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.