A few days back, a miffed dad asks me:
“Yenu daily irotha race? Mugyalva?”
Our lonesome TV was broadcasting TEN Sports images of extremely thin men cycling away, as my dad wistfully looked at the clock and worried about missing his serials on ETV.
Yes, I am hooked on to Tour De France like a kid on candy. In fact, this is the first time I am even getting around to understand this super event. Most of you, like me, would have known about the Tour through the demonly exploits of God over the last decade or so. But, what you might not know is this race is utterly crazy in ways it stretches the human endurance for physical, mental and psychological pain. Close to two hundred riders bravely start off this race, hoping to cycle 3600 kms around France and neighbours in just under three weeks with just two days off. Each racing day counts as a stage and the guy with the lowest accumulated time over the stages gets to win the race and wear the famed yellow jersey.
After many years of bliss ignorance, this year I vowed to learn all about this event and the more I learn about it, the more I believe that it is easily the world’s toughest sporting event. For example, did you know that the bravest of the foolish souls who enter the race have a resting heart-beat rate of under 30 beats per minute? Or, that you have to be so freakishly thin that the jersey you wear weighs more than you?  The physical criteria demanded just to enter the race would throw many of our agile cricketers to shame.
Staying with the physical demands, injuries and crashes are common-place over the stages. In this year’s tour, for example, more than ten riders have crashed out. One unlucky Australian, Stuart O’Grady left the race with multiple fractures and facial injuries. But, the fact that actually make you shudder is that Andreas Kloden, another rider continues to ride after sustaining a tailbone fracture. My brother, who knows the numbing pain a tailbone fracture causes, winced in pain when told this.
Next, the apparel and training. For most riders, the Tour is the ultimate glory and rightly so. God, for example, did not compete in any other event. Fitness and diet apart, the aerodynamic design of the bike is fantastically done. The bike itself looks like a thin wafer-slice of metal, not weighing more than 7 kgs. Along with the super-curved bike helmets and so-tight-it-looks-sewn-on jerseys and shoes, the low-bending rider makes a wonderful sporting sight. It really is an amazing sight to see the entire comibnation in full-flow, as it was today in the individual time trial stage.
Speaking of stages, this is where the Tour gets really intersting. For the first few days, I didn’t have a clue of what was happening and how the times of the riders were calculated. So, I just watched them amble along in one wide big bunch through some spectacular locales in France. Is Europe the most beautiful continent or what? Right, so after a couple of days just watching the race, I gave up on self-understanding and went searching on the net. I found this wonderful piece, written by a God’s fan that explains it all in great detail. Do read it and who knows, you might get hooked on to this year’s Tour like I did.
The Tour gets interesting when you understand stages because this is where it almost turns into a chess-game, with every team strategizing on how to ride each stage and when they should push their leader into the lead. Cycling is a thankless exercise, much like running, when you are doing it all alone. Having someone by your side is important. So much so, that there are specialized blokes called ‘domestiques’ whose job is to pace the main guys in their team back to required speeds.
Being my first Tour where I am following the competition, I really have no favourites. But, being a huge fan of Australian sports, I am rooting for Cadel Evans who came up with a brilliant run today to finish second behind the little king, Rasmussen (he’s really tiny, thin and looks unwell). Today’s stage was fantastic to watch where all the riders got the whole 60-km track to themselves to play around with. So high speeds were reached with the top-10 guys completing it at an average speed of 50 km/h!!! It gave me great satisfaction and also, inspiration to blog this. One of these days I am going to ride the Tour .
(Pic Courtesy: BBC Sports)
The guy in the pic is Alexandre Vinokourov, a favourite who cycled back into contention today, with an atrociously fast performance. On two broken-knees. This is what he said after the race:
“I wanted to prove to myself and to everyone else that my days aren’t over yet on this year’s Tour,”
Ah! The joy that sports bring.
Any of you following the Tour? Et vos favourites?
 – An Exaggeration
 – Also, an exaggeration
UPDATE: Just days after I wrote this, disappointing news that first, Vino was kicked out for doping and then today, I just read the news that the race leader Rasmussen has been booted out as well. Makes me sad and angry…. and as some comment on a sports forum said, you feel like you have been robbed. That’s exactly what I feel! :( Shameful