France. Yes, right away I can hear the jokes about white flags and dropped weaponry. But as much as we love to make fun of them - they do try to make fun of Quebecers and Belgians but they fail hilariously - I have to give them a couple of things: they hold the most awesome cycling competition and the scenery this competition goes through is absolutely mind-boggling. I may not be into road cycling myself but every year I do my best to follow the Tour de France, especially the inhuman mountain stages in the Pyrénées and the Alps. And every year I wonder how it is possible to do what these guys are doing. Yes, I know some have used steroids and all sorts of performance enhancing chemicals, but still.
But along the 3400+ kilometers of this awesome race there are still a number of things that infuriate me to no end. First, the ridiculous motorcade to support the race. For each of the 50 odd teams that are shooting for the coveted Yellow Jersey, 4 to 8 cars are following the train of bikes with spare parts, spare bikes, trainers, doctors, masseuses, and 5-star catering for everybody. Then you have a number of cars for various race officials. Then there are the national TV cars and motorcycles (more on this later), and finally an obscene amount of journalists and photographers, mostly on motorcycles. Damn that's a lot of traffic! So not only do the superhuman riders have to do impossible bike riding feats, they have to do so while breathing a shit-ton of carbon monoxyde. And as if this wasn't dangerous enough, sometimes the TV guys get royally stupid trying to get the best shots. During stage #9, a France2 camera car wanted to get ahead of the race leaders to get some shots when it tried to pass them on a ridiculously narrow bit of road. The car was about to hit a tree when the driver decided that the way to evade a crash was to ram the cyclists, sending Johnny Hoogerland and Juan Antonia Flecha into a barbed-wire fence. Fucking brilliant. Fortunately both riders were able to go on to not only finish the stage, but also finish the tour. Quite a stroke of luck that was. I hope the TV guy never drives a car in the Tour ever again.
Another thing I find irritating is the over-enthusiasm some fans have on the tour, especially on the toughest mountain climbs. In their own minds these fans are encouraging the riders to climb harder and faster and "go go go, you can do it!", but the only thing they are accomplishing is getting in the way. It gets so ridiculous that at some points the riders look like they're riding in the middle of a crowd which moves at the very last instant to reveal the road. The highlight of this phenomenon was when some joker decided to make fun of 3-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador by running along side him on the Alpe d'Huez climb dressed as a doctor. Contador, already having some troubles because of doping allegations, didn't exactly like this and punched the guy away. I think I would've done the same, and maybe run over the guy for good measure. I don't care if the allegations are true or not, but showing this kind of disrespect while the athlete is killing himself trying to climb a mountain side is just wrong. How the Tour officials let this kind of stupidness happen is beyond me.
But despite these annoyances, the Tour de France is simply breath-taking. The scenery these guys have to ride through... damn, most people PAY to get this! There are always a few helicopters that follow the Tour and a lot of times it looks like they're doing the Death Star trench run while flying between crazy alpine mountain peaks. And the roads these guys take. Some of the most painful climbs on the Tour are rewarded with the craziest downhill runs where the bikes reach speeds in excess of 110 kph.
So this year's edition is finally over, and for once the winner is not a multiple repeat winner. Australian Cadel Evans won his country's first ever Tour win by snagging the "maillot jaune" at the very last instant, during the Grenoble against-the-clock stage, taking it away from Frenchman Thomas Voekler who had defied all odds by keeping the coveted jersey for 10 straight days. He was kind of Quebec's hero as he did this because apart from his Colnago bike, and the Nike sponsored yellow jersey, Voekler was dressed in Louis Garneau gear from head to toe. Quite the good press for this little company from Quebec City :)
And there you go, my short view of the 2011 Tour de France. Now I can go back to calling them "les maudits français" XD
PS: Apparently I have a new reader from work... welcome to my weird thoughts ;)