(I promise I won’t use any more garbled French on this blog)
I don’t know about you, but I rather like the Tour De France, that period over summer where British people suddenly get really into lycra, things inexplicably painted yellow and using words like ‘domestique’ to impress their friends, all because there’s a
Kenyan British bloke involved who’s rather good. I don’t want to play the ‘I’m a real fan’ card here, because in all honesty I’ve not bee following the cycling season at all this year and that’s an inherently shit way to perceive culture and its accessibility, so instead I’m going to talk about why I like a sport that consists largely of cycling endlessly through the surprisingly barren, muddy wastelands of Europe.
The main reason is that its multi-layered. Road cycling seems like a simple beast – if you’re first over the line, you win – but is insanely more complicated. In multi-stage races like the Tour, the standings in the General Classification (the one we use to see who wins the bloody thing) are based on time, not position – you will be five seconds ahead of your rival after ten days, instead of being five points ahead of them. This means that it’s not a matter of places, but a matter of how big the gaps are between places; it’s not enough to come first, you have to come far enough in first to make the gap between you and your rival unconquerable. This made finishes like this one, complete with the announcer counting down the individual seconds Laurent Fignon had to finish the stage to win the race; he lost the 3,200km epic by eight seconds.
But there are other classifications at play: the Points Classification operates much like the Drivers’ Championship in F1, with riders awarded points based on position (as well as time) that often becomes the classification of the sprinters. There’s a similar climbers’ competition, and the fact that the Tour is both full of small French teams and a massive advertising opportunity (why do you think the teams are named after their sponsors?) means just attacking other riders pointlessly for a bit of TV exposure becomes a mighty battle amongst local French squads.
It’s also more relaxed than a lot of other sports; not boring in the way that the gaps between American football plays are, but relaxing insofar as a typical day spent ‘watching’ a Tour stage is having the race on in the background for five hours as you soak up the picturesque French countryside while you play Football Manager, before flicking back to the race for the last 5km and the exciting finish. It’s chilled, and tends to result in less agonised screaming than watching football matches.
But these are just my reasons; road cycling is full of endless battles and storylines that are simply absent in sports where there is one final score that defines all; so I’d encourage you to watch the Eurosport coverage (with the excellent Sean Kelly and the insufferable Carlton Kirby) and try to find something in this vast game that you can enjoy.