I’ve only recently discovered the Tour de France and I’m already trying to figure out how to travel to see an actual stage. It seems excessive, I know, but let me try to explain.
When my late wife was in hospice at home, she spent a lot of time sleeping. I’m an early riser to begin with, and there were many mornings that I would wake with nothing productive to do as I waited for her to wake up and tend to her needs. I don’t watch much television, but for some reason, I staggered downstairs with my coffee a little after 5am and flipped on the tube and found a live broadcast of Le Tour just beginning. As I recall, it was around a 4 hour stage and I watched the entire thing uninterrupted while she was in bed.
I was immediately hooked.
Each morning following, I intentionally got up according to that day’s start time. I paid attention to how the announcers outlined the strategies of the different teams, how some guys are just workhorses, or domestiques, whose main job is to get their superstar on the podium. I loved learning about the distinction between physics and psychology and how teamwork plays a role just like drafting does.
Then there is the genetic piece of the pie. And it’s simply not fair. Some riders have a genetic advantage over others. One in particular is the ability to metabolize lactic acid, which is the cause of the burn in the legs. It differs remarkably across the athletes. This genetic superiority allows that rider to recover from the climb or sprint much quicker, reducing the mental stress that goes with it.
But there is one common denominator that is equal throughout the peloton.
No rider is immune. Everyone feels it. Acutely.
I don’t know why I thought this way, but I imagined at that level of world class talent their strength was so well developed through training that they operated on another stratum. But Anthony McCrossan made it clear to Simon Gerrans in Stage 17 as Tadej Pojacar, Jonas Vingegaard, and Richard Carapaz made the grueling climb to the finish. McCrossan gave this illumination:
“It all comes down to the one rider who can best deal with the pain.”
World class. Top of their sport. The best of the best. Training is extremely important but it doesn’t eliminate it. None are immune to pain.
McCrossan’s words stayed with me. It struck a chord as I was watching the woman upstairs deal with the pain of cancer. Mixed in that was my pain of helplessness. She can’t avoid it and I can’t get rid of it for her. I can attempt to relieve it, but no one will ever be able to prevent it.