I’m a passionate fan of professional cycling. It’s my favorite sport to watch. Why? Because it’s so eminently relatable. I’ll never know what it’s like to take a hack at a Tim Lincecum curveball. Or, to dunk like LeBron. Blocking a Ronaldo kick? I’ve got no idea.
But, I do know what it’s like to ride a bike for a long distance.
That’s why each July I kind of lose my mind as I watch the Tour de France. After I ride 100 miles, I’m toast. Everything aches and it takes me days to recuperate (and also some medicinal Lagunitas). To the riders on the Tour, however, this is just a “normal day at the office” to quote Tour rider Chris Horner.
The cyclists of the Tour circle France covering 2,200 miles over three weeks. During this time, they ride at speeds averaging 24-26 mph. Now, if this doesn’t impress you, hop on your bicycle and try to reach a speed of 26 mph on a flat road. Then try to do it for 2,200 miles in all types of terrain and weather conditions.
This average speed includes days with massive hill climbs through the Alps and Pyrenees. These climbs became part of the Tour in 1910, when the Tour organizers decided to make the event more “challenging”. They were successful. During a mountain top finish that year, a leading rider, Octave Lapize, struggled across the finish line and yelled at the officials: “You are murderers! Yes, murderers!”
And, then there are the accidents and crashes. If you’ve ever fallen off a bike, it’s painful. Scrapes, cuts, contusions and broken bones are common. When this happens, it’s a trip to the ER, ice packs and bed rest.
Things are a bit different for Tour riders.
Imagine, for example, you’re Andre Greipel, a well-known German rider for the Lotto-Belisol team. Greipel specializes in flat, sprint finishes. This year, he has been successful, winning two of the first seven stages in the Tour. Twenty miles into yesterday’s 130 mile ride, he was involved in a nasty crash and took a hard fall on the asphalt, resulting in a dislocated shoulder and swollen wrist.
It’s at this point, that I’m asking for “Mommy”. Griepel, however, gets back on his bike, bruised and bleeding and catches up with the peloton. Then with 30 miles to the finish, he’s involved in still another crash involving dozens of riders. Personally, if it was me, I would be thinking: “ice curling, that’s a nice sport. Maybe I should give it a try.” Instead, Griepel again mounts his bike. With the help of his teammates, he not only catches up with the peloton, but competes in the final sprint and finishes second.
And, now he only has to ride another two weeks and 1,400 miles until the Tour ends.
Yep, just another day at the office.