Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Le Tour de Timmins

It seems a strange coincidence that the week I decided to start biking to work I turn on the TV and there is that most enigmatic of sporting events: Le Tour de France. First, let us discuss my newfound zealousness for biking to work. I got the idea awhile ago when my weight continued to creep up. Furthermore, gasoline hit $1.20 a litre. Both of these factors, environmental and personal health, conspired to encourage me to start biking to work. So I got together the necessary equipment and off I went. Turns out it takes me just as long to bike to work as it does to drive. Who would’ve thunk it. The only inconvenience is getting changed at work so that I do not smell like a neanderthal all day. But so far it is going pretty well. Now I just need a bike that is actually mine (I’m using my neighbor’s), one made for the streets, not the mountains, and some apparel that cuts my wind resistance, increases breathability, and protects me against the elements. Any tips would be welcome!

As for the Tour de France, I saw an article in the Globe last Saturday outlining the route map. The thought that someone could cover this 3500 km trail in 21 days without actually ceasing to live is astounding to someone. And the trail circulates through what is possibly the most beautiful country in the world: France. It covers the flat lands of Belgium, the beautiful countryside of Northeastern France, the crushing climbs of the Alps, the quaint locale of Mediterranean France, the Pyrenees, and then into the glorious city of Paris for the big finish on the Champs Elysees. The only thing I ever did on the Champs was walk for hours without wearing sunscreen, thus transforming myself into a crustacean whose legs go well with butter. All of this intrigued me, but I had never actually WATCHED the Tour de France. That would change this year thanks to Sacha waking up and interrupting our movie. Since it was Sarah’s turn to help him out, I flicked the channel and up came the TDF.

A former colleague of mine was an avid athlete, training for triathlons while raising twins and working full-time as a pharmacy manager. Every year in July he would avail me with stories about the Tour de France. Although I could see that it must be an interesting event, I could not get into it. It is the racing equivalent of cricket for me. I do not understand it. As a rule I find it difficult to become interested in something I do not understand. So, I employed Wikipedia to help me understand.

First of all, how do you win? Well, essentially, the less time it takes you to finish the race, the higher you finish. Pretty simple. But then there is the difference between a simple stage and an individual time trial. What about the fact that riders ride for teams? Does that mean anything? Do these guys make any money for winning and, if so, how much? What are these cars driving up next to the riders and what do they give the riders? What is this nonsense about sprinting bonuses and mountain points? And these ceremonial colored jerseys? The yellow jersey, the green jersey, the red and white jersey that looks like maple tree vomit. What do they mean? And what the HELL is a peloton?

If you want answers to these questions, check out the Wikipedia article. As for the peloton, let us clear up this ridiculous word right now. Peloton shares an etymological origin with the English word platoon, literally meaning ball, but used in reference to the group, pack, or bunch of riders that forms during a road bicycle race. While it would seem paradoxical that a bunch of guys trying to beat each other in a race would want to race in a group, there are certain advantages to it that can only be understood by reading this.

I think I may follow it this year. If nothing else it will give me encouragement in my own biking adventure. Besides, it is just astonishing to watch these guys drive at close to the Timmins municipal speed limit for hours at a time, over 21 days, through 3500 km of unforgiving terrain. It gives one greater appreciation for the miraculous nature of the human body.

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