The following contribution comes from Andrew M. Homan, author of Iron Mac: The Legend of Roughhouse Cyclist Reggie McNamara (Nebraska, 2016). Homan is also the author of Life in the Slipstream: The Legend of Bobby Walthour Sr. (Potomac Books, 2011). His writing has appeared in several cycling magazines, including Cycle Sport, Peloton, Ride Cycling Review, Road Bike Action, and VeloNews.
The vibrant beauty of cycling and of France on display in July’s Tour de France arrives as a welcome departure from typical American sports television. My wife especially enjoys the video images of centuries-old castles and abbeys filmed from the hovering helicopters. I rewind the DVR and say, “Honey, look.”
“Oh, how lovely is that. I want to be there.”
I especially enjoy the big mountain stages, when the battle royal between the general classification leaders takes shape. At the crest of the final days’ climb, all the hard-drinking, faced-painted fans line up five-deep on either side of the road and yell themselves hoarse with their fists pumping the air as the long procession of professional cyclists, camera-mounted motorcycles, security motorcycles, team cars, and emergency vehicles all miraculously pass by without incident. Without incident, most of the time, that is. I want to be there too… drinking heavily.
Although the accumulative time of racing exceeded eighty-six hours, this year’s winner, Chris Froome, won by only fifty-four seconds over Colombia’s Rigoberto Uran. It takes more than fifty-four seconds for my cat to properly settle down on the sofa.
A worthy competitor in the best shape of his life, Uran was so close to Froome in the final standings. But Richie Porte, from Australia, may have been better prepared to knock Froome off the highest podium spot on July 23, the Tour’s final day. Unfortunately for Porte, he crashed out of this year’s Tour de France nine days earlier.
One second, Porte is careening down the narrow Mont du Chat descent at fifty miles per hour with six other riders, and the next second his bike veers off the pavement, his body shoots across the width of the road and dashes into a rock embankment. He promptly gets run over by and entangled with Dan Martin, from Ireland. Emergency medical personnel attend to Porte instantly and Martin pops up to his feet as if nothing happened. After a quick adjustment of handlebars, Martin grabs his bike and is off. Porte goes to the hospital with a fractured pelvis and broken collarbone. These guys are tough.
Froome has been the leading rider of Great Britain’s Sky Team since 2013. With his unique brand of awkward pedaling style, Froome has won the Tour de France four of the last five years. If he hadn’t crashed out himself in the 2014 Tour de France, he may have won that one too. With the distortions of the Lance Armstrong era behind us, a dastardly level of suspicion may always haunt cycling fans. In Froome we trust? Maybe.
Most American sports junkies are passionate about the big three—football, baseball and basketball—and that’s fine. But before they took over the majority of newspaper sports sections, professional cycling was alive and well in the United States, a fact not even the most experienced weekend warrior cyclists are aware of. Luckily, today, the Tour de France is on television in the United States and thanks to the latest Internet technologies, books are getting cranked out—including my two books—that are replete with provocative events from professional cycling’s past.