Tour de France 2013: The 100th Year of Suffering!

A look at Europe's most famous cycling race



Packing Up My Bags and Bike

Watching the Tour de France on television is what inspired me to race.  The fans, the brightly colored kits, and bikes make it seem glamorous.  But riders such as Peter Sagan, Jens Voigt, Bradley Wiggins, and the like earned their celebrity status by facing their share of tedious training, unsightly saddle sores, and the various grotesque physical transformations that every serious racer notices in the mirror.  My humble experience as a mere amateur racer gives me an appreciation for the sacrifices bike racers must make to be successful; it is far more tiring that what we see on TV.

Life for racers consists of routines: Eat, train, eat, sleep, travel, eat, race, eat, rest, and repeat.  Sometimes you don’t want to get on the bike; it is not always fun.  It is not unusual for me, once back in the hotel room after a hard race, to sit in the tub while cleaning up because standing in the shower is too exhausting.  I can only imagine what the pros must go through, especially during the Tour.

This year I feel lucky to have the opportunity to just spectate, especially because, to be honest, I am starting to burn out from racing so much this season.  Much like how an artist travels abroad for inspiration, I am traveling to France to rejuvenate my love for the sport.  I hope I gain the motivation to train harder, race better, and have an impact on the people in my classes more than ever.

Doping Fallout

Despite the negative wake caused by the most controversial doping scandal in cycling history, the fandom surrounding the hundredth Tour is as strong as ever.  Painkillers and performance enhancers are nothing new.  Back during WWI it would not be uncommon for riders to drink excessive amounts of alcohol to deaden the pain of climbing and, in the 1920’s through 1930, nitroglycerine and strychnine were used to improve a rider’s overall performance [1].  Scandal or not, the Tour will always be the world’s most grueling bike race.  It is the third-most watched sporting event in the world because it goes right to the heart of man’s struggle with nature, fear, and the limitations of the body.

The Tour kicks off this Saturday, June 29th, from the scenic island of Corsica.  Stage 1 is a 213-km flat course from the city of Porto-Vecchio to Bastia.  There will be 21 stages, concluding on July 21. Distinguishing features that are sure to be the highlights this year include a 25-km Team Time Trial in Stage 4 and two hellish climbs up Alpe-d’Huez in Stage 18 [2].

Who to Watch

Expect Team SKY and Saxo Bank to put on a clinic this year.  Without a doubt, Chris Froome (Sky) is the favorite contender for the yellow jersey, followed by Alberto Contador (Saxo).  Froome’s tour, however, will not be an easy win.  In bike racing, winning is a team effort; riders are carefully selected for that purpose.  Last year, Bradley Wiggins won largely because Froome and two of the best climbers in the world kept him relatively rested and in good position.  One of his helpers from 2012, Mick Rogers, joined forces with Saxo, which makes him Contador’s right-hand man.  This year, Froome will depend heavily on Richie Porte because Wiggins will be unable to race due to illness.

Oftentimes when all the focus goes to one dominant, standout rider/team it creates opportunity for others to slip though the cracks and change the course of the race; one never knows what will happen in the course of 21 stages.  This year, there are a handful of strong, experienced riders who could pose a threat to Froome and Contador.  Watch Movistar’s team leader Alejandro Valverde and his right-hand man Nairo Vuintura who has been training for months at high altitude in Columbia.  Expect great things from BMC’s Cadel Evans and Tejay van Garderen as well as Garmin/Sharp superstars Ryder Hesjedal and Dan Martin in the mix.

This epic event will be broadcasted on cable on the NBC Sports Network and online at NBCsports.com.  NBCsports.com will be streaming each stage live, and a Tour de France LIVE mobile app offers real-time GPS so fans can follow their favorite riders throughout all 21 stages.  I leave for France in two weeks.  Stay tuned for updates!

Editor's note: Be sure to look for Allison's regular updates throughout the tour!


References
1.     http://www.abcc.co.uk/drugs-and-the-tour-de-france/
2.     http://www.letour.fr/le-tour/2013/us

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