July has arrived and with it comes daily television coverage of the Tour de France.
One doesn't have to spend weekends tightly clad in Lycra to appreciate Le Tour. You don't even have to be the kind of sports nut that will watch dodgeball or the cross-fit championship on ESPN 8 (the ocho).
The TDF offers something for everyone.
Fans of Rick Steves' Europe and Globe Trekker will be hard pressed to match the sweeping aerial views of grand chateaus, medieval villages, winding rivers, wooded mountainsides, and rolling countryside delivered in HD throughout the race. During the live morning edition (usually between 7:30 and 10:30am), commentators Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen do a great job sharing the history of each region the race crosses through. The images are breathtaking.
Individuals who take pride in their national heritage will find plenty of teams and riders who represent the best of their homeland. Despite Lance Armstrong's retirement, there still are several talented US cyclists to root for, three of whom - Chris Horner, Tejay Van Garderen, and Tyler Farrar - will be competing in the Olympics. I would be remiss if I didn't mention "Big George" Hincapie who is competing this year in his 17th TDF.
For anyone who has ever grimaced at the challenge of pedaling a bike up a hill, you will be in awe of how quickly these 197 elite athletes can crest a summit. You will develop an appreciation for their physical talents when you realize that they're pedaling along, shoulder to shoulder, at speeds faster than you would feel comfortable coasting down a hill at.
The grueling, 2200-mile race runs for a total of 21 out of 23 days in the July heat. These men have only two days of rest throughout three weeks of racing. Some won't finish. Others will finish within minutes of the eventual winner.
While the Lance Armstrong "American Hero" meme served as a source of national pride from '99 to '05, few realize just how much of a team sport cycling is until you really start watching it. It takes a full squad of dedicated, selfless, determined, untiring specialists to deliver a designated teammate to the finish line each day.
Some teams will never score a stage victory, but they will be instrumental in driving the pace of the race. Other teams will appear to dominate stage wins, but won't place a rider on the podium after 21 days of racing. The ultimate winner of the race may never even win a single stage.
That's the interesting part about Grand Tours like the TDF, the Giro d'Italia, and the Vuelta a Espana. While there may only be one rider wearing the yellow jersey atop the podium in Paris at the end of the race, there will be other winners in a variety of categories.
There is the green jersey for best sprinter. There is the polka dot jersey for best climber (King of the Mountain or KOM). There is the white jersey for best young rider. There is also the best team. These competitions are all based on points scored throughout the race.
The Tour lets you choose which competitions are important and allows you to have several different favorites you're rooting for.
If you can't watch the Tour live each morning, there is a rebroadcast each evening. Weekend coverage usually moves from NBC Sports Channel to NBC broadcast.
If you're new to the tour, come for the scenery - stay for the admiration of the world's greatest endurance athletes.
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Keep riding and be safe!