The Tour de France has begun. Yep, it’s not mountain biking but it’s an important three weeks for cycling in Australia. It seems to be one of the few times when we all bond together and forget our separate genres of cycling. And sometimes, just sometimes, it brings the non-cycling people into the same space to celebrate the world of riding a bike.
Over the next three weeks Le Tour will flood the cycling media. Mainstream media will jump on board too, especially if the Aussies are standing on podiums, or someone else ‘goes posso’ for drugs. Sprinters will deliver nail biting, high powered finishes, climbers will dance their way to high altitude finishes, jerseys will be decided.
We’ll hear tales of heroic feats, blow-by-blow accounts of each stage as it unfolds and experts will weigh in on doping again and again. We’ll marvel at the technology we see riders use and the cutting edge research that helps them to use it.
I enjoy this side of the Tour as much as most cyclists. But what I enjoy even more is watching the ways the Tour touches my world at a local level.
Following this spectacular race from Australia, in GMT+10 time, brings a magic all of its own. Over the next three weeks cyclists and non-cyclists will slowly reset their body clocks to Tour Time.
With stage finishes in the very early hours of the morning, and SBS’s TV coverage – which has grown from 6pm highlights to live broadcasting for the entire event – beds are swapped for couches and early morning routines include a series of cycling news sites, podcasts or Tour specific Apps.
Bleary-eyed cyclists in the work place become an expert, someone that others can ask questions of as they start to weigh in on the racing as well. It builds relationships between that person who some others ‘don’t get’ and colleagues who begin to share their enjoyment for adventures on two wheels.
People are initially drawn in by the beautiful French scenery but soon start to wonder how it all operates – how do the teams work, who will win the yellow jersey, look at all those legs.
Meanwhile, groups of avid riders flock together to fight fatigue and will each other through the night. Mountain bikers, roadies, super-commuters…the regular distinctions lose their significance in July.
Friends gather around the heater, cycling clubs hold fundraisers, bike shops keep their doors open late one night or encourage customers to join them for an Alpine or Pyrenean finish from a cosy location down the road.
Those hill climbs aren’t quick. People sit and chat. They get to know each other so much better off the bike around a few beers and a meal.
As the final mountain stages hit, or a decisive time trial unfolds, conversations reach another level. Sitting at a trendy inner-city café in 2011, when Cadel Evans was on his way to his big win, people at every table were talking about this massive event. Mountain bikers everywhere were quick to point out that he came to the road after an impressive early career on the dirt.
The shear size and scale of the celebration for Cadel’s yellow jersey victory reached another level still. Why we didn’t get as excited about his previous 2nd place victories is beyond me. The only rational response I have to this is that with these other excellent results the profile of the race grew bigger still, adding to the appreciation of what it takes to stand one step higher in Paris.
My immediate family were so excited that year my brother set up an exercise bike in front of the TV and ‘rode’ the time trail with Cadel. He has a road bike now and is fast running out of mountains to climb of his own.
We swap text messages about things like tyres and helmets, and I throw him second-hand (somewhat skanky) pieces of gear. I laugh as he tells me about long rides, epic hunger flats and sitting on the side of the road just out of Canberra as none other than Michael Rogers rode past and asked him if he was OK.
Flicking through social media adds another dimension to what it means to follow the Tour. For the last few weeks my Facebook newsfeed is full in the mornings with images from friends who’ve headed to Europe for summer. Cycling, touring, media, work trips…
Most of these people are not there specifically for the ‘Grand Boucle’, but it’s certainly shaped their itinerary. It’s planted ideas about mountains to climb, towns to visit, and pubs to hang out in watching a broadcast in the same time zone as the race.
I was this person last year. I enjoyed every minute of experiencing the Tour from France, but something was missing.
The personal journey through the race is not the same when you aren’t madly trying to stay awake for each finish, pushing through thresholds of your own. And the experience different when you’re not going through it in the same timezone as several mates, scattered around the country, snuggled by the heater, quite happily doing the same.
Most of all I missed watching the impact this bike race has each year on my local community. As a cyclist in Australia, throughout the month of July, the positive impacts of the Tour make me feel more visible – on the road, in the work place, as I head to the trails. I feel a little lighter, more accepted, part of a lifestyle that others want to know more about.
#busgate was trending on social media, after the Orica-Greenedge team bus got stuck in the finish arch of stage one. And a new ‘Orica Bus Driver’ Twitter account is fast amassing new fans. The 100th Tour has just begun and Aussies are already stamping their own brand of enjoyment all over this absolutely massive event.