey.
Ultimate 2014 winner Vincenzo Nibali heads to the starting line wearing the yellow jersey.

I read this issue from cover to cover every year. The Velo Guide cover traditionally features the winner from the previous year. Vincenzo Nibali dominated and ultimately won the 2014 Tour de France. The reporters had an irritating habit last year of saying “Nibali retains the yellow jersey…” and then adding “after Froome and Contador crashed out.” Ignoring that Nibali wore yellow before they crashed out. And that not crashing is one of the objectives of the race, essential to winning.

This year the sportswriters are salivating because Froome, Contador, and Nibali are all starting this year. I am excited because Nairo Quintana returns after a year off. He took the 2013 Tour de France by surprise placing second overall. His team Movistar bet on Alejandro Valverde last year and sent Quintana to win the Giro and was on his way to winning the Vuelta when he crashed out. It should be an exciting battle.

The race leaders run the gauntlet of news reporters after each stage.
The race leaders run the gauntlet of news reporters after each stage.

The Velo editors rank their favorites for the Tour each year. The magazine is written several months ago so it does not reflect the spring season. They rank the leaders in the following order: 1. Alberto Contador, 2. Chris Froome, 3. Vincenzo Nibali, 3. Nairo Quintana, 4. Thibaut Pinot, 5. Tejay Van Garderen, 6. Andrew Talansky. Contador just won the Giro. How will that impact his performance at Le Tour?

This issue also features profiles of each of the teams. For the first time, there will be an international team from Africa: MTN-QHUBEKA. It is helpful to track the changes in names as familiar teams change names as sponsors change. My favorite team is much easier to call out as their name is shorter: Etixx-Quick-Step.

Peter Sagan fine tunes his bike before a stage. He is wearing his "second skin" the green jersey.
Peter Sagan fine tunes his bike before a stage. He is wearing his “second skin” the green jersey.

They spend much less time handicapping the other jerseys. I was disappointed with the feature on the green jersey. At one time the green jersey point system made it the sprinter’s jersey. Then they changed the scoring system with more emphasis on intermediate sprints that perfectly suited new rider Peter Sagan. I love watching this exciting cyclist. He has completely dominated the green jersey in the last three years. The writers did not have the advantage of seeing Sagan win the Tour of California before they wrote this article and they cast a shadow on his chances. The bigger miss though was a clear explanation of how the green jersey point system has changed to reward sprinters more.

As Cyclingnews reported in October:

“The changes favour stage winners and will only be in place for the nine flat stages of the race. The winner of the stage will score 50 points, 20 more than the second placed rider, who will score 30 points, boosting the stage winner’s points total and rewarding stage winners more than rider who place consistently.

The jersey leaders at stage start.
The jersey leaders at stage start.

The first 15 riders to cross the finish line to be rewarded with 50, 30, 20, 18, 16, 14, 12, 10, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 points respectively on the nine flat stages. The remaining 12 stages will continue to award points in the same distribution from 2012 to 2014 when the classification was last changed with 45, 35, 30, 26, 22, 20, 18, 16, 14, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 points to the first 15 riders  across the line.”

I will be interested to watch how this changes the competition for this jersey. And I will be watching the continuing evolution of major talent Peter Sagan as a racer.

The issue also features a stage by stage description of the race. It changes ever year. This year it moves counter-clockwise around France after a time trial in Utrecht and a second stage in the Netherlands. If you look at the profiles of some of the stages you might think the Tour is not as hard as its reputation. Exhibit A. It is not the challenge of any one stage, it is the relentless pounding day after day, kilometer after kilometer. With hundreds of other nervous riders. On narrow European roads including cobblestones. Exhibit B. The mountains–Pyrenees and Alps. Just ask Secretary of State John Kerry who recently broke his leg riding one of the Tour de France routes.

The Tour de France Fan Tribe

Whilst I am traveling around England and France chasing the Tour de France, I am part of a unique tribe. We are not just cycling fans, we are keen enough to spend our vacation time and our savings to traipse around the countryside, stand in the freezing rain for the privilege of seeing the peloton go by in about 30 seconds.

You can usually recognize the tribe by their clothes. Many are wearing bicycle kits with team jerseys or Tour de France leader jerseys– telltale signs on trains and on sidewalks that these people are following the Tour. 

 A tribal subgroup is the English speaking fans who do not speak much French.  Today I met Greg and Lorrie from Cincinatti, Ohio in my hotel breakfast area. They stood out in the freezing rain on the sixth section of cobbles yesterday. (Hopefully Lorrie will guest blog and share her photos). “Our clothes may never dry, “ they said like happy fans able to partake in the suffering on Stage 5. 

 At the start of Stage 6 in Arras, I found myself standing next to Mark and Jessica from the Lake District in England (see photo). They were going to just follow the Tour in Yorkshire and then they went to London, and then they found themselves driving their car onto a ferry to Lille and now Arras.  We traded information like news starved sports fans that we are. They got soaked on the first set of cobbles and spent the day waiting and wondering what happened to their favorite rider Chris Froome.

 Thank goodness for Twitter and Facebook, Bicycling and Velo blog sites, and other English speaking fans. Together we piece together how the race is going.  Everything in France is in French only, of course.

 When I got on the train to Paris, I noticed a young man who was also following the tour. As we disembarked he caught my eye and gave me a knowing look that said, “The Tour, right?”  We had a brief conversation. He is from Australia and is wrapping up his Tour today, spending a few days in Paris before heading home.

I did not make it to Reims in time to see Andre Greipel win his first stage of this Tour de France. Although crosswinds split the peloton, all the leader jerseys remain the same. At dinner a friendly couple from Boston just happened to be from in the area and decided to watch the finish. They loved the experience catching swag off the caravan and then seeing the front group race for the finish. 

Communication challenges abound. Most people have been super gracious about my lack of French vocabulary. I stopped at the Cafe de la Prefecture and tried to order a jambon sandwich off the board. The waiter said something to the effect of “no, no you want this” and he pointed to a special that I thought was erased. Sure, why not. It was a delicious sausage with a warm mustard sauce, fries and a salad. Other situations have been more stressful. Like taking the train to Reims through Paris and discovering with just 28 minutes until departure that I am in Paris Nord station and need to be in Paris Est station “five minutes away”.  Everything is 5 minutes away, except when it is 10 or 15! 

Other times no communication is attempted at all. I was shifted to another hotel without any email or attempt to communicate. Fortunately both hotels were fairly close to the train station in Reims. I have to credit Eurostar, for all the delays related to the recent repairs, they have done A+ work on communicating with customers. 

This is why travel is fun. It is not always easy and it stretches us. Even simple things like stepping into the pharmacy to get contact solution and throat lozenges. It took quite a while to communicate that I wanted Bonbons au Miel. Meanwhile I discovered that in France you can get flea medicine for your dog or cat at the pharmacy.