4 Ways the Tour de France Is Awesome if You Ignore the Bikes
The Tour de France: a 100-year-old bike race that spans an entire country. You know it better as the race Lance Armstrong turned his body into a mobile chemistry lab to win a bunch of times.
Like most Americans, for years I was as aware of the Tour as I am the booger hanging out of my nose when I meet someone new. My girlfriend is a huge fan of the Tour de France, so I guess that means I'm one, too. So for three weeks we suspended our normal TV and video game schedule to dedicate all of our free time to watching a bike race. These are the things I learned about a sporting event I used to know nothing about ...
Cycling Fans Are Fame Whores
I don't know when it happened, but at some point a strange phenomenon took hold of the world -- people started thinking that wearing a costume is a shortcut to getting noticed in a crowd. The stinky weirdos in front of Mann's Chinese Theater in LA and the audience of The Price Is Right are great examples, as are the diehard Tour de France fans who pack the thin, winding roads. To these fans, a bunch of whisper-thin dudes in tight stretchy pants on bicycles speeding by at 60 mph is an occasion to break out their man-thong and werewolf mask.
On any given race day you'll see Superman:
Batman and his longtime crime-fighting partner, Terror Chicken:
The classic dude-in-boxers-running-with-a-dead-pig:
And, of course, Satan:
This is an actual, serious competition with actual athletes who train all year. We're not sure when fans decided to start ruining it, but by 2013, the Tour's roads look like this:
The guy dressed as the devil up there is the best example. His real name is Dieter "Didi" Senft. Watch footage of nearly any stage of nearly any Tour since 1993 and you'll find Didi as the devil, hopping around and running beside the cyclists. He travels ahead of the cyclists and paints a trident on the road to let home viewers and cyclists know he's coming up. It's like a serial killer's calling card, but for fame whoring.
So OK, but what do his parents say he does when their friends ask?
All of this would be fine if the costumed spectators viewed themselves only as spectators. They're unofficial drunk hurdles. They wait beside the road for hours, sometimes days, getting wasted. They close in around the cyclists as they pass, narrowing their path from a full road to a gauntlet of drunks. Way more often than you'd think anyone would allow, a drunk Superman or Borat will chase down passing cyclists -- sometimes in large herds of drunk people -- and try to touch the cyclists or talk to them as they try to complete a race so grueling that apparently the only way to win is to cheat.
Because they're only humans, the cyclists get fairly pissed off at the drunks chasing them down. This leads to professional cycling being unique in that ...
It's the Only Professional Sport Where Athletes Can Hit the Fans
In 2004, NBA player Ron Artest was suspended for 86 games after hitting a fan during a Pistons-Pacers game. The event was even given an ominous name that we're instantly supposed to associate with sadness upon its mere mention like it was 9/11 -- the Malice at the Palace.
Cyclists so regularly hit fans that the play-by-play announcers barely even acknowledge it. No one will be sued afterward and no one will be kicked out or banned. Nothing happens; the race just goes on. It's a bizarre, unspoken agreement between crazy/drunk spectator and drugged-up, ultra-competitive athlete: "You can act like a dick, but if I can't take it anymore, I'm knocking you the fuck out." To this, the fan wordlessly agrees. And then it happens and everyone's cool. It's incredible. If this were an American sporting event, there would be a couple of lawsuits, some countersuits, a lifetime ban, major fines, some forced apologies, and then a reality show on Bravo about the guy who got punched called Punch Drunk Doug. (The guy's name is Doug.)
Like in this video, wherein the guy who would go on to win this year's Tour, Chris Froome, hits a fan and the announcer talks about it for about eight seconds with no hint of shock before transitioning back into the play-by-play.
Or in this one from 2011, where the same thing happens and the announcer's only remark on it was "Well, that was not very nice," as if he was doing the play-by-play on a dog shitting on a neighbor's lawn.
Not that the punch matters. A cyclist's punch looks like a guy's imitation of a limp-wristed girl punch. Asshole fans should be glad cyclists' legs are too busy pedaling.
Cyclists Andre Greipel and Robert Forstemann, moments before they impose their will upon your genitals.
Everyone's a dick and everyone accepts it. But, it's France -- if stereotypes are to be believed, the French are a bunch of elitist dicks. That must be why ...
The Whole Thing Explains the Origins of the French Being Elitist Dicks
There's a lot of history behind the attitudes of the French, all probably stemming from some 17th century king or duke or whatever thinking some foreign dignitary didn't bow with enough pizazz and the whole country just went downhill from there. Whatever the historical reason may be, watching the Tour de France tips you off to another reason -- France has a corrupting gorgeousness to it. Every second of the race is filled with images like this:
That's Le Mont Saint-Michel. It's a small town in Normandy with a monastery in the middle. According to the DVD special features, it was the inspiration for the city of Minas Tirith in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. French wizards go there to learn magic. It's a finish line for one of the stages of the race, and the place you see at the end of the tunnel of light when you're choking.
Here's the road between the towns of Blagnac and Brive-la-Gaillarde:
Millions of sunflowers -- and maybe a couple of unicorns, a giggly fairy, and a granted wish at the finish line.
And then there's the place that began this year's Tour, the French island of Corsica ...
... which looks like a place James Bond ducks rescue choppers as he fucks a girl while the end credits roll.
The French live in inspirational posters. If you grow up around something extraordinary, you'll eventually take it for granted. I think when French people are young, the beauty of their homeland messes with their brains, creating a near impossible standard of quality. This is the first, most intuitive lesson in elitist douchbaggery the French learn, and it's the foundation upon which every douchy, arrogant thought they have thereafter is built. To the French, anywhere and anything else in life must look like a crack den, like everything is thickly frosted with hepatitis and tetanus. If France and America were people, France would always ask America, "What happened?! Are you OK?" even though nothing happened. This is how we always look. You're a real dick, France.
Speaking of dick, the Tour de France sure has some of that. And assholes, too. The literal kind, because ...
The Tour de France Is All About Asses and Pissing
During the ninth stage of this year's Tour, the riders made their way through a rustic mountain town. Really pretty to look at, made me happy that I had an HD TV. And then this guy's ass fell out of his pants:
You wouldn't think a century-old three-week cycling race that spans about 2,000 miles would actually turn out to be a clever ploy to provide home viewers across the world with surprise genitalia, but it is.
The final manifestation of drunk lewdness and fame whoring is nudity. The Tour de France turns this not-yet-understood phenomenon into one long stretch of non-porn entertainment in which genitals flail meatily, as if they were dog jowls outside of a car window.
The tension will mount as a stage draws to an end, the cyclists pouring their souls into their pedals as the fans close in around them, almost willing the cyclists to cross the finish line. And then an ass will float by:
Or maybe even some guy's cock.
It doesn't stop at showing the genitals; we have to see them in use, too. From what I gather, there's a longstanding tradition at the Tour de France wherein the guy in the lead on the second-to-last day of the race is deemed the winner. The final day isn't rife with drama as the riders speed to the finish; it's more of a victory lap for the guy in first place. With many miles to go before the finish, this year's winner was handed a glass of champagne to celebrate.
The other cyclists didn't pack it in and go home; they pedaled on to the end, just now they didn't care anymore, like the guy to the far right in the image above.
That is the stream of a man whose every piss droplet is saturated with defeat. And probably performance-enhancing falcon DNA.
As Chris Froome rode to his inevitable victory, the sides of the road were filled with dozens of disgruntled, scowling pissers who watched the winner happily sip his bubbly.
There is no greater symbol of defeat than a champion celebrating with champagne as the losers soak his path to victory with their piss. That is the Tour de France in a nutshell.