I saw a sign on the side of the road during the Giro d’Italia that read, “When cyclists fall it’s real.” That was after Wouter Weylandt
died and I think it was referring to soccer where so many of those guys fake an injury and take a dive. There's no faking it in cycling!
But not only is falling of a bike real, so too is the suffering and I’ve been thinking about why racing is so hard and so desperate - it’s because the sport can be so vicious. Cyclists have always been under the gun. I mean none of them are making the $200 million that Manny Ramirez
does. In fact, the kind of money that Manny makes is what pays the budget for twenty teams! The riders these days are under the gun, they’re on the frontline of economic hardship and you can see it in their faces and in the effort they give.
Look at what Jurgen Van de Walle did today – he crashed hard trying to signal riders behind him, got all shredded up and less than half an hour later there he is at the front pulling the whole peloton along in a headwind!
In the best of times the Tour de France is the most grueling testament to a person’s ability to endure. Currently the normal hot cauldron is more like a magma hot descent of burning flesh and broken bones. Aggression has always been a hallmark of cycling, but this year it’s intensified beyond what even the most hardened veterans are used too.
Bike racing, more than any other sport reflects the concerns, hopes and disappointments of working class people. And that’s the landscape that makes for the best Tours. Since the riders are willing to endure such torture it becomes a spectacle that gives new meaning to the everyday struggle of all those who watch.
The Tour transpires in France and the country itself is transformed by the race – which is not an easy thing to make happen. I have a feeling that the 2011 Tour de France will be one for the ages.