I was trying to explain to a non-cycling friend the other day why it is
so much bigger than any other race out there; but when I thought about it,
apart from saying "well, it's the
Tour", I couldn't really verbalise, to an outsider, just why it is
just so huge.
It is not the only national tour, it's not even the only three-week
tour, and it doesn't have any challenge in particular on the racing front that
sets it so far apart. And yet it is so big, so crucial, that I was even
checking the TV for the race while I was on my mid-season holiday last week.
I think it has a lot to do with the timing of the race that it became so
big. July in Europe is the time that the continent finally starts to relax its
shoulders and let the summer soothe the aches and pains of winter and spring
away. People finally start to trust that it will be warm and comfortable the
next day too, that you can eat and drink outside, and that it can't be long
until summer holidays reset the batteries completely.
The Giro comes too early to allow you to let go; you can take it or
leave it, there are still plenty of other things happening. The Vuelta is an
identity crisis that doesn't even know what colour the leader's jersey should
be - it's like hurriedly getting ready for dinner as opposed to a relaxed
afternoon sipping white wine on the terrace.
The Tour somehow got it all just right. It got the best time slot, all
the best support acts, went to the best schools, had all the right friends and
all the breaks it could ever need. As such, over the years I suppose, it has
become something frighteningly huge, perpetually aggrandising and intensely
I'm a Tour addict, I confess. I watch bike races sporadically at best
during the rest of the year, it's the day job after all - yet when the Tour
comes, I find myself spending whole afternoons with the television just
gargling away in front of me. I sleep through it, I eat lunch in front of it
and later on (unthinkably I know) I will even flick across to the highlights
It just looks so good, and it always has. I don't think there is a bike
rider on the planet that could really truly claim to not be a little infatuated
with the Tour.
As it turns out, while the Tour may engross the cycling world on its own
epic scale, there is very little other racing during the month of July for the
rest of us. This means that for many riders the National Championships mark
something of a curtain call on the first part of the season.
So now I have to admit that since I have been away on holiday I am
playing catch-up a bit, and not just in terms of what has happened in the race.
What better backdrop is there though than the images of the greatest race on
earth spurring you on every afternoon to go and get back out on the road the
next day? The Tour, it would seem, keeps us all in good hands.