Le Tour De France Why You Should Watch
Two words. One person. Lance Armstrong.
Maybe not the reason you should watch, but he is and always will be a major reason people follow bike racing - at least those of us in America. I could have titled this article, Lance Armstrong, and I would most definitely receive more views through the multitude of search engines, Twitter feeds and online social media platforms looking for the man’s name and the excitement that follows him. But I didn’t. He is a part of this grand tour. Of course he is a large part, but still just a part. This epic race, which tests an athlete’s physical and mental endurance, is matched by no other event in the world. Professional cyclists for years to come will continue to test their capabilities on this stage long beyond the legacy of Lance Armstrong…or Miguel Indurain, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond.
As an avid cyclist and one who dabbles in competitive cycling, Lance Armstrong might not be my favorite cyclist or even in my top five, but you must respect what he has done for the sport as a whole. Among allegations of multiple doping violations, rider drug use, and an overall lack of control by the governing body, the sport of professional cycling has gone through some tough times. Granted, Lance Armstrong has had his fair share of criticism, but through his involvement over the past years the sport of cycling has survived and has pushed in recent years to clean up its reputation and focus on the grit and magic of the sport.
The 2010 event marks the 97th edition of the Tour de France. It takes place July 3rd through the 25th, starting in the Netherlands and ending at its traditional finishing place, the Champs-Elysees in Paris, France. The Champs-Elysees also acts as the stage where the overall winner is granted his final yellow jersey. Throughout the event and its 21 stages, each stage winner is celebrated and, depending on their cumulative time through the previous stages, the leading rider is granted the permission to wear the yellow jersey. This showcases his first-place standing in what is referred to as the General Classification. Multiple yellow jerseys are produced and worn by multiple riders throughout the event. In 1929, the yellow jersey was awarded to three riders with the same overall time. None of them became the eventual winner of the overall race. Lance Armstrong has won seven consecutive yellow jerseys, which he won in consecutive years from 1999 through 2005, surpassing multiple riders who have won five overall victories.
Along with the yellow jersey, three other jerseys are awarded at each stage finish representing other races within the Tour de France. While the yellow jersey represents the rider with the least accumulated time throughout the race, the green jersey represents the “points leader”. The “points leader” in the Tour de France achieves points by finishing first at intermediate sprints and finish lines placed throughout individual stages. The “actual” finish line at each stage is also an opportunity to achieve points for these “sprinters” who most likely are vying for the green jersey. Those who specialize at fast finishing sprints, technical positioning and overall lack of fear at speeds approaching 50 miles an hour risk broken bones to be first across the line.
Climbers are opposite of the sprinters. Usually small in stature but with the ability to produce large amounts of power, these athletes race for similar intermediate finish lines placed throughout the mountainous stages in the French Alps and Pyrenees. A red and white polka dot jersey is the climber’s reward. With the ability to buffer absolute pain for long periods of time, these climbers use their bikes to climb passes with inclines that would stop vehicles from reaching the summit. Since 1975, a white jersey has also been awarded to the tour’s best young rider, 24 years of age or under.
For three weeks and more than 2,200 miles, nearly 200 riders will jockey daily for position on the roads throughout France and surrounding countries. Lance Armstrong will be included as he tries to win his eighth tour with his new Radioshack team, boasting some of the sports best cyclists. He will again go against riders such as Cadel Evens and his BMC team, which includes Lance’s long-time Postal Service teammate George Hincapie. He also squares off against young riders Andy Schleck, Dennis Menchov and race favorite Alberto Contador.
This year will likely be the last for Lance Armstrong’s participation in the Tour de France. With his fourth place finish last year as Alberto Contador’s “teammate”, we should expect there to be great racing come June. Between Contador and Armstrong’s public disagreements and the formation of a formidable team built around the seven-time winner, this year’s tour already has the built in drama and tension that usually surfaces halfway through the race when the favorites start to show their cards.
For ex-teammates, it is Contador, cycling’s current star, verses Armstrong, cycling’s sun, in one final showdown on the roads of France.