It’s exciting to think about the potential history in the making with this year’s running of the Tour de France as Lance Armstrong attempts to win for the sixth consecutive time–a feat never before accomplished in this most prestigious cycling race. The sport of cycling is also thought-provoking on several levels.
First, there are teams with leaders, and the race is about both but it’s primarily about the leader–protecting him from rivals, protecting a lead, providing a draft, chasing down breakaway attempts, etc. To be clear, if you compete in the race, you’re a fantastic cyclist in your own right. However, every rider on a team knows his place and his role. The U.S. Postal Service team knows that Lance is their leader and they are there in support of his unique quest. Few sports emphasize this kind of team sacrifice, teamwork.
Second, the race begins with the Prologue–a relatively short, flat time trial. As one of the Outdoor Life Network announcers said, the race really starts already in progress. Each race participant individually runs the course, trying for the best time. Riders are ranked before the race and depart the gates in ascending order of ranking. Each rider therefore is alone and competing against himself. At the same time, though, the next race stage begins based on the results of the Prologue. What other sports feature a race in progress from the beginning?
Third, it’s a sport that integrates with its surroundings– town streets, country roads or mountain passes. You don’t have to buy tickets to watch the participants–although, you don’t get to see them for much time either. There are no man-made buildings that house the contest. It’s just man, bicycle and road.
Locals route for everyone; it’s a special event and they know it. So do the riders. They know how rich in tradition the Tour de France is. They all want to wear the yellow jersey of the leader…the jersey Lance Armstrong hope to wear again after its all said and done 23 days later…for the sixth time in a row!
Update on 7/22/2004: It’s looking GREAT for Lance to make history this Tour. He’s been so dominant over the past week, winning yet another stage today. Dan Cederholm, who’s much more popular than am I, caught Lance fever, too (finally). It was fun to read how this came about and the reaction of his readership via comments.-Craig