Sunday, July 4, 2010

Le Tour

The Tour de France started today. Three weeks covering 3642 kms (that's 2263 miles for you anglocentrics) in 20 stages where the elite road bicycle racers of the world vie for individual, team and country honors.

Can you imagine cycling an average of 113 miles each day for 21 days in a row? That is what they do. And for the most part it isn't a nice easy flat course. There are 6 montain stages and 3 summit finishes (yes, that is where after riding over one hundred miles you have to climb a mountain being chased by the likes of Lance Armstrong, Alberto Contador and the Schleck brothers).

The fun of the Tour is that almost anything can and does happen when world class athletes vie for the greatest prize in their sport for such a long period of time. Today we watched the first stage, a gentle saunter over 138 miles from Rotterdam in the Netherlands to Brussels in Belgium. I say easy because the terrain was mostly flat for this stage.

This being the first stage there was some nervousness and most of the riders stayed together in a pack (called a "Peleton" french for "bunch"). In the first few kms a dog wandered into the Peleton and a few riders went down trying to avoid the dog. Toward the end of the day's race (the stage) there is always jockeying for position. Teams try to get their man up front so he has a chance to win the day. Today the last few kms of the race included a tight hairpin turn and 6 or 8 riders went down. Then about 400 meters from the finish a huge crash occured at the front of the Peleton and only those in the lead were able to avoid the mass pileup that ensued.

Some riders are known for their strength in the sprint and some for mountain climbing. Leaders in each category are awarded the right to wear a particular color riding shirt the next day if they finish first in that category. Yellow for the first overall, green for the total points leader and white with red polka-dots for the best mountain climber that day.

Also riders are riding for teams and for their countries. For instance a Belgain rider was in the lead for about 100 of the 138 miles today. He had no hope of winning the stage or of being in contention for the overall points but he struggled mightly just so his countrymen and women could see him in front. It was a glorious day for Begium.

All in all there is a lot going on. If you are interested you can go to and see the standings, the route and the leaders in each category. They list the riders by standing, country and team so you can pick your favorites and follow them through the Tour. Salt Lake native David Zabriskie is riding in 25th place overall on the Garmin-Transitions team and will be a contender in the mountain stages.

If this has gotten you excited you can get up at 6 am like we do and watch each stage as it happens (6:30 MDT, 8:30 EDT) or at least for the first showing on Versus. They recap the stage events in a 2 hour format several times during the day but they always comment on what is going to happen, so if you want the feeling of being there see it at 6:30 am. I can't wait for tomorrow.

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