One of the best parts of bicycling is the ability to be simultaneously close to the road and seemingly close to the sky.
Riding in a car lulls the senses to sleep: the air conditioned comfort, the smooth talking DJ, the plush heated seats. Cars are like Barcaloungers on wheels. Or like the cushy seating at that movie theater in Sun Prairie.
Bicycling affords no such comforts, even with those supple seats.
The most grueling of bicycling races is the Tour de France. The course traverses more than two thousand miles over 23 days and ends in downtown Paris. This year, nearly 200 riders on 22 teams raced over mountains and through city streets.
Last week, Chris Froome won his third title at the Tour de France. Froome is part of the British club, Team Sky. The team has won four of the last five Tours.
For those unfamiliar with professional bicycling: Team Sky is sort of like the Yankees of this sport. It has a huge budget. But It also uses vast amounts of data to be efficient.
Part of Team Sky’s victories lie in its ability to back up its leader. On a slippery downhill portion of the race, one teammate even gave up his bicycle to Froome after he smashed his own.
Broken bones are a workplace hazard.
And then there are all the unmentioned contributions that go along with being on a race team such as ferrying water bottles up through the pack, twice a day.
Froome has excellent teammates, and knows it. He said: “If I was riding for a small team it would be very different.” There is no I in Team Sky.
It was a great team effort, and Chris Froome gave an incredible individual effort, too. He ran up mountains, sprinted hard and moved with the flow of the earth.
The Tour has 21 stages and during Stage 12 part of the swarm of bicyclists got into a horrific crash. One bicyclist slammed into a motorcycle loaded with media transmission equipment. He and a few other cyclists, including Froome, tumbled onto the road.
Froome was OK but he was left with a broken bike after a large police motorcycle ran over it.
In the ensuing confusion, Froome began to run up the mountain until he could get a proper replacement bike from the support vehicle.
It was a pivotal time for the Tour de France. There have been three major terrorist attacks in France over the past 19 months.
And despite the threat of violence, the Tour de France is one of few sports where fans can still get close to the action.
How close? Close enough to get smacked in the face. Chris Froome punched a spectator who was a bit overzealous. In a split second, Froome had to choose between crashing or pushing a fan out of the way. He chose not to crash.
There’s something medieval about the Tour de France–the elaborate costumes, the division of labor within these teams, the preening masculinity, the “crowning” of kings.
Yet there is something unmistakably modern about racing too. Within the last ten years, professional bike racing has gone through a huge technological change.
Thanks to the ever-shrinking size of digital technology, cyclists generate huge amounts of data. Handle-bar mounted computers can record so much more than speed and distance. Nearly everything can be monitored: heart-rate, pedaling rate and the ever so seductive sounding “power output.”
Technology moves so fast that now race officials must be on the lookout for tiny motors fitted into the lightweight carbon-fiber bikes. Mechanical doping may replace biological doping.
It’s crazy watching the Tour de France on TV. Motorcycles, cameras, and the bikes crowd the roads. In all likelihood, the terrible crash during Stage 12 was caused by a motorcycle used to stream media.
And this is the weirdest part of Tour de France:
In our ever visual culture, the thing that saves it–the up close cameras–may be the thing that crashes it.
For WORT News, this is Elizabeth DiNovella