Friday, September 19, 2008

Tour Love

When I look into my heart of hearts, I find a place of austere clarity. It contains a few abiding loves. One of the most significant among these is my complete adoration for cycling. Were I to win the lottery tomorrow I’d begin planning my escape forthwith. And what would I do? No different from many of you, I’d set course for cycling’s homeland. And though I love the cobbles and muur, my preferred playground is mountain terrain. Left to my own devices, I’d ride as many of Europe’s 2000-meter cols as I could in a month. I’d pray for the strength to ride two per day until I’d scaled them all.

So while I salivate at the very mention of Paris-Roubaix and see it as the ultimate hard-man test, my greatest love I reserve for Grand Tours in general and the Tour de France in specific. You see, my love for the Tour isn’t based on courage, brute force, macho cool or even tough-guy bravado, but my childhood sense of fun.

When I was a kid, bike riding—as we called it—was one of my all-out faves. The perfect summer day was a day spent riding as much as possible and the farther afield the better. Had it been possible, the perfect summer would have been three months with no school and hours of riding bikes each day. Had it been possible I could have enjoyed heaven on earth.

So imagine my surprise when I learned of the Tour de France. Three weeks of riding around France in the summer. Three weeks of being paid to ride bikes for five or six hours per day. Three weeks with your best friends. It was a dream come true.

When I learned that Greg LeMond typically trained eight hours a day, the depth of envy I felt burned through my shoes and the foundation of my parents’ home. Someone was paying this guy to do something my folks rarely allowed me to do for more than two hours at a time. Clearly, this world had options to which I was unaware.

To this day, a month spent riding around France tops most wish-list possibilities. A date with Pam Anderson, tickets at the fifty yard line for the Super Bowl, dinner at the White House, serving a case of Petrus to friends, and none of them match the excitement I feel when I think about riding mountains day in and day out for a whole calendar page.

And the pinnacle of the PRO life is the rhythm of a Grand Tour. Wake, eat, rest, eat, race, eat, rest, eat, sleep. Such a life could easily be a prison to some, but to me it has always been a chance to gorge on my favorite meal. Weeks of days defined by racing.

As I have come to know Grand Tours and how the are raced, my love for them has only increased. For all the flash and grandeur, they are won not so much on the coup de grace, but on conservation, efficiency and tactical sense. Sure, we applaud the rider who can deliver the withering attack, but discretion is as important as the attack itself. Delivered at the wrong time it isn’t just an effort wasted, but a nail in one’s own coffin.

The high water mark for each of my summers as a kid was the Fourth of July. From riding bikes to the parades, funny outfits, cookouts and fireworks, the Fourth was the perfect summer day. And what is the Tour de France but that day played out over and over again? With the last of the season’s Grand Tours coming to a close, I’m sad to be nearing the end of another season; I don’t feel I sucked quite enough marrow from this one. That’s more a statement of insatiability than actual hunger, I suspect.

I have often imagined how great life would be to be the lanterne rouge. I simply can’t imagine what it would be like to with the Tour itself, but I think I can fathom what it would take to be the guy just hanging on by the skin of my teeth in a Grand Tour. That perpetual state of disbelief—I’m still here; I’m still in it!

And then one day I learned that not all pros who wish to ride the Tour get to go. Oh the horror! To be considered and then to find out you didn’t make the squad. No fireworks, no adulation, no cool mountain roads. Cinderella should know such pain.

No soup for you. Come back one year.

Of all the world’s many privileges, that is one that if I had it to do over, I’d live a Puritan life. My refusals would be legion, my discipline harder than granite and my will as unyielding as the laws of physics, all just to have a crack at riding a Grand Tour just once.

Only a cyclist or a Puritan could see day after day of suffering as a vacation.

Image courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International


Anonymous said...

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Bruce Anderson said...

Just to let you know, My wife and I leave in 5 days for a year in the south of France. The dream is real. No work for a year, every big col is on my list. You just have to commit to make it real.

Anonymous said...

Great post, you nailed it today, a "10" out of a possible 10.

ant1 said...

Great post.

Anonymous said...

i'm guessing the ratio of drugs i'd have to take to complete the tour to the drugs i'd have to take after a "date" with pam anderson would be roughly 1:1.

just guessing tho. it might be 1:2.

Padraig said...

Thanks all for the kind words.

Our Juicy Life: I am a sinkhole of envy.

Anon: Why would you need the drugs AFTER the date with Pam Anderson? Viagra only works if you take it before ... ;-)

Anonymous said...

Padraig, I love love love the Tour! Thats what got me hooked on the ProTour. I had seen a stage here & there over the years, but last year watching Alberto and Popo on stage 15 just mesmerised me. Then I was getting up at the crack of dawn to watch as much as I could before work & then the recap with Bobke in the evenings. Good grief-I'm only sorry I missed 1-14.
I wanted to boycott this year in support of Alberto, I just couldn't stay away. It is truly bigger than one rider or one team.

Bobke Strut said...

My birthday lies in mid-July, smack dab in the middle of the Tour. And while I hated having a summer birthday during my elementary school years since I couldn't have a big party at school, later in life my idea of the perfect birthday scenario transformed to a modest celebration in a crap hotel somewhere in France while I was a PRO riding the Tour. I'd imagine the DS spoiling the team with a wee bit of cake, and I'd even get to down a beer. To top it all off, Phil Liggett would make mention of me during his broadcast, "Ah look, it's the Yank's birthday today. Wouldn't a stage win be a marvelous present." I envy those pros that do get to celebrate their birthdays during the Tour.

bluecolnago said...

well written padraig. the essence of every cyclist's dream.... you nailed it. thanks.

Anonymous said...

I think the drugs you'd have to take after a date with Pam Anderson would be a plenty even compared to a Pantani-level of consumption considering her Hepatitis status and whatever other cooties that thing has. And drugs you'd take, they wouldn't be the fun ones:it'd be wicked cocktails of anti-biotics, anti-fungals and anti-virals and chemo therapy.

You'd need a full body condom... And a really long shower after seeing that plastic surgery disaster way too close. Gargling from the urinal trough at a Packers game is somewhat more attractive than a date with Pam Anderson... and probably healthier.

SkidMark said...

Anon 12:01
Now THAT'S some funny Shiite! My sentiments exactly!!

Anonymous said...

our juicy life

No work for a year? I have news for you, riding the Galibier, Glandon, Ventoux, etc, etc... they are all work, but the kind that put a smile on your face even when your heart feels like it will explode.

Bon Voyage

Sprocketboy said...

In July I organized the Tour d'Enfer with some friends. For ten days we rode the Route des Grandes Alpes, covering some of the Tour's legendary climbs (15 of them, actually), and saw the 2008 Tour pass through Briancon. Cheap at twice the price. If you are a cyclist you simply must do this.

Jim said...

Dont limit yourself to 2000m cols. Even Ventoux isn't 2000m.

Hope you make your dream come true sometime. Riding those mountains is great.

Max said...

I've never been one to relax on vacation. I have never had an interest in Hawaii for this reason - tropics, no clocks, and humidity - PASS. But the idea of riding the Alps and climbing those peaks, pausing only to savor local wine, cheese, and cuisine makes the ghost limbs of my leg hairs stand on end. I quiver in excitement at the idea of doing the Alp D'Huez triathlon as a vacation. The only clock I want to look at is my bike computer. The only obligation I have is to the course and the scenery. The reward at the finish is getting to sign up for next year's race.

Putting the DVD into the player in front of the bike trainer is like the Skinner box version of this goal.