Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Travelling Tuesday : : The Tour de France

Anne McAllister is in that lovely place called "between books" which means she is refilling the well of creativity, pitting cherries and making pies, reading books that are not about sailing, welcoming yet another new grandson, feeling a bit despondent that Andy Roddick didn't win at Wimbledon, and watching the Tour de France.

July at our house means that we watch stealth bombers fly four feet above the house on the 3rd of the month because where we live we don't get the air show on the 4th (presumably big cities get them then). It means one of the dogs huddles nervously in the basement because she hates fireworks. It means the appropriatedly aged grandkids come to attend sports camp at the local college.

And -- this is the part I really like the best -- it means that for most of the month I get to ogle extremely fit, muscular men in skin tight lycra pedalling their way around some of the most gorgeous places in France .

I call it research. Most people call it watching the Tour de France.

This year I'm finding it particularly interesting because 7 time winner Lance Armstrong has come out of retirement to ride again in an effort to create global awareness and involvement in his campaign to combat cancer.

Will he win an unprecedented eighth time? Who knows? As I write this, he's in the top 10. He has a chance. But he's nearly 38 years old. On the first day he posted, "Kreuziger just moved into 2nd. I raced with his dad!"

But whether he wins or not, he's making it interesting this year. And if you aren't already following him on Twitter, check it out.

His pre-or-post race videos are definitely a quick inside look at the tour from a racer's perspective.

The tour has been around a long time. It began in 1903, as a publicity stunt for a sports newspaper called L'Auto. It covered a distance of 2428 km, taking place over 19 days in six stages and rankings were based on the cumulative time over the course of the tour. It attracted sixty tough gutsy cyclists then. It's been attracting the world's toughest gutsiest cyclists ever since, and has been raced since that time except for the years spanning World War I and World War II.

Originally a race by individuals, it is now raced by teams -- usually around 20 -- with nine members apiece, selected for their particular strengths. Some are time trial experts, some are mountain climbers, some are good teammates who ride well in support. The winners tend to be those who can endure the mountains and still prove themselves fast on time trials.

The teams are no longer 'national' teams in general, but sponsored teams, who may have a 'national' sponsor as well as commercial sponsors. And the riders for any given team may come from all over the world.

Armstrong's Team Astana is sponsored by the nation of Kazakhstan. The riders are from the Kazakhstan (Dmitriy Muravyev), USA (Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, Spain (Alberto Contador, Haimar Zubeldia), Germany (Andreas Kloden), Ukraine (Yaroslav Popovych), Switzerland (Gregory Rast), and Portugal (Sergio Paulinho). So if you're looking for international hero material, here's a good place to start.

And if you want to watch men endure, this is the place to do it, too. The race takes place over 23 days and covers over 3,500 km (2200 mi). There are two 'rest' days which are often spent moving from one place in France to another. Most of the stages are raced in France, though stages may begin or end or pass through a neighboring country.

This year's tour, for example, began in Monaco. It will end, as all the recent tours have, on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

Because it's a little tricky to tell who's actually 'leading' when well over a hundred cyclists are whizzing past, the tour makes it a bit easier for the folks on the sidelines -- as well as those watching on television -- by awarding the 'yellow jersey' to the over-all leader of the race.

The 'green jersey' is awarded for sprint points. At the end of each stage, points are earned by the riders who finish first, second, etc. Sprints are more likely on the flat stages and more points are awarded for those.

The 'polka dot jersey' is worn by the "King of the Mountains" or the rider who has the best times in the mountain stages.

The rider under 25 who has the best time wears the 'white jersey.' The 'combativity prize' goes to the rider who attacks the most any given day, thus animating the race and challenging the other riders. There's also a 'team prize' but it doesn't have a jersey to go with it.

Lots of jerseys to keep an eye on, in other words. And lots of great scenery -- besides the guys on bikes -- as well.

If you're not travelling yourself this July, consider taking a trip around France with the men of the peloton. You might find it as inspiring as I do.

Do you have favorite sporting events? Which? What do you particularly like about them?

Anne McAllister's most recent book, Savas' Defiant Mistress, can still be had through online bookstores. She's waiting with bated breath to see the cover of her next release, One-Night Mistress, Convenient Wife, which is coming in November from Harlequin Presents and HM&B Modern. If you see it before she does (always a possibility) drop by her blog and tell her where to find it!
Also consider dropping by her website to participate in her new contest in honor of most recent grandson, Sol. You could win lots of books and other goodies (including chocolate because there is no such thing as a contest without chocolate).


  1. Hi Anne,

    Hope you're enjoying the grandchildren and the cherry pitting. You make me want to come and eat pies and talk sport and books.

    This is an amazing endurance event, isn't it? As an Aussie of course I'm keeping an ear out for what Cadell Evans is up to - fingers crossed.

    For me the sporting events that take over my life are the Australian Open Tennis (especially if I get to attend, but more likely as I watch on the TV). There's something about watching others slog it out in an Aussie summer that's appealing. I always want to get out my old racquet and have a game. Also the World Cup football (soccer). Can't wait.

    Would love to have watched Wimbledon and did stay up a few nights to watch a little but the English decided to play during the Aussie nighttime (bizarre) so it was a tad difficult.

    Waiting eagerly for your next release.


  2. Hi Annie,
    Last I heard Cadel Evans was doing very well. He's certainly a force to be reckoned with.

    I guess the powers that be in Wimbledon decided that someone somewhere would have to miss out on the 'live' playing of tennis. If we got up really early we could watch live. But they showed a rebroadcast mid-afternoon. Of course we were all up watching the men's final -- and it went on so long it was afternoon before it ended here!

    Yes, I'm with you on the World Cup. Four years is a long wait.

    You're welcome to come pit cherries and eat pie anytime. And yes, we can certainly discuss books, too.

    cheers, Anne

  3. Anne, I may just take you up on that! Is it possible to pit cherries, eat pie, watch the World Cup and talk books at the same time? It'd be fun finding out.


  4. Pitting cherries sounds like hard work, Anne. We just sit around with bowlfuls of them and eat them as they come. It's been too hot to make pastry!

    Sporting events? Well, I do love a great game of cricket. People reckon that any game that takes five days is slow, but it's all about strategy, planning, guile and cunning. And, oddly, listening to it on the radio is just as good. I once missed a turning listening to a particularly exciting Ashes match and found myself driving through King's Lynn instead of on my way to Coventry.

    But then there's the Six Nations rugby championship. Muddy thighed, hot men running, crunching and scoring tries and goals.


  5. Annie, yes, let's give it a try. Nothing like a bit of multi-tasking!

    Liz, I need you to talk me through the strategies of cricket (and the guile and the cunning, not to mention the rules in general). I've learned a bit, but not enough to really get to grips with the fascination. I could get there, though, with a little expert tutelage. Baseball is one of thosee games that is just as good on the radio. Best in person, though. The television people spend too much time looking at faces and not where the players are positioned.

    As for the rugby, oh yes. Got hooked on that in NZ five years ago. Definitely worth watching.

    Cherries for pies are too sour to eat 'on the hoof,' as it were. They need sweetening to make it so your cheeks don't suck together when you try eating them. Thus they need being in a pie or a cobbler or something fattening. And that means taking the pits out. Not really hot and tiring. I actually watched a DVD while doing it.

  6. I heard that Lance is in second place at the moment. Not bad for an old guy :)