Field Theory by Hadyn Green

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Field Theory: Bicycle Race

25 Responses

  • JackElder,

    It's a great Tour this year. Many of the favourites have unfortunately crashed out - I was personally gutted when Brad Wiggins broke his collarbone, though I'm told he'll be back in form for the Vuelta de Espana in a couple of months.

    the crowd, so close to the riders and never touching them

    Yeah, you've definitely not been watching for long. Unfortunate interactions with the crowd are a bit of a Tour tradition - there's already been at least one crash this year that I know of when a pedestrian stepped out at the exact wrong moment. Lance Armstrong's famous crash on the climb of Luz Ardiden in the 2003 Tour when someone's souvenir bag got caught on his handlebars bears watching:

    Mind you, I've also seen crashes from dogs on the course, photographers' motorbikes, and the French TV car you alluded to. It's a dangerous sport.

    Wellington • Since Mar 2008 • 708 posts Report Reply

  • JackElder,

    For new viewers, I definitely recommend having a look at this column in Bicycling magazine, written by Eben Weiss (aka BikeSnobNYC). It has a good take on the whole "drugs in cycling" issue, including this comment:

    ...just know going in that the athletes you’re watching use drugs. Sure, not all of them do. In fact, plenty of them are probably cleaner than an unworn chamois. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that the drugs are out there somewhere. There may be 197 dirty riders and one clean guy, or there may be 197 clean riders and one dirty guy. Most likely, though, it’s somewhere in between. The only thing we can know for sure is that it’s not 100% either way.

    So what do you do with this information? Not follow the Tour because it involves drugs? Nonsense. A few weeks ago, the city of Portland drained an eight-million-gallon reservoir because one man got caught urinating in it. That’s 16 ounces of relatively harmless urine diluted in eight million gallons of perfectly good H2O. Not only is draining a reservoir because of this a gross overreaction but it’s also a shameful waste—especially when you consider all the other harmless yet yucky things that naturally find their way into a large body of water. Do you think frogs leave a reservoir when they have to go the bathroom? I doubt it.

    So what does this have to do with the Tour de France? Well, just think of the race like a reservoir: It may be a little dirty, but it can’t really hurt you.

    But yeah, you’re drinking pee.

    Wellington • Since Mar 2008 • 708 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    A friend of mine usually takes the duration of Le Tour off work to sit and and watch it. I don't really get it, but I can see that the slowness has the same hypnotic appeal as test cricket, which I love.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4369 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Emma Hart,

    A friend of mine usually takes the duration of Le Tour off work to sit and and watch it. I don’t really get it, but I can see that the slowness has the same hypnotic appeal as test cricket, which I love.

    Ditto. Readers may have noticed that I quite like riding my bike, but I don't really grasp watching the Tour as sport, as opposed to a chance to look at pretty parts of France.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18961 posts Report Reply

  • JackElder,

    Ah, you see, I can't stand cricket at all, but love the Tour. It's like an entire sporting season condensed into a three-week time lapse, complete with multiple competitions (overall winner, best sprinter, best climber, best young rider, etc). Like many sports, once you understand what's happening (a lot of what's what in professional cycling is a bit baffling until you understand the rationale) and get an idea of who a few of the players are, you enjoy it a lot more.

    Wellington • Since Mar 2008 • 708 posts Report Reply

  • James Butler,

    Russell, the other day I was going to compliment Cactuslab for enabling YouTube redirect on iOS, but I forgot. Now it's gone again...

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 801 posts Report Reply

  • Raymond A Francis,

    Ok, non sporting question from a non sporting, non sky person
    But what is the deal with the two girls who stand iether side of the stage winner each night
    Different girls each night?, Different outfits (often yellow, I get that, sort of) and where do the girls come from, who picks them?
    People need to know

    45' South • Since Nov 2006 • 543 posts Report Reply

  • Richard Irvine,

    @hadyn good to hear you've been watching! It gets pretty intense now they're about to get into the mountains.

    @jack yeah, I was pretty gutted about Wiggins, he's a great rider and an interesting guy too. I thought he'd have had a great chance.

    Here's the Tour de France In Focus: http://bit.ly/nSDY9p

    Auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 241 posts Report Reply

  • Michael Savidge,

    A friend of a friend is quite nuts about it all. He tapes all the action while he's at work then watches in the evenings while riding his race bike on rollers in the living room. Each year he does the same thing and generally covers about 80-90% of the course in 'real' time.

    Somewhere near Wellington… • Since Nov 2006 • 319 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Bowden,

    Don't forget the sheep that ran across the road in front of the leaders last year during a mountain stage. Hope this works

    I have been watching it for the last three of four years. Great half hour highlights every night and the last two hours of some of the more important stages. It is an amazingly tactical race, and the commentators do a great job of explaining it all.

    The different outfits represent the different classifications: yellow = tour leader, polka dots (always some interesting outfits) = king of the mountains, green = sprint leader, white = young rider. I think they even have a category for the most combatative. Why the girls? Well, it's France!!

    These other classifications, and the little battles within the overall general classification, fascinate me. It means, for example, that there are whole teams in the tour that are not even aiming to win the overall race, but trying to get kudos for leading a breakaway, winning a stage etc.

    Auckland • Since Apr 2011 • 26 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Bowden,

    Oh, was meant to add, the French landscapes make it for me though.

    Auckland • Since Apr 2011 • 26 posts Report Reply

  • JackElder, in reply to Chris Bowden,

    The different outfits represent the different classifications: yellow = tour leader, polka dots (always some interesting outfits) = king of the mountains, green = sprint leader, white = young rider. I think they even have a category for the most combatative. Why the girls? Well, it’s France!!

    Yup. The leaders in each category get a different color jersey to wear on the next day's stage - so when they talk about a rider being "in yellow", they mean that the rider is currently winning the race overall. This makes it easier to pick out the leaders when you're watching the race. At the awards ceremony, the riders are presented the jersey by two young women wearing fetching outfits[1] in the appropriate color scheme. The exception is, I believe, the most combative rider, who just gets to wear a red number on the next day.

    Mind you, not only do they get a jersey, they also get presented with flowers and - for the yellow jersey - a stuffed toy lion (this is related to the sponsorship from Credit Lyonnaise). Who could resist?

    [1] Your opinion of how fetching the polka-dot ensemble is may differ.

    Wellington • Since Mar 2008 • 708 posts Report Reply

  • James Green,

    A year ago yesterday, we endeavoured to get from the small French village in which we were living to a small nearby French village, in order to watch the poor bastards go up one of the very steepest hills. Unfortunately, after narrowly missing a train, successfully hitch-hiking most of the way, we eventually discovered that the traffic was so awful trying to get any closer that we gave up :(

    The Alps legs are much further south this year (we were trying to get to Cluses or Flumet)

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 689 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to James Butler,

    Russell, the other day I was going to compliment Cactuslab for enabling YouTube redirect on iOS, but I forgot. Now it’s gone again…

    Ah. There's a bunch of new stuff waiting to be switched on. It'll be back.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18961 posts Report Reply

  • Tim Welch, in reply to Russell Brown,

    @Russell: Feel free to pop down to the shop for a coffee and I'll run you through the finer points of our Tour De France re-runs we have running all day on our big screen. :-)

    Auckland • Since Aug 2008 • 34 posts Report Reply

  • Raymond A Francis,

    Thanks for the explanations, bugger it I am just going to have to get Sky for that and the countryside

    45' South • Since Nov 2006 • 543 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    I love le TDF. So much to love.

    The countryside is beautiful, and yes, it is slow like cricket, but there's always something happening. They're moving, at an average of 41km/h. What is truly amazing is the sheer intensity of the event. It's like 180 professional marathon runners going full tilt. For 21 almost continuous days. The mountain stages this year are particularly harsh. Take this one, for example. What's insane is that that stage isn't even the most difficult. Merely surviving, keeping the pace over thousands of kilometres of fast flats and epic mountains, is achievement enough.

    Then there's the omnipresent devil world's largest mobile guitar and largest bicycle. Spectators on mountain stages can be terrible to watch, running in front of cyclists, although I don't think the lady in yellow had any intention to interact with the peloton!

    I have to admit that my love was cultivated in Australia, where the SBS network shows it free to air, and a veritable cultural institution has developed. Gabriel Gate has been delivering Taste le Tour for decades. I haven't done so yet, but I may use a proxy and sneak around their geoblocking... there's something about watching it live, and as it moves into the mountain stages the competition will step up another level. Otherwise, Tim let us know where your shop is!

    Obviously, Australian coverage focuses on Cadel Evans, but he's extremely likeable. As sincere an athlete as you'll find, his emotions (which run the full spectrum) are evident. But mostly nice. If you need someone to support, support him. Julian Dean is also an incredible athlete, competing in the sprint classification. He hasn't had any wins yet, but he very much deserves his place on the Tour.

    The People's Republic of … • Since Nov 2006 • 2136 posts Report Reply

  • JLM,

    It combines the best of soap - characters you know and identify with, who fall into general categories of goodies and baddies but sometimes surprise; drama - who's going to cheat this year, and are they going to get found out, who's going to have the legs this time; travelogues - scenery, scenery, scenery; and reality tv - better, because no-one ever knows what is going to happen at any particular time, especially this year.

    And that's apart from the sport. Cycling is the only sport I watch

    Judy Martin's southern sl… • Since Apr 2007 • 228 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    Oh yes, posting this too because it demonstrates the other best thing about TDF, Phil Liggett's voice.

    The People's Republic of … • Since Nov 2006 • 2136 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    JLM, a wonderful description.

    The People's Republic of … • Since Nov 2006 • 2136 posts Report Reply

  • 81stcolumn,

    In an era of "celebrity commentators" Liggett is all cycling; commentator, racer, journalist, organiser and advocate.

    And he gave us one of cycling's I was there moments "that looks like Stephen Roche.....that looks like stephen Roche....it's Stephen Roche !!!!"

    From 2:00

    Roche when recovered is alleged to have come up with this gem "Oui, mais pas de femme toute de suite" ("yes, but I am not ready for a woman straight away").

    What finer spectacle can there be ?

    Nawthshaw • Since Nov 2006 • 727 posts Report Reply

  • Hadyn Green, in reply to JLM,

    It combines the best of soap – characters you know and identify with, who fall into general categories of goodies and baddies but sometimes surprise; drama – who’s going to cheat this year, and are they going to get found out, who’s going to have the legs this time; travelogues – scenery, scenery, scenery; and reality tv – better, because no-one ever knows what is going to happen at any particular time, especially this year.

    Isn’t that, to a certain degree, all sport? Obviously not necessarily the scenery, but usually the rest is there.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2081 posts Report Reply

  • JackElder, in reply to Hadyn Green,

    Isn’t that, to a certain degree, all sport? Obviously not necessarily the scenery, but usually the rest is there.

    Yeah, but cycling is a condensed form. It's the espresso shot of sport. The Tour has about twenty stages over three weeks; it fits all the excitement of a normal full season into that short timespan. You can go from "who's that guy?" to "COME ON VOECKLER!!!" in two days.

    Also, since teams usually don't last more than five or six seasons, and riders often switch teams in the off season, it encourages people to form attachments more to the riders than to the teams. For instance, I'd have trouble telling you off the top of my head which team most of the big contenders are riding for this year.

    Wellington • Since Mar 2008 • 708 posts Report Reply

  • Nat Websta,

    J'adore le Tour! Travelling to France to catch a week of the tour as it slogged through the Pyrenees a couple of years ago is one of the coolest things I've had the opportunity to do. Watching those guys rocket over the top of one of the Cols, being a part of the crazy crowd at the top of the hill (although personally I kept right out of the way of the riders, I have a real thing about those prats who run alongside the riders shouting and waving their arms/flags/costumes in their faces), marvelling at the machinery that is the tour (so many vehicles!)... it all added up to an epic experience that has only increased my enjoyment of watching the race in subsequent years.

    I agree that once you understand the tactics and inner machinations of the race, your enjoyment is likely to increase. Far from being an individual sport, professional cycle races (and the Tour in particular) are won and lost on the strength of the teams. One guy may win yellow, but he relies on his team to get him there. And the endless permutations of how a win is achieved during a monster stage race like the tour are facinating.

    Auckland • Since May 2007 • 18 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    A friend of a friend is quite nuts about it all. He tapes all the action while he's at work then watches in the evenings while riding his race bike on rollers in the living room. Each year he does the same thing and generally covers about 80-90% of the course in 'real' time.

    Less hills in his lounge I'm guessing.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6204 posts Report Reply

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