With all the craziness, uncertainty, and disruption in all our lives right now, it’s nice to see the Tour de France finally get underway, albeit two months late. Somehow, the world seems a little more normal watching 176 colorfully clad bicyclists racing around the French countryside for three weeks.
Watching the Tour is an annual ritual in our family. We’d wake up at the crack of dawn, make a big pot of coffee, and watch the daily drama unfold. Everyone was in on the excitement. We all had our favorite riders. We winced when they crashed and then were amazed when they rode their hearts out the next day.
Our daughter, Tess, was classically creative in coming up with nicknames for the riders. I don’t think I’ll ever forget her dubbing Aussie sprinter, Robbie McEwen, as Harry Potter “because he just appears out of nowhere like Harry with his invisibility cloak.”
We’d watch grueling climbs and daring descents with awe. We cheered. We yelled. We gasped. We marveled at the complex strategy of each race. We basked in the French chateaus and giggled at the crowds. Who doesn’t have a good memory of Dieter “Didi” Senft — known as El Diablo, or the Devil of the Tour de France — running alongside the riders with his horns, staff, and red cape urging them on to victory?
Eventually, some of our idols were pushed off their pedestals after they were revealed to be doped athletes, not the superheroes we thought they were. Drug-induced, performance-enhancing scandals proliferated in the mid-2000s and many of the sport’s biggest names – including cycling’s biggest star, Lance Armstrong – were dethroned and banished. It broke our hearts but not our love of the sport.
This year features new riders, new teams and new stars. We miss Paul Sherwen but we are thrilled to welcome Phil Liggett, Bob Role, Christian Vande Velde, Chris Horner and Paul Bermeister into our living room for the next three weeks. It will be a different race this year. But it will be just as entertaining as it has always been.