By David Ward — In bicycling, there are tours. Then there are Tours. And then there is The Tour. Once again, July is fast approaching and the Tour de France will begin rolling through the flatlands, hills and mountains of France. Indeed, by the time you read this, the gun will have already sounded and The Tour will be under way.
I am a fan of bike racing, and love to follow professional racing. From the Tour Down Under through the World Championships, I check the results daily to keep up on the racing scene. Sometimes, like with this year’s Giro d’Italia, a great race develops in an unexpected way and I can hardly wait to read the synopsis of each day’s action and follow the intrigue for the overall classification wins.
But I especially get excited at Tour time. The Tour is, after all, the pinnacle of pro bike racing. And for almost an entire month, I get to follow, watch and absorb the greatest cyclists of the day battling it out for stage wins, jersey points and overall classifications. The Tour, like any stage race, is not just a singular event. Each day is a race by itself, comprised of several competitions.
First, of course, is the excitement of watching the stage play itself out to see who wins. Then there are the intermediate sprints as the world’s fastest sprinters battle to scoop up points, and how those tally up for the overall green jersey. Same for the greatest climbers trying to pick up points for the overall polka dot jersey. Also, there is the white jersey competition for the best-placed young rider (25 and under) of the Tour.
And, of course, there is the biggest competition, the battle for the coveted “Maillot Jaune”, the yellow jersey. Sometimes, the overall win is a tight race right down to the last mountain stage or time trial. Who can forget 1989 when Greg LeMond came from 58 seconds down to win the final time trial on the final day on the Champs Elysses in Paris and the overall title by 8 seconds?
The battle for the polka dot climber’s jersey is generally not as explosive. But I always marvel when a rider realizes he may be able to win this competition and sets about initiating long breaks on long mountain stages. It is amazing to watch them suffer on these epic efforts. Thomas Voeckler was exciting to watch during the Tour as he very adroitly picked the right spots to battle for this jersey, and marshaled his strength at those times to secure the polka dots for himself.
More often than not, the green jersey competition is contested to the last intermediate and final sprints. I remember being torn by the battle between Stuart O’Grady and Eric Zabel for the green jersey in 2001. Both were likeable and popular riders. O’Grady was trying to win the green jersey for the first time, and Zabel was trying to win for a record sixth time. I wanted both to succeed, recognizing that was impossible. It was extremely close, and it came down to the final sprint points of the Tour before Zabel took the green jersey off O’Grady’s shoulders and secured it for himself.
So, each day for nearly a month, I get to watch a top notch bike race. I will watch to see who leads out the sprints and who powers to the finish, if it is a bunch finish. I will cheer on those in a break away, hoping to see them, against great odds, hold out for a breakaway win. I will watch great climbers suffer incredibly as they strain to be the first to a mountain top finish.
I will watch the strategies being employed by those racing for the overall win as they mark and gauge each other. I will see those seeking the green jersey burst free of the pack at the intermediate sprints to fight for important points, and then jockey and battle for even greater points at stage finishes. And I will watch to see who can keep up as riders fighting for the polka dot jersey attack, and respond to attacks by their fellow adversaries, for mountain points. Each day will provide serious tactics and racing in at least two, and sometimes all, of the above competitions.
And isn’t it fun to have these various competitions represented by the different jerseys? What is cooler than having these guys battle for colorful jerseys? And to have the current leaders in those competitions where the yellow, green, polka dot and white jerseys during that day’s stage? Of course, it is what these maillots represent that makes them worthy of battle. But I mean, really! Battling to wear these leader jerseys. That’s fun and unique.
July is a great month. It is a great month because it is Tour month. Each day I will block out news of the Tour so I can sit down that night and watch it all unfold. Each night I will cheer and groan as my preferred riders succeed or fall short in their efforts. And then I will arise the next day to do it all over again.
Yes, July is here. It will be an exciting month.