I’m not tri (not that there’s anything wrong with that)

4 07 2010

Sunday is supposed to be a prime riding day; but I was having trouble getting motivated this morning.

Our interminable summer of grayness might have had something to do with it; it’s the first weekend in July and there’s no way I should still be wearing sleeves and knee warmers!

The only thing blue in this photo is my arm warmers! I shouldn't have to be wearing these in July!

But after getting up early to watch the first stage of the Tour de France, there’s no way I couldn’t ride. Like Katie says, I love the Tour, this is my favorite time of year, this is Game Time.

I’ve had a love affair with Le Tour since the 1980s, when I watched the weekend highlight shows on CBS Sports Spectacular, with John Tesh as host and, apparently, soundtrack composer. I was captivated by spectacle, the crashes, the beautiful French countryside and picturesque villages, and, of course, Greg LeMond’s stunning victory¬† over Laurent Fignon in the final stage Time Trial of the 1989 Tour.

The 1990s were kinda lean times for us Tour-o-philes as the tv coverage bounced between CBS, ABC and ESPN. We were lucky to get a half hour late night recap show.

The emergence of Lance Armstrong from cancer survivor to Tour champion sparked a renaissance of tv coverage. Upstart cable network OLN acquired the rights and started broadcasting stages live every day. It was so cool to be able to finally be able to watch the final 60 or 70 kilometers of each day’s race unfold live while eating breakfast.

But it was “The Look” that really ignited my passion for Le Tour.

As the time difference between France and the west coast meant live Tour coverage usually started at five a.m. or so, I was usually content to just catch the last hour or so, then watch the highlights in the evening. But for some reason, I’d awoken early on the morning of Stage 10 of the 2001 Tour. Lance, going for his third straight victory since coming back to the sport from his battle with cancer, was suffering as the peloton approached the legendary Alpe d’Huez for the first of that year’s Alps’ stages. His main rival, Jan Ullrich, seemed completely in control. The two of them were together as they hit the climb’s lower slopes, Armstrong laboring, sweating, bobbing up and down. Ullrich was calm, cool, pedaling a strong cadence.

Suddenly, as they came around a bend, Lance got out of the saddle and accelerated. Ullrich was glued to his seat. Armstrong glanced back over his shoulder, as if to throw his rival a challenge, “show me what you’ve got.” Ullrich had no answer. He was beaten. The glance became “The Look,” one of the most electric moments in cycling history.

That morning I couldn’t stop talking about “The Look” at work, I was so jazzed by what I’d witnessed. My co-workers must have thought I’d gone off the deep end; who the hell gets up to watch a bike race at five in the morning????

From that day on, I was hooked. I got up early every morning, even the ones when the live coverage started at four a.m. Of course, I wasn’t my best at work those days, because I was so tired. So I started setting aside a week or two of vacation to be able to watch the final week of the Tour.

While watching the ’02 Tour, I decided someday I had to go see it in person. I discovered all these tour companies that offered escorted tours to the Tour; some of them even involved cycling parts of stages ahead of the race. I signed up.

I’d be watching and riding the last 10 days of the ’03 Tour, the race’s centenary, and Lance’s stab at a fifth straight win. I blew the dust off my road bike, which had been gathering cobwebs as I had gone to the mountain bike side; if I was to ride up the Col d’Aspin and Luz Ardiden in the Pyrenn√©s, I’d have to be in shape.

That’s been pretty much my routine every July since then. Get up for the live coverage, no matter how early it starts, book some time off for the last week or two, and then do some serious riding the rest of the day; if the riders in the Tour can suffer, then I must suffer a little as well!

When Katie and I moved into our loft last Spring, she winced at the thought of the fate which awaited her in July. You see, there are no secrets in a loft, there’s no doors to shut out the sound and light from the tv. Thank goodness for earbuds!

It's 5:30 in the morning; time for Le Tour!

It took me about a half hour to overcome my cycling ennui after this morning’s stage. After Friday’s country ride, I was back into the urban vibe, heading out on my usual route towards UBC and Jericho beach. Instead of cows and the occasional llama, I saw dude on the balcony of his first-floor apartment taking a hit on his hash pipe.

Strangely, there was a lack of fellow roadies as I approached the university grounds, which is usually a major destination for group rides. Then I saw the pylons and signage; the whole area had been co-opted by a triathlon (actually, it was a half-ironman aka aluminumman)!

Now, I have tremendous respect for the athleticism of triathletes; swimming in open water for 4 km, riding for 180 km and then topping it all off with a full-on marathon run is no easy feat. But they’re an odd lot.

They doggedly stick to their individualism despite competing in a sport that screams for team dynamics; imagine having a team of swimmers breaking the waves for their leader, or teammates setting the pace during the run or ride portions.

Their fashion sense leaves a lot to be desired and little to the imagination; I mean, shorty-shorts and tight tank tops wouldn’t be a bad choice if this was the Sports Illustrated swimsuit model triathlon, but not so much on super lean sinewy triathletes.

No swimsuit models in this lot. Why do triathletes always look so dour?

Their bikes are weird. And they can’t be much fun to ride, as triathletes seldom seem to smile when they’re on them, and they NEVER wave to other cyclists.

A whole cattle pen of carbon fiber weirdness.

Anyhow, as the cycling leg of the event seemed to be concluded, and the roads were still closed, I decided to go with the flow and take advantage, as did a couple of other roadies I encountered. The course marshalls and traffic control people must have thought we were triathlon laggards, as they clapped and shouted encouragement as we passed. I resisted the urge to shout out,” good god, I’m not one of the THEM…”