What inspires you? If you’re like me, you’re motivated by the accomplishments of others, particularly when their feats pluck a personal chord of interest. This month, I’ve enjoyed watching the 2013 Tour de France bicycle race in what one would hope is a cleaner, post-doping era. There are several indications from this year’s 100th edition of the tour that passionate sport has returned to the roads of France.
The Tour de France is a monumental physical undertaking. A couple hundred of the world’s best cyclists begin the race with the intention of cycling over 2,000 miles while climbing 131,000 feet of elevation. They have twenty-one days to accomplish this feat with only two days of rest to break their race-a-thon into three parts. Four of the days’ rides will end at the summit of a mountain. And the top finishers will be separated by mere seconds despite the lengthy physical test of strength, endurance, and willpower. About ninety hours on a rock-hard saddle averaging around 25 mph will spell victory for one of the world’s greatest riders.
Here are some of the moments in this year’s race that captivated me:
1. No one wins this race without the help of good teammates who provide essential services for their team leader. They create draft to ease the wind resistance, which allows the leader to preserve his energy for later in the race when it is needed most. They shield the leader from attacks by other competitors. And they even prevent competitors from breaking away, or from pushing the group pace beyond what is in the best interests of their leader. These selfless combatants do the hard and dirty work. Yet, they are brutally cast aside when their purpose has been maximized, or when they’ve expended all of their energy. They are the true heroes of this race. And none were more heroic than Richie Porte, who “pulled” this year’s winner, Chris Froome, through some difficult stretches and up some vicious climbs.
2. Last night, I asked Debbie just how many people she thought watched portions of this year’s race in person. With colorful and unpredictable costumes, they and their RVs lined the race course, sometimes dangerously close to the action. Where else can people gain admittance for free and become a major part of the spectacle, unless perhaps at the running of the bulls? The crowd of crazies chased the cyclists up mountain climbs, when travel by foot could compete, and shouted encouragement–or otherwise–into the concentration-filled faces of athletes on the verge of breakdown. Who knows what the number is, but I saw estimates on the web of twelve million route-lined spectators.
3. After one hundred miles of pedaling, it was inconceivable to fathom the physical stress of “attacks” during the final ascent of summit finishes. How one can summon such power and strength from spent muscles was a marvel to behold. Like a lunging alligator, Chris Froome, the master spinner, awoke from his nonstop, seated cadence to brutally punish others who threatened his first-place standing. Then, the upstart 23-year-old Colombian rider, Nairo Quintana, earned instant stardom by winning the sought after “King of the Mountain” title during the final mountain stage. Climbing never looked so easy.
These inspirational moments had their inevitable effect. Debbie and I have been working a bit harder at the gym and logging some more miles. When you see others perfect what you enjoy, it can’t help but challenge you to do it better, or more often.
For a basic understanding of how the tour works, check out this website.