Thursday, 14 July 2011

Tour de France

Is anyone else a fan? Him indoors and I are glued to it for three weeks every July. We have a long-standing dream to buy a campervan and follow the Tour one year. When it came to Britain back in 1994 we cycled those legs ahead of the race, and went to see them both. Same again when it went to Ireland a few years later.

Those who don't watch cycling perhaps think it's just a huge number of cyclists all trying to be first over the line. It's actually so much more than that. The Tour de France is a 3-week long race, winding its way through France and often crossing borders into neighbouring countries. It goes over the Pyrenees and Alps. There are flat stages, hilly stages, sprints, time trials. There are three main competitions - the Yellow Jersey, the Green Jersey and the Polka Dot Jersey. The Yellow is worn by the current overall leader - the person with the lowest overall time. The Green is won by the person with the most points from sprints. The Polka Dot is won by the best climber. So no matter what your speciality is in cycling terms, there's a prize to aim for. If you're a sprinter but no good at climbing, go for the green. If you can ride uphill quickly, go for the polka dot - King of the Mountains. Or you could try to be part of a breakaway - a small group of riders who get ahead of the peloton (main group) - and try to win one day's stage.

And then there's the team dynamics. Cycling is most definitely not each man for himself. The top sprinters rely on team-mates to lead them into the sprint. You save approximately 30% effort if you ride close up behind someone else, in their slipstream. So a team which includes the best sprinters will position themselves near the front of the peloton as they near the finish line, and each team member (known as domestiques) will take a turn at the front, cycling as hard as he can to keep the speed up. Finally with just a couple of hundred metres to go, the last team member will peel away leaving the sprinter to go into top gear and hopefully win the stage. Those team members give their all, but get no fame or credit for it outside of the cycling community.

TdeF cyclists must be amongst the toughest sportsmen in the world. There was a horrific accident the other day which sent one rider flying into a barbed wire fence. He was patched up and back on his bike in minutes, and went on to finish the stage and gain the Polka Dot jersey. He needed 30 stitches. He's still in the Tour, still cycling, and is my new favourite cyclist. (Johnny Hoogerland. He's cute too.)

Finally, at the end, the man in the Yellow Jersey at the end of the race is the overall winner. But every man who's made it to the end - the race traditionally finishes on the Champs Elysee in Paris - is a winner.

So what has all this to do with writing? Well I suppose we could come up with some tortured analogies. The different jerseys are like different genres. A climber will never win a sprint - a top romance writer is unlikely to publish a best-selling thriller. But they're all valid, all worthwhile, and each of us has our own specialities and strengths. Each stage win is one cyclist's 15 minutes of fame, just as each book launch is one writer's moment in the spotlight. The domestiques who launch the sprinter to his win are like the unsung heros - agents, publishers, editors, cover artists - behind a bestselling book. The cyclists picking themselves up after a crash and going on to finish the stage - well those are like writers after a rejection of course. Get up, dress your wounds and keep on trying. Don't give up.

The Tour de France is about so much more than the glory of the final overall winner, although that's the man who'll be on the front pages at the end, dressed in yellow. There are lots of winners along the way. And losers, and plenty of drama.

It's like a three week soap opera. I love it. Really, I just wanted to write about the Tour. They went over the Tourmalet today (big hill. Him indoors wants to cycle up it someday. I'll drive the support car.) Sammy Sanchez, a climber, won the stage, sadly taking the polka dot jersey from Hoogerland.

And finally, a quote from Lance Armstrong for all those slaving over edits - Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts for ever. Now that IS relevant to writing.


Sally Zigmond said...

Hi from another big TDF fan! Hubby and I are also glued. It is an amazing event--so much more than a bike race. Mark Cavendish just gets better and better. I used to think he was a bit of an arrogant brat but now he is more mature and quick to praise his team.

I want Andy Shleck to win the GC. Don't like Contador much. I hope Brad will be back next year. I cried when he broke his collarbone.

I've been in a car over the Col de Tourmalet and the Col d'Aubisque several times when we used to holiday in that area. (Love to see Alpe d'Huez.) To see all the chalked names still on the road left over from two months before was amazing. Our boys took loads of photos.

It's our dream to follow the tour one day in our van. See you there!

womagwriter said...

We could park our vans side by side and clink glasses while the boys go by - yes, see you there!

We've been up Alpe d'Huez in a coach on the way to the ski resort there. Amazing road. Got a suitcase sticker to show for it.

I was upset too when Wiggins crashed out. One day, I hope to see him on the podium in Paris.

Old Kitty said...

Well I'm not a fanatic TDF-er but I do appreciate the sportsmanship and flamin hard graft these sportsmen go through (women should either just gate crash and join in too or have their own! Yay!!! )Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, loved the analogies to the craft of writing!! take care

Lynne Hackles said...

I can't remember the name of the mountain in the Pyrenees where we slept in the car park with thousands of other fans and waited all day to see our heroes. We were in France that year to see our son who was then a semi-professional racing on the continent. It's amazing to be there, and very emotional. I'd love to go back.

Julie P said...

I'm not a fan, either, but I appreciate the challenge and true determination the riders must have to do it - oh, that and lots of men in tight cycling shorts - sorry!

Julie xx

Geraldine Ryan said...

I like it too - love watching the French countryside roll by! Other half glued and we have to record it if he's at work. I love your analogy, Womag! great post!

rodgriff said...

make that three camper vans. I love it too and I now have axon in law who is a mad cyclist.
That last quote of yours fromArmstrong I hadn't heard before, brilliant, a whole philosophy in one line.

sallyjenkins said...

My other half is a cycling fanatic & comandeers the TV during July. I've never been interested up until now but you've explained it all so well maybe I'll join him on the settee tonight and make intelligent (?) comments!
By the way - I loved the quotation about quitting.

rodgriff said...

My apologies, the predictive text thing on my iPad seems determined to make nonsense out of everything I type today. I have a son in law who is a cyclist, not an axon, though for those who know ahat an axon is, some are involved in cycling.

Elaine Everest said...

I'd never really given the sport much attention until the year it came to England. We stood for an hour or so in Dartford (Kent) amongst fans and photographers until the racers approached. There was a lovely party atmosphere and we spoke to family of one of the participants who were decked out in flags and signs.
I didn't realise there was going to be a lead up to the race until cars decked in advertising and strange characters shot past. I aimed my camera, there was a bike, I clicked. The cyclists shot past - I had one blured image!

I'd definitely watch again.

Quillers said...

Forgive me for going off topic here, womag, but I've got a pdf file of the new My Weekly Pocket Novel guidelines on my blog here which I know will interest you and the lovely blog readers.

Feel free to link directly to the pdf file at

womagwriter said...

Rod - ok, 3 camper vans! We'll book a good hillside.

Julie - I wasn't going to mention the lycra-clad bums. But now that you have, well, they're something of a draw. Mind you when hubby puts on his bib-shorts he reminds me more of Giant Haystacks...

Lynne - yes I find it emotional too.

Elaine - it's like a carnival, isn't it?

Sally - thanks will go take a look.

Jenny Woolf said...

You must be very fit to cycle some of those sections, even if you're not racing. Wow.!

Nan Sheppard said...

Chas has been bitten HARD by the cycling bug. He's been at the new velodrome every Wednesday, learning to ride 'fixies'. He's shaved his head. He's got a yellow reflective shirt and sexy pants and he's not afraid to wear 'em. I hardly ever see him! If you're looking for a team mate, he's your guy!