Generally speaking, I like watching sports. I'll sit through extra innings in baseball, scoreless hockey games and, when nothing else is on, pool. Even if I have no personal investment in who comes out on top, there is something fundamentally appealing about witnessing an entire lifetime of practice and struggle culminate in achievement. Somebody has to win, and success, much like sex, is fun to watch even if I'm not the one having it.
Though, ideally, I prefer a combination of the two.
The one exception to this rule is the Tour de France, an event I follow strictly to see people lose. The victories in the three-week race will never be as gratifying to witness as the failures. News recaps each night don't concentrate on stage winners or team tactics, they stick to the crashes and the controversy because after all the
allegations of cheating, and all the riders' temper tantrums, and the inappropriate contract negotiations
mid race, no one wants to see any of them win. We want to see them fall. As the race starts to resemble reality TV more than an athletic event, anyone with a casual interest in the Tour de France isn't watching to see how it goes, they are watching to see how it goes wrong. And it goes wrong all the time, in every direction. I like the Tour, but as long as the following four hunks of insanity are still predominant in the race, then the spectacle will always outweigh the sport and I will only watch for the disasters it consistently spits out.
Baseball can take comfort at the NA meetings knowing that as close as it comes to rock bottom with performance-enhancing drugs, it will never sink as low as cycling. Drug use is so abundant in the Tour de France that it would be more difficult to point to riders who haven't been convicted or accused of doping than those who have. Each year, scandals overshadow the event as riders are kicked out for failing drug tests before turning around to accuse other riders until the controversy gets more
coverage than the Tour. The whole thing feels like a witch hunt, except one where everyone actually is a witch, and they use their magic to ride bicycles really fast.
"C'mon, Dorothy, what are you? A pussy? Race me!"
This isn't a recent phenomenon either; the Tour de France has an illustrious history of incentivizing cheaters. During the first few years of the race, cyclists used ether and alcohol to
dull the pain. In 1967, Tom Simpson was so full on amphetamines that he fell over dead at the top of a climb in the 13th stage, and in the last few years, riders have consistently been caught using EPO, HGH and steroids. It may seem absurd that they would choose to use enhancers they know Tour officials would test for, but it's also possible that, given the ubiquity of drug use among racers, they just forget they aren't allowed to do it. The most bizarre and horrifying method for cheating, however, is also incredibly difficult to detect. Blood doping
involves a transfusion of blood rich in red blood cells, either from a donor or from the racer himself, so that the blood oxygenates better while riding. It is also my worst nightmare. It works because the blood can be drawn months in advance and then frozen until the riders need it. Lance Armstrong was accused by former teammates of blood doping, but to date they're only allegations that still eat up time during the current Tour de France even though he's not even racing. Drug abuse is so intrinsic to cycling that there will never be a year where it isn't the spotlight of the Tour. What's more, the constant accusations among rival riders and even teammates has deteriorated any camaraderie the sport once had, which makes everyone in the Tour hard to root for and also leads to a lot more ...
hate each other, and when they're not busy hating each other, they hate microphones and cameras and race officials. There is so much outspoken animosity among riders in the Tour de France, that calling it a rivalry sounds too benevolent. The primary reason behind all the bitterness is that most riders are pretty awful people to be around. Their egos are nurtured in a way that only cycling can; it's one of the only sports in which an entire team is built around helping one man succeed. The consequences of allowing one rider the power to use everyone else on his team like a pawn fosters some pretty unparalleled arrogance. Also, a lot of whining.
"Somebody pay attention to me."
In 2009, two of those riders found themselves on the same team, Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador both rode for Astana and spent the whole time fighting ...
with words. Contador said, "My relationship with Lance Armstrong is nonexistent. Even if he is a great champion, I have never had admiration for him and I never will." To which Armstrong responded, "There is no 'I' in 'team.' What did I say in March? Lots to learn. Restated." And then the world said, "Jesus Christ, just ride your fucking bikes already." The whole exchange came on the heels of a victory for team Astana which only solidified how petty and self-serving the argument was in the first place. Still, it was only one act in the massive drama of Tour riders hurling insults and their skinny little arms at one another. It's hard to feel bad for any of them knowing full well that a huge percentage are cheating anyway. And while it's rare to see any of them apologize or eat their words, there are still plenty of opportunities to see them eat asphalt instead, which is almost as gratifying.
Just like a game of Mario Kart, it doesn't matter how phenomenal a racer is in the Tour de France, objects in the road are always the great equalizer. While riders will never tumble over a fake prize box or an errant green shell, the things they do trip over are equally bizarre. Most notably: dogs. The tour has
seen so many dogs wandering into the path of bikers and causing massive accidents that logic would suggest France invent some sort of leather or nylon cord an owner could attach to the dog's collar while holding the other end in order to restrict its movements.
Something like this, except for dogs.
Even though the dogs bend bike rims with their bodies, they generally end up just fine after one of these crashes. The riders, on the other hand, never fare as well and often leave the race with broken collar bones and busted faces. Crashes on the Tour can be career-ending and the fault can lie with something as simple as a
Coke bottle. With consequences that high, accidents are the most memorable parts of a Tour, and they become the main reason why people tune in to watch. The irony then, is that sometimes the media coverage is exactly what causes the accidents.
While that particular accident almost looks intentional, the French media car was trying to avoid a tree and instead clipped a biker since human bodies are more forgiving to car hoods than tree trunks. The car was trying to get ahead of the pack to get a better shot of the leaders and instead changed the entire outcome of the stage, and the career of at least two racers. Still, it's the prospect of disaster that makes a sport like bicycle riding compelling. If long distance runners could bump into spectators and careen off into barbwire fences, then more people would probably watch marathons. Biking, by nature, is just boring to sit through unless there is a threat of mortal peril. The Tour de France offers that perpetual threat around every turn, manifesting itself in unpredictable
The Tour is unique in that it's one of the only worldwide events held in the streets instead of a stadium, which means anyone can go watch for free,
even idiots. What's more, there's nothing separating the fans from the riders and the results are exactly what you would expect, only more absurd.
Throw "French" into the equation and the rabbit hole has no bottom.
Nothing makes sense about these fans. Many of them have outfits so far unrelated to cycling or the Tour that it looks like they just walked into a costume store and panicked. And when they can't get a costume in time, then apparently the next best option is to just
Aside from the distraction inherent to fat naked men in capes, fans will also dart out in front of cyclists with flags and move them away at the last second like a bullfighter -- or they'll run next to bikers trying, to have candid conversations with them, oblivious to the fact that the cyclists are in the most pain they've ever felt in their lives.
This fan was likely either having sex or taking a shit when he suddenly remembered there was something important he had to do.
I'm assuming this is all meant to encourage the rider, yet for such die-hard fans of the sport, it's shocking how frequently they forget how bicycles work.
"Hey, that's a cool wheelie thing you ha- aaAAAGHHN!"
In addition, every fan of one rider is an enemy to the others, heckling takes on a new meaning when spectators are within distance to
punch riders they don't like as they pass. That level of intimacy with fanatics is terrifying and remarkable to witness, from the comfort of my couch. With naked or costumed spectators pouring onto the course and acting as costumed meat hazards, the whole thing is such a hot mess of insanity that I almost feel bad for the cyclists. Still, I will encourage it all by watching it, all of it. Not because I care who wins the climbs or the sprints, but because I'm sucked in by the controversies, the pouting heroes and especially because I want to see which naked guy in a snorkel mask will ruin the race next.