My Heart is Racing

I  love bike racing. I love to do it, and I love to watch it. And there is no bike race on earth that makes my heart pound and my palms sweat like the Tour de France. In terms of cycling, it is the World Cup, Christmas, and Miss Universe Pageant all rolled into one beautiful French package, lovingly drizzled in dark chocolate and dipped in blood, sweat and tears. This race offers it all: breathtaking scenery, heart-stopping drama, heros and villains, and some of the sexiest legs on earth.

Last night’s screening of Chasing Legends was a well-crafted and interesting documentary that captured the spirit of the Great Tour. It was also well attended, which I was thrilled to see. The who’s who of Winnipeg cycling was at the theatre, everyone from national racers to bike couriers (sorry if that was your Cervelo, dude). Even the triathletes took the night off, and I have it on good authority they might have had a few morsels of popcorn. Sans beure, of course.

The movie was amazing, except the beginning, which (in my humble opinion) sucked ass. The opening sequence showed a pseudo-vintage scene of a young boy in his knickers (as in olde fashioned pants, not underwear) riding his bike through a pseudo-vintage French village to watch pseudo-racers go by. It was cheezy, insincere and had the production values of bad porn. Not that I watch bad porn.

In stark contrast, the rest of the film offered some of the most spectacular race footage I have ever seen. Sweeping arial shots of the race snaking through roads and roundabouts, mountains and villages, and incredible shots seemingly taken from right inside the peloton. But one of the crazy things about riding in a peloton is that other than the wheel in front of you, you’re pretty oblivious to the scenery around you. And at a certain point, all those guys really see is numbers: the grade of a climb, the speed and angle of the wind, the number of kilometers to the end of the stage. While we see this:

They see this:

It is fascinating to see the inner workings of a stage race. The point system, the strategies and tactics. I’m still trying to get my head around some of that, which isn’t surprising considering I have been watching my boys play hockey for some 8 years and still don’t have a hot clue what offside is. The movie did an admirable job of trying to explain the complexities of the race through analysis of key moments and interviews with the racers (who are actually smarter people than you would think) and directeurs sportifs (who are exactly as smart as you think, but goofier too).

Speaking of the racers, there were great interviews with HTC Columbia’s star riders: Cav, George as well as other riders like Saxo Bank’s Jens Voigt, who is actually a pretty funny guy, especially for a German. He talked about his love and respect for the sport, acknowledging the dedication and talent of every rider in the race. He also spoke candidly about his horrific crash on Stage 16 while descending the Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard, likely somewhere around 80km/h. He basically landed on his face, shattering his cheekbone. He said he lost about 20 minutes of memory, and was quite happy to not have those minutes back.

There was plenty of screen time given to Mark Cavendish, the famously mouthy (and very young) sprinter from the Isle of Man. In spite of his marble mouthed cockney, you can almost make out the odd bit of English. He’s the guy his team works all day to protect, so in the last kilometer of the stage he can be catapulted over the finish line first. And it works. A lot.

Winning one stage of the Tour de France changes someone’s life forever. Cavendish has won 15. He is 24 years old. Can’t say I blame the guy for being a little arrogant. In his shoes, I would be intolerable.

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about George Hincapie. Like many, I have a soft spot for George because he is one of the hardest working riders out there, and is there 100% for his team. When George lost a stage in the 2009 TdF by 5 seconds because of some less than sportsmanlike decisions made by another team, the whole world wept.

I also love George because at 6’3 and 165 lbs, he’s a bit of a clydesdale, like me. And he’s from New York. As anyone who knows me is well aware, I have always had a total hard-on for New York. Unfortunately, and in spite of many close calls, I have never been. So when I finally do have the opportunity to go, I suspect my level of excitement will cause me to explode, or at the very least, burst into flame.

In addition to heralding the god-like status of the riders, the movie also paid due respect to the folks behind the scenes: the mechanics, soigneurs, and even the team chef. While I am sure these are thankless jobs for the most part, I can certainly think of worse. Like working in a daycare. Hell on earth.

But as Jens so aptly put, the secret to success in cycling is suffering. I’ve had more than my fair share lately, so if that is indeed true, you should see me at next years’ Tour de France, somewhere near the front of the peloton. And I will be smiling.