Maybe it’s the narcissist in me or maybe I never really learned how to share properly, but I prefer my birthday over Christmas. My birthday is the one day of the year where everything is about me. No feigning interest in other people’s gifts, no getting distracted by any greater meaning. Just me and my loot, as it was meant to be. Speaking of loot, getting older may mean the lure of presents is less strong than it was as a child – because I buy most of the stuff I want anyway – but with age comes into sharp focus the pleasure in not having to answer to anyone else, even if for only a day. Being king for 1/365th of the year, it’s undeniably glorious.
Christmas, on the other hand, isn’t supposed to be about anyone. Its about peace and love and hope and a bunch of other stuff that isn’t going to bring you any closer to Rule #12 Compliance or trimming enough grams off your steed to offset the numerous post-ride recovery ales that get consumed after even the shortest of rides. World Peace is lovely, but I’d prefer to set a new personal record on Haleakala without changing my lifestyle or needing to make any personal sacrifices, thank you very much. But Christmas does have one massive thing going for it: you spend the whole month thinking about it, outfitting your house with festive paraphernalia and slaughtering a perfectly healthy pine tree in order to briefly pitch it in a bucket in your living room. We call this process “Getting Into the Holiday Spirit”. In other words, my birthday may well be more spectacular in its purity, but there is no denying the excitement of spending an entire month being consumed by an event.
When it comes to Grand Tours, I liken the excitement of the Giro to my birthday, the Tour to Christmas, and the Vuelta to a coworker’s birthday. The Giro is raw; a race where everything happens without a script. The geography of the country makes it nearly impossible to link too many flat stages together in series like the Tour does, and the lower prestige of the event means the field tends to, on balance, yield a more open and exciting race. And, I’ll be the first to admit, loving the Giro above the others gives the irrational indulgence of feeling that I’m in on a secret, that I’m sufficiently cultured to look past the shiny exterior, kind of like preferring mutts to pure-breeds.
The Tour, on the other hand, has all the trappings of its shiny exterior, even if it still boasts the substance to merit its popularity. But too many Tours have been too predictable. Indurain was a fantastic rider but an unimaginative one. Then after a short series of one-off winners, we dove headlong into Pharmstrong’s string of strangled Tours. Not so much the doping, mind you, but the style in which he controlled the races gave us some fleeting excitement until Stage 10 when all interest was wiped from the event with a first-uphill-finish-wiping of the floors. If I’d been the one pushing the pedals, I’d have done it exactly the same way for as long as I could get away with it (minus the degree in pharmacology), but it makes for unexciting spectating. The following uninspiring wins haven’t helped to liven things up much, culminating with the Spider’s number-watching. Again, I have to say that if I was the one staking my career and life on it I’d endeavor to make the margins as big as possible as early as possible. But I’m not racing; I’m here to be entertained, damnit.
Nevertheless, the Tour is the only event of our great sport that peaks the interest of those even outside the sport; its the only time of the year when I get a fresh batch of people to bore with in-depth explanations of the different jerseys, why stage winners aren’t normally winning the Tour as well, and why it’s much more sophisticated a sport than just mashing away at a set of pedals. (My dear Grandmother, Merckx rest her soul, one day remarked that Cycling seemed easier than tennis because you get to sit down the whole time.) The news outlets will comment on the racing (and, infuriatingly, the doping if they are given even the slightest excuse). Then there’s the Live, afternoon, evening, and Prime-Time coverage of the race. All in High Definition. No pixelated streams which always seem to freeze up with 500m to go. Just pure, unadulterated coverage of bicycle racing on our biggest stage.
The Giro may well be the purist’s Grand Tour, but there is nothing like the Tour. And, like a college student on a weekend bender, I’m not giving any thought to the massive coverage-hangover I’m bound to suffer when its all over.
Vive Le Tour, it’s going to be a hell of a month. Vive la Vie Velominatus.