Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Is there a bike race going on in France?

The sport of cycling, especially when it reaches an elite level, is very grueling and tests just about every bit of it's participants' courage, willpower, and of course fitness. I can't say that I've ever been interested in pushing myself in that way, but on a smaller scale, I've tried my hand at real mountain biking (a.k.a. in the actual mountains, not up and down the hills of the Midwest) a few times. And let me tell you, heavy exercise in high altitude is hard enough, but this sport will push your limits. So I say all this to illustrate my respect for what the riders put themselves through mentally and physically. But as I read about/watch parts of Tour de France coverage, I realize one important thing: it just doesn't interest me...at all.

I don't have much knowledge about the sport or its participants, outside of Lance Armstrong of course. And some may say that might be the reason why I'm not interested. Perhaps I should just take the time to learn about the ins and outs of the sport and its glorified race around France. But I don't buy it. Look, I don't know a whole lot about rugby or jai alai, but when I watch action from those two sports, I couldn't be more intrigued!

The fact is that cycling doesn't get me going on any level...even if it is the Tour de France with many of the world's premier endurance athletes. I feel like I have a decent grasp of the fairly uncomplicated set of concepts, rules and regulations associated with the Tour de France. But maybe my lack of interest is a result of the length of the competition. Very few things that are so long and drawn out keep my attention. And if it's going to be so long, at least it should be action-packed and exciting, right? I say yes, but I find myself reverting to my morbid, selfish NASCAR philosophy, "Can I get a crash already?" It is certainly not a good way to look at it because the cyclists aren't protected by anything other than a little helmet, so crashes for them can be devastating...and I know that. But as a sports fan, I want to be captivated by the spectacle that I'm watching. I'm sorry to say that the only captivation I can find when sifting through the tireless Tour de France coverage is the content regarding crashes, injuries, and yes, even doping.

It's not just the TdF either. It's also amateur cycling. I mean, I went to school in a town that I would consider to be the hub of amateur cycling. At Indiana University, there is an annual event called the Little 500. There are two races, one for the men and one for the women, around a quarter-mile oval track. Each race has about 25-35 teams with about 4 members on each team. The women's race is 100 laps and the men's race is 200 laps. The event is so meaningful and popular that teams train all year in preparation for qualifications. There is even a series of warm-up cycling events leading up to the main weekend. The event is simply incredible. An entire university clicks into another mode when the race week arrives. Classes are pushed aside and kegs are bought by the dozens in their place. People come in from afar to take in the event and its widely regarded as the "Greatest College Weekend in America."

My point is that the Little 500, while one-of-a-kind in nature and a great tradition at my alma mater, is still not the most breathtaking sporting event to watch. The parties leading up to the races were always what I tended to enjoy. Now don't get me wrong, there can be exciting moments in these races as with any type of race, but generally speaking, it doesn't have the action that your typical sports fan craves. The women's race tends to be pretty interesting, but that is because it is relatively short (a little over an hour). And that makes sense because most sports fans don't have the attention span nor the desire to watch long events with little action. So for me, the shorter the better. Soccer is one of my favorite sports, so I have no problem sitting down and watching a game from start to finish, but I'm not going to blame someone for saying that even that is too long...but I digress.

I've tried getting into cycling on many levels, but it just hasn't come together. The funny part about this week at the Tour de France was that Lance Armstrong came out and pretty much said to the media that he had conceded the race to his teammate, Alberto Contador. I couldn't believe it! Not the fact that he conceded because the margin actually does seem pretty insurmountable, but the fact that he came out and said that it's pretty much over. So now, the people that were clinging to their small level of interest are left with nothing. As I sit here, I'm thinking, "Lance just said it was over, so why watch, why read, why care about the race?"

Although Armstrong's comments doused the flame of interest for just about every casual American follower, I have to say that I owe him a thank you. Because now, I won't even experience a shred of temptation to learn more about this year's race by reading or watching coverage. I tried to give it a chance...I really did. But it's boring and uneventful, especially when the God of Cycling himself declares that his race is over.

I guess you could say that I have officially made the affirmation that I don't like cycling...just as I did regarding NASCAR. It's nothing against its fans or participants, but it's just something that doesn't peak my interest. As far as the partying that goes along with cycling at Indiana University or anywhere else? Just refer to the picture and you'll see what I think is the most interesting part of the sport.

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