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By Stephen Thomas
Anyone can take a spin around the block, but only the
fittest and the few can ride the Tour de
The Tour is the most grueling event in sports. For three
weeks each July, nearly 200 cyclists push themselves up,
down, over and around the perimeter of France. This year's
Tour covers 2,405 miles and ends in Paris on July
The Tour expects men to climb the Pyrénées at
a snail's pace and descend the Alps with blistering speed.
It makes only the rarest concession to weather. Rain,
sleet, snow, blinding heat? Ride on,
domestique. The Tour demands that cyclists ride an average of more
than 100 miles per day, which they do, day after day after day, at an average speed
of about 24.4 mph. Throughout the three-week ordeal, riders
one day's rest.
The Tour isn't just a race for the world's best cyclists.
It is also a carnival that captivates a country. Every day
in each town, roads are closed and intersections blocked
hours ahead of the riders. First comes a parade of
sponsors' wagons, from which
hucksters toss corporate trinkets to the crowd. After the
last racer has finished that day's stage, organizers take
apart the bleachers, take down the booths and pack away the
banners. Then the whole spectacle moves to the next town,
of fans, media members and team personnel in its wake.
To the millions of French people who line the course
throughout, the race is a national treasure. To the riders
themselves, the Tour is far and away the most important
event of the year. The scars tattoed on the arms and legs
and faces of riders who
have crashed and continued bear witness to their
It is said that it is the Tour that makes riders famous,
not the riders who make the Tour famous. Together, they
combine to make compelling theater.
The quotes accompanying each photograph were found in
The Quotable Cyclist: Great Moments of Bicycling Wisdom,
Humor, edited by Bill Strickland (Breakaway Books,