Things We Noticed: The Tour de France Turned 100 (Updated)
Earlier this year, the 100th edition of the Tour de France began on the island of Corsica in the Mediterranean Sea, the first time the spectacle had graced the birthplace of Napoleon. And the first time in 10 years the event had been held entirely within France.
Notice my careful choice of the word spectacle. I’m test driving that term this year. After the ignominious events of the last two decades in the industry previously known as the sport of road bicycle racing, I think the term fits. And it helps me continue to enjoy what I still like about these events.
After all — I’m still wildly excited about the routes. What road cyclist wouldn’t be? We’re suckers for a good route map, a good info graphic. We see it spread out before us, and our primary instinct is to want to ride it — to experience it — to ponder its enormity. And, perhaps — to inhabit the pro version of the rider we think we could be, and to imagine if we could conquer it in that guise.
And then there’s the gear. The splashiest introductions of the latest, most advanced hardware designed to make cyclists go faster, more comfortably, more efficiently, more stylishly — it’s all unveiled this time of year, and the Tour is the excuse to let it all lose in front of the world’s media. These are the products we’ll be targeting for our clients in the coming years — and we lap up the spy shots as much as the next gear head.
And finally, there’s the artistry, the sporting style of the theatre of the event itself. The colors. The jerseys. The scenery. The speed. The descents. The tifosi. The crashes, the blood. The podium, the stuffed lions, the podium girls, and the champagne.
But as a sporting event — as fact — it has sadly been placed on hiatus until further notice. The problem has been that pesky list of rules, and we all know which ones those are. We’re not talking about the ones concerning helmets, hitching an occasional ride on a team car, race radios, or unzipped jerseys.
We’re talking about drugs, and the havoc with integrity they have caused.
Will we solve this problem by the Tour’s 200th edition?
The spectacle will likely survive. Momentum alone will ensure that. But will it ever regain its relevance in a sporting sense?
Some say it already has, since many teams, weary of sponsor pull-outs and public skepticism, are beginning to follow the Team Garmin-Sharp model of espousing “clean rider” ethics and policies. Problem is, there’s almost zero evidence these policies are making the current generation of riders any cleaner than the previous generation. What to do then?
Some say a change of leadership is needed (achieved!). Others suggest more data transparency can help plug the gaping holes in the efficacy of the drug testing regimes. Still others say the problem is primarily financial — could the stability of a rider’s union really help? It certainly hasn’t freed Major League Baseball from the same temptations. Ultimately, are we headed for an anything goes future?
Ironically, the right drug regimens may someday make it possible for us to realistically dream of witnessing the 200th Tour in person.
In the meantime, we hope you enjoyed the spectacle this year! We did, despite a wandering eye for the latest speculation on the authenticity of the victor. Ultimately, we share the view that in today’s era, Grand Tour trophies really need to be withheld for a decade until they can be awarded with a straight face.
Finally. if you haven’t already, consider using Steephill.tv to follow the action in the future. They’re our favorite launching pad for all things pro cycling — photos, results, maps, live streaming video, and text updates. Chapeau Steve Steephill!