As July comes to a close, so does one of my favorite sporting events of the year, the Tour de France. Le Tour is a three-week slugfest of elite bike riders who spend about 5 hours a day on a two-wheeled machine going crazy fast. Riders must face different road conditions from asphalt to cobble stones, and lots of country roads. Through corn fields, traversing wineries, and stunning coast lines, it is a feast for the eyes.
Riders travel 2100 miles! That’s almost Seattle to New York. Many of those miles are up imposing mountains in the Alps and Pyrenees. Sometimes they face three major climbs a day with 12-17% grade. This is not for the faint of heart.
Riders travel in teams, the elite team this year was Team Sky. It is impossible to win the tour without help from your teammates. There is tremendous efficiency in having someone ride ahead of you. Riders called domestiques “spend themselves” for you. The domestiques know their role, it is to take care of their team captain so that he has energy to win the race. Perhaps I like this so much because it reminds me of Jesus who spent himself for us; He gives himself that we might win the race.
Large groups of riders form a pack. This is called the peloton. Riders who stay in the peloton get an efficiency of up to 30%. Think of geese who fly in formation! So the peloton makes up the power engine each day churning out the miles. But there is always a group of riders, called the breakaway, that think they can beat the peloton. So it is a cat and mouse game. The riders break off with high hopes until the power of the peloton catches them. But sometimes, the breakaway wins the stage!
The overall winner of the race is the man who finishes with the lowest time over all 21 days. This year there was some drama. The three-time winner, Chris Froome, had a teammate that rode better. We watched the team captain role switch from Froome to his next in command, Geraint Thomas. Some teams implode under that, but Sky took it in stride. Froome ended up taking third overall.
Le Tour is a big plunge for July. Here and gone! And we wait another eleven months to do it all again. The sport continues to fascinate me.