Monday, July 16, 2012

Tour de France needs rickshaws & me

I’m pleased to report my idea to raise interest in the Tour de France is gaining traction, at least among men who haven’t ridden bikes in 40 years and would never dream of watching a bike race on television, much less attend one in person.

This is gratifying because I’ve become a big fan of the three-week, 2,000-mile event France has been showcasing for 109 years.

The reason has nothing to do with bicycles and everything to do scenery and insanity.

The scenery is magnificent. A fleet of helicopters and embedded vehicles careen over and among the cyclists all through the Alps, the Pyrenees, the vineyards, the olive groves, through charming hamlets and past historic castles.

The only thing more evident than the innate beauty of France is the number of underemployed insane Frenchmen who reside there.

The race takes place on often narrow roads that are lined elbow-to-elbow with crazy people, most of whom, I’m sure, are drunk.

It’s the only explanation.

First of all, bicycle race spectating is hours of tedium interrupted by maybe a 10-second burst of exhilaration.

I know this because Latrobe was part of a regional bike race a few years ago. For reasons of civic self-esteem we were encouraged to stand on the curbs and sidewalks and wave to the passing bikers to, I guess, let them know we’re friendly.

Here’s what happened: Me and my family spent about two sober hours along State Route 982 staring directly south. Then someone yelled, “Here they come!”

It was over in about 12 seconds. A tight clutch of more than 50 bikers went whisking past before I had time to deliver my little speech, “Welcome to Latrobe, home of Arnold Palmer, Fred Rogers and the first banana split! Come back when you can visit!”

This waste of two summer hours did nothing to dissuade me from watching the first time I stumbled onto the wall-to-wall hi-def coverage of Tour de France.

Unlike here in Latrobe, the spectators did not stay on the sidewalk. In fact, for as long as they could many of them joined the race.

For some reason, the entire race seems like it is run uphill. At times the cyclists aren’t going much faster than a tubby person can walk.

So lunatics, aware they were being broadcast around the globe, jumped out onto the road, stared at the nearest camera and began shouting political slogans or making Hercules arms as the out-of-breath bikers labored tandem mere inches from them.

These French hams wore body suits, thongs and outlandish costumes. They waved flags that scraped the sweaty faces of the competitors.

The whole time camera cars and race officials on motorcycles zoomed in and out of the racers. The wrong turn at the wrong time could send a doomed cyclist plunging right off an unsecured cliff.

I thought, “Wow. If I keep watching this long enough, chances are I’m going to see somebody get killed or get a peek at some French babe’s exposed breasts.”

The latter happened nearly right away in the lovely town of Fois. The breasts were in focus for maybe 1.5 seconds, but the pause function on my remote let me become familiar.

It was great!

As were the accidents. Guaranteed, almost every stage you’re going to see someone zooming along at 40 mph wipe out. Sometimes they collide with other bikers. Sometimes a drunken spectator will jump out in the road to snap a head-on picture.

And sometimes someone will wave lit flares or toss out carpet tacks.

It’s true. Several cyclists were singed last week by a squad of crazies who ran right amidst them waving flares. And just yesterday about 30 tires got popped when some maniac sprinkled the road with carpet tacks.

The time needed for the ensuing tire changes completely altered the order of the leaders.

It would be like NFL commissioner Roger Goodell approving a rule that allowed Steeler fans the right to run onto the field and tase guys like Tom Brady. And wouldn’t that be fun to watch!

Despite this excitement, my efforts to persuade my friends to watch were in vain. They still thought bike racing was boring.

So I brainstormed up an idea bound to help this compelling sporting event become an even more grand spectacle.

Instead of riding solo, competitors will pull rickshaws around France with guys like me and my friends in the back. In one hand, we could be holding a glass of fine Chardonnay, in the other a whip or electric cattle prod.

Sure, traditionalists may criticize parts of my suggestion as cruel, gauche even. I’ve already thought of that.

We can switch to red wine when we near Bordeaux.

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