The Tour De France makes me remember that I can change my life. In these nearly endless hours of daylight, at a time of year when things just seem more possible, the most heroic and unlikely of sporting events makes me giddy, year after year. And I’m not speculating either—the Tour actually did motivate a series of large scale life changes for me, the most significant of which involved losing ~70lbs over an 8 month period, once upon a time, and taking up riding and racing bicycles as an avocation; more than a hobby, less than a career; permanent like a bad tattoo (I have one of those, as well).
This time of year it’s hard to believe that there are other times of year when any bike ride begun after 4:45pm needs to happen indoors or involve lights. In June and July, the rides just happen; training plan or not, goals or not, life lives us for awhile, before August shows up to shake a little worry back into our bones. Recently I’ve been finding myself deep in the woods, swooping along singletrack on my ‘cross bike, sharing a laugh with the BMX kids taking a break from building up their jumps. On another evening, packing the blinky light I won’t need in my jersey pocket as some kind of talisman, I wind up doing a 4×3min workout and sussing the local omnium TT course, just because I landed there. I keep trying to get stuck out after dark, but I can’t manage to do it, no matter how lazily I plan my route, or how late I leave.
But back to The Tour: it’s more than the sum of its parts, really. I watch it every day, and I love it. Is there any other way to watch Le Tour these days than live, streaming on the Internet via UK Eurosport? Hey, I’m a stay-at-home dad, so sue me. What? Should I watch Soap Operas instead? VS. is for suckers. The British commentary, the European ads, the Brits taking the piss from the French, and the French letting their hair down; all of this on a backdrop of sunflowers, Frank Black’s Massif Central plays on an endless loop in my mind—it is July, I am in The Tour. This France is a country that believes in down time, reflection, and social movement, which leads to things like camping on mountains and in fields, forming living crop-circle bicycle sculptures involving humans and tractors, and smoking cigarettes like they’re good for you in roadside cafes with the studied indifference only the French can muster. The entire summer off—this is the coeur de Le Tour.
In an era when it has become not only fashionable, but almost an act of social necessity for amateur bike racers to hate on The Lance and The Spectacle—regardless of however little the amateurs in question may in fact understand about either big time bike racing, or the philosophy of Guy Debord —I have nothing but love. Cycling still represents, to me, a beacon in the wilderness of big money, world-class professional sport, and satisfies a very human need to connect with the blood sweat and tears of our fellow man through public contests. Roger Clemmons is scheduled to testify next week, and the anvil dangles menacingly over Lance, as ever; but we continue to believe in staged contests, and we should. They matter.
The arts remind us of our capacity to emote, to create, to imagine; this is where we learn to exceed ourselves in thought, metaphysically. Sport is where we discover the tangible, tactile means we have as humans of overcoming apparent physical impossibility; there are metaphysics at work here, too.