Le Tour

2006 Tour de France cyclists

From the perspective of an American, when you think of the Tour de France two things probably pop into your mind: Lance Armstrong and doping scandals. And probably a third, tight shorts. I happened to watch three stages of this event this past week (it ended Sunday) and found myself enjoying it, only thinking about Lance and wishing him well, and not about doping scandals or tights.

Unless you know some of the more technical details of the tactics, positioning, and effort being put forth by the athletes it might not be as exciting yet I found it very compelling watching. The scenery was amazing and it was not as coma-inducing to watch on tv as some other sports I can think of (golf or NASCAR). One thing that amazed me throughout were the insane crowds. Men running along side the bikes spurring them on, masses of people lining winding mountain roads, exposed to the same elements as the athletes. On the penultimate stage, the ride up Mt. Ventoux, they estimated over 500,000 people were lining the roads in this rural Provençal region.

This is the Super Bowl (though more international) and World Cup (though yearly) of the sport of cycling. The enthusiasts of the sport, who do tend to be mostly European, linger on the sides of the roads for a glimpse the passing riders and are as crazed as any Packers fan. Yet, unlike in other sports, its not limited to a stadium and the people who can pay high prices to get into that stadium – it’s free and open to all who want to camp, wait, and burn under the unforgiving summer sun. There’s something to be said about a major sporting event where 500,000 people can show up, be allowed to be wild and enthusiastic, and be trusted to behave themselves without having police lining the road.

Flickr photo by malias


  1. Andrea

    It is an interesting perspective that fans are able to share some of the same elements that the athletes endure, providing them a closer experience to the sport.

  2. Chris

    The World Rally Championship is very similar with fans lining the sides of the dirt roads that the cars careen around. Although I’m sure it’s much more dangerous to stand in the way of a car than in the way of a bike 🙂

    You can see what I’m talking about in videos like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-x0MqqNuWJg