The 101st running of the Tour de France kicks off July 5th and concludes July 27th on the famous streets of the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Plain and simple, my goal here is to try and convince you (mostly other Americans) to take the three week journey with me and discover what the Tour de France truly has to offer. So, here are five reasons why Americans should follow the 2014 Tour de France.
5. You’re Curious
Half of my job is already done. You clicked on the article so you must be at least a little interested in what’s taking place over in France in the next few weeks. All I have left to do now is to persuade you to act on that curiosity. The first thing I have to ask you to do is to leave your preconceived notions about cycling in the past.
Cycling isn’t a bunch of dopers pedaling around on bikes, nor is it all about a 7-time Tour de France Champion that cheated and then lied about it to keep a clean reputation. That’s the past. The sport is doing everything it can to move past that dark era and onward to a brighter future. While performance enhancing drugs still need to be eradicated completely from the sport, cycling is an exciting spectacle to watch regardless if there are cyclists trying to cheat the system.
4. The Scenery
The Tour de France brings an element that major sports just can’t offer: the great outdoors. Yes, I know baseball, football, and soccer are all played outside but they are all played in defined areas (aka stadiums). In cycling the “stadium” is always changing throughout the race which means as spectators you aren’t looking at the same field for three straight hours but at a part of the world that you might never get to experience in person.
It’s a 21-day sight seeing tour starting with the grand departure in the United Kingdom to the final stage in Paris. From the beautiful countryside to the top of the majestic Col du Tourmalet, it’s a free vacation taking place right in your living room.
3. The Atmosphere
The Tour de France is and always will be the biggest cycling race in world. Its long history sets it apart from every race on the cycling calendar. It’s the race every cyclist wants to take part in, so every year it gives the viewers the best cycling has to offer (at least on paper, real results may vary).
The crowds are enormous and enthusiastic. Yet, at the same time the race can also be peaceful and medatative to watch while taking in the scenery. I like to think of the atmosphere as the invisible fine line between reason #4 and reason #2.
It’s what makes cycling interesting to some people and boring for others to watch.
2. The Tactics
There are 22 teams of 9 cyclists each for a total of 198 cyclists; each one dreaming of achieving certain goals. The obvious ultimate goal is to win the Tour de France, but that’s really only a realistic goal for a handful of cyclists. So, what about everyone else?
The biggest misconception about cycling is that it’s an individual sport. As a matter of the fact there are no individuals without having the team first. There are a strong majority of cyclists that are solely brought to the Tour to look after their team leader. For many their goal is to just finish the 21 stages.
There are also different types of leaders. It’s not realistic for everyone to have same dream of winning the Tour because riders are built differently and climbers will always walk away with the yellow jersey at the end of the race. So, there are four other classifications for the teams to aim at: points, king of the mountain, youth, and team.
If that’s not enough, with 198 cyclists sometimes it’s getting into the morning breakaway that is considered an achievement for certain riders. It’s a chance to get their sponsor and face on television.
1. Bandwagon Accessible
First off, I’d like to say congrats on making it this far into the article without leaving. You’ll be happy to know that now is a great time to get into cycling as an American. The USA has three teams taking part in this year’s edition: BMC Racing, Garmin – Sharp, and Trek Factory Racing. While all three teams will feature cyclists from other countries in their lineup, it’s a growing testament of the popularity of cycling in the United States after the Lance Armstrong era.
Still can’t wrap your head around supporting a team? Find riders you like and follow them. If you are looking to stay nationalistic then I suggest keeping a close eye on climbers Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing) and Andrew Talansky (Garmin – Sharp). But, the best advice I can really give is to follow cyclists that you find their riding style, mentality, or even celebrations enjoyable to watch.
There is no such thing as bandwagon fans in cycling, everyone is welcomed; especially if you’re American. Enjoy the spectacle and take the opportunity to learn more about some of the most underrated athletes in the world.
Watch the Tour de France on NBC Sports starting July 5th. Live broadcasts are shown in the morning with reruns of the stage played throughout the day.