I’m not sure why, but all the troubles of the tour seem to add to the appeal of the spectacle…
Originally posted on LIFE:
When it comes to sustained, frenzied fan enthusiasm around an athletic spectacle, few contests anywhere can match the Tour de France. Yes, the World Cup and the Olympics are phenomenal, and phenomenally anticipated, happenings that devotees follow, utterly riveted, for weeks on end — but they’re quadrennial events, which might account for at least some of the hype and the slavish attention they enjoy. The Super Bowl, meanwhile, has ballooned through the years into an unavoidable mid-winter juggernaut — a gaudy, hyper-macho circus that draws in fanatics and the curious, alike, from all over the globe — but these days a huge number of American football fans admit to paying more attention to the TV commercials that (happily) break up the action than to the often long, long, long game itself.
For the Tour de France, on the other hand, entire countries seem to stand still. For the three weeks that the riders are pushing themselves to the very edge of human exertion, and then pushing beyond, millions of people think of nothing else, talk of nothing else, watch and read of nothing else. C’est tout!
That said, of course, not everything Tour de France-related is quite sweetness and light, no matter how overwhelming the attention it receives or how celebrated its history. After all, it’s impossible to even touch upon the tour without addressing the sport’s colossal and enduring doping problem, an issue so well-documented that big-time bicycling can sometimes make horse racing feel, by comparison, like an utterly pure, unblemished pursuit. Indeed, there are times when it seems as if every bicycling champion in recent memory has either tested positive for a banned substance, or has been and will forever be hounded by undying accusations.