Watching the Tour de France
Tour de France jerseys
Surprise. At First Sight protagonists Max and Cress have nothing to do with this post. He plays rugby. She watches hockey. Neither is interested in bike racing. So why am I writing about a three-week bike race? And does it have anything to do with my writing?
Except for having a minor interest in Greg Lemond in the 1980s, the Tour de France was not on my radar until 2000, when I spent part of June and July living in Paris. Peter, fresh from a conference in Moscow, was with me for the first week or so, then he went home. I was doing a research project, surrounded by colleagues who spoke no English. And my spoken French was kind of sketchy. Watch television was the advice I got from my sponsor.
The Tour was one of the only things on television besides the Euro 2000 football final. I watched a lot of television when I wasn't doing research, mostly to work on my French comprehension.
Listening to broadcasts, particularly news, was very helpful. I didn't watch the Euro 2000 final, but since France won, I heard the celebrations all night long--most cars driving around honking. My studio apartment was in the Marais, so I was able to avoid the vandalism that went on around the Champs-Elysee.
But the Tour de France caught my attention, even though I didn't understand about les équipes (teams), the jerseys (why polka dots for the climbers?), the peleton, les domestiques, les soigneurs, etc. Of course Lance Armstrong and U.S. Postal Service were the big story, including the rivalry with Jan Ullrich of Team Telekom. I was hooked.
I learned about crosswinds, echelons, feed zones, how the crowds on the side work, the rules for crashes, and lots of other things. The polka dot jersey design is because at one time the sponsor the climbing competition was a candy company. The points jersey is for the sprinters. And you can win the Tour and never win a stage! Wow.
I even took up riding (not racing) for a few years. I did a couple of weeklong bike ride trips with GITAP (Grand Illinois Trails and Parks) with friends and a barge and bike trip from Mantua to Venice with Peter. I had an accident in 2010. While I wasn't seriously hurt, it put me off riding. I did enjoy the social aspects but I became too nervous on even a mild downward incline.
Me and my special Trek road bike, Gattamelata, at Champaign Cycle. I picked the color, the paint design, and a few other features.
Hanging out with bike friends from Prairie Cycle Club at Crystal Lake Park in Urbana
Peter and I on the barge and bike trip, Italy 2009
Over the years I watched a lot of bike racing. All three grand tours (France, Italy, and Spain). I ever had the change to see a stage of the Giro d'Italia live in Verona in 2007. I loved the one-day classic races like Paris-Roubaix. Watching bike racing became one of my things. Especially cheering on U.S. racer, George Hincapie.
Photo of George Hincapie leading Paris-Roubaix in 2002, from cyclingtips.com
In the past few years, I stopped watching for a variety of reasons. But this year I am watching the Tour de France again. Maybe not every day, but I will be watching on and off, even though I don't know who most of the riders are any more.
I am not really putting in the time because of a re-found love of the sport, although I do enjoy watching. Seeing the French countryside is reason enough. The real reason is that I am planning another book, as yet untitled. Instead of romantic suspense, it will be a murder mystery, although there will be a romance as part of the plot. And the policeman is a former bike racer with a degree in engineering, who designs custom bicycles in his spare time.
I'm actually writing At the Crossroads, a second book about Max and Cress, who are being targeted by terrorists. I am busy planning fun activities in the highlands of Scotland, a scary terrorist attack in Paris, and an exciting finish in Istanbul.
But I am excited about the mystery plot I'm developing. So for now I am immersing myself in the most famous bike race in the world. Enjoying the commentary from “old friends” Phil Liggett and Bob Roll; missing, as always, Paul Sherwin; but taking comfort in the memories that watching bike racing always provides.