The 2012 Tour de France just ended and here’s what you need to know:
- It was the 100th running of the event (but not the 100th anniversary as several years were skipped on account of some world wars) EDIT: It’s actually the 99th running. Thanks, Gerry!
- A Brit won for the first time, making the entire country insufferable as they are now hosting the Olympics
- Actually, with a winner in the General Classification (Wiggins) as well as one of the world’s best sprinters (Cavendish), British cycling is enjoying something of a hey day.
- Nine out of the last 14 winners spoke English as their first language. The other five were four Spaniards and a Luxembourgian (if that’s the word)
- Several young French riders won some stages, meaning that country need not be as embarrassed as it usually is at its performance.
- Another famous cyclist was caught doping.
There you have it. Apart from some stunning vistas, a few dramatic crashes at the beginning, and some small squabbles over smaller categories like Best Climber, Best Sprinter, and Cyclist Closest To Zero Percent Body Fat, that pretty much covers the 2012 Tour de France.
For those of you are are very very interested in what it is like to compete in “Le Tour,” you may be interested in the 2005 movie, Hell on Wheels, a documentary of the German Team Telekom’s experience in the 2003 TdF. This was the actual 100th anniversary (but NOT the 100th running – see above) of the Tour and featured some legendary moments, including Lance Armstrong cutting across a field to avoid Joseba Beloki (I am not making that name up), who had crashed in front of him on a fast descent. Armstrong also famously won a stage after catching his handlebar on a spectator’s bag and crashing. Finally, there was Tyler Hamilton, who cycled almost the entire tour with a broken collarbone, won a mountain stage, and took 4th place overall.
If you don’t think a broken collarbone is painful, go break it and try to ride a bike around the neighborhood. Then ride it 2,000 miles. Over some mountains. Then we’ll talk again.
The movie is almost entirely in German and French with English subtitles. If that sort of thing drives you to distraction, then you will not enjoy this movie. There are many interviews with the riders, who discuss how they manage to persevere in spite of their many injuries (well, one rider does not and is forced to quit). There are also tributes to the majesty and history of the tour, mostly narrated by a French cycling historian who is nothing if not passionate about the TdF. Basically, all other forms of human endeavor pale in significance when compared to The Tour. There are tributes to the fans, the gendarmes, the broadcasters, the setup/tear down crews, the team masseuse, and just about everyone else connected to the tour.
As a person who enjoys the strategy of any competition, I was disappointed that so little time was spent on this aspect of the race. Very little discussion was given to how teams decide to approach a given stage or how they hope to put their cyclists in the best position to achieve their goals (and in the TdF, there are so many different ways to “win” that there are many different possible strategies). Instead, a great deal of time focuses on suffering. You watch the riders slowly break down psychologically over the course of three weeks and are impressed to see most of them rally back each day despite tremendous fatigue.
One is left with an admiration for the dedication of the cyclists who overcome incredible obstacles. Unfortunately, this admiration is greatly tempered when one realizes almost the entire Team Telekom (including most of the riders featured in the documentary) would be scandalized in a doping controversy only a few years later. So much for the idolization of hard work and determination.
This film therefore appeals to a very small audience: namely those interested enough in cycling to watch two hours of German with English subtitles but not familiar enough with the inner workings of professional cycling or the TdF to be intrigued by the perspective. Everyone else should probably find something else to watch.