Editor’s Note: The following piece is from the July 12, 1993 issue of VeloNews by former Tour de France rider and current Tour de France commentator Bob Roll.
Round. Not the Vuelta a España. Not the Giro d’Italia. But the Tower. The Tour de France is the. The Tour is the pinnacle of sport. The prestige, mystique, attention and economic importance of the Tour make it the biggest sporting event of the year.
Where the Giro is beautiful,
The Tour is brutal.
Where the Vuelta is magnificent,
The Tour is nasty …
In fact, the Tour is the crown jewel of all cycling activity – whether it’s commuting to work, a Category B reviewer in Oklahoma City, a fair in any Belgian city, Olympic road racing, spring classics or world championships.
The Tour is easy to understand. It is the race of ordinary people. They can easily grasp the difficulties of the Tour – the endless climbs, the colorful speed of the peloton, the danger inherent in descending a mountain road at 100 km / h. They can identify with the man in the yellow jersey… and with the rider who passes behind and abandons the Tour in tears. And they recognize that no one will ever go faster, more beautifully on a bike than on the Tour de France.
The geographic diversity of France is another reason why the Tour has achieved its magnificent image. France has the perfect form and terrain for a three-week cycle race. And the French – who will even discuss a game of pétanque in the village square – love the competition.
That’s why they respect the Tour – which is pure racing. In fact, every aspect of a Tour rider’s life is competitive. Race for breakfast, race to start, race all day on the bike, then race to the hotel (sometimes in the team car), race to showers, to the massage table, to the dinner table … and finally sleep. The Tour is also a race for all the entourage: from the occasional spectator to the busy journalist, via the photographer, the trainer, the race official, the team driver …
While running well on the Tour means economic well-being for a driver, money is never part of the competitive equation. The sheer joy of winning a stage – and especially the yellow jersey – transcends all the prizes, benefits and prestige that such success can confer.
The Tour usually starts in the north of France, and follows a cycle of stages with moderate climbs and terrible speed, leading to the first long time trial – in which the GC race begins to show itself. Then we come to the ascents of the second phase: the Alps and the Pyrenees. More climbs will follow before the rush to the last time trial… and the final and exhilarating race in Paris.
After three weeks of real suffering, you climb the last hill near Versailles and see the Eiffel Tower as you throw yourself into the city. You rage around the Place de la Concorde, go up the Champs-Elysées, turn left in front of the Arc de Triomphe, and bombard until the finish in front of a mass of humanity. If you are lucky, your wife or mom will be waiting for you under the Arc. And if you are really lucky you are not part of a team that goes to party in a strip bar, but you are part of an american team that eats in a mexican restaurant in montparnasse.
Did i have do not ran the Tour, I would feel incomplete as a cyclist. The Tour tests every aspect of your ability in the sport – your reserves, your health, your speed, your endurance, your ascent, your descent, your handling of the bike in the peloton, the time trial, your composure. , your patience and class.
Winning the Tour has created great champions and world-famous heroes, like Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Greg LeMond and Miguel Indurain. But it costs so much that for many runners it has become their only accomplishment. Men such as Luis Ocaña, Lucien Van Impe, Stephen Roche and Pedro Delgado worked so hard to win the Tour that they never could reach this level of excellence again. Yes, it is difficult to meet the high expectations that the Tour creates – a race that transcends the individual.
If cycling through the countryside on a bright summer day was like a pretty child’s drawing of a wild flower, then the Tour is a fresco in the Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo. Even though some great 20th century writers like Hemingway have tried, why haven’t they been able to capture the essence of this great event? Maybe because they weren’t there. But also, I think, because it’s so dynamic and the atmosphere is so rarefied, it’s impossible to capture the grandeur and grandeur of the Tour with words alone. Maybe one day a combination of songs, pictures and words will do justice to this greatest of all sporting competitions: the Tour de France.