It’s June 2nd, 2011, a special day, because the Tour de France is just 30 days away. Twisted Spoke is now officially in the pre-goosebump stage, our heart rate rising and we’ve entered a state of constant agitation and anticipation.
Vive Le Tour! Vive le Tour! Vive Le Tour! Sorry, just had to let that out, blow some steam. I have to calibrate my emotional outbursts because I still have one month to go and I’m in the countdown phase. Un peu de calme, monsieur!
Last year, I covered our first Tour de France, writing about the Pyrenean stages for Cyclesport Magazine and doing an interview with Tyler Farrar on the rest day in Morzine that later went into the first issue of Paved magazine.
I did all three weeks of the 2010 Tour de France, arriving in Rotterdam, dropping down thru Belgium, over the cobblestones, clockwise around France, the Alps, the Pyrenees and finally a glorious sunny day in Paris.
It was an overwhelming experience: exhausting, exhilarating, stressful, inspiring, miserable, breathtaking, astounding, challenging. After one week I had a mini-nervous breakdown just like Jason Berry had when he shot the 2009 tour for his fantastic film Chasing Legends.
The relentless schedule, constant driving, chasing riders all over France, the lost credit card, the dropped computer, the hustling for rides, the night sleeping in the car, the suitcase left in a hotel 100k back, the search for last minute hotels, the battle-fatigue of using my rusty college French. Just orchestrating each day was a high stress improv from beginning to end. And did I mention the endless quest for decent wifi?
Every rider who does the Tour for the first time says the same thing at the finish: a version of “I had no freakin’ idea how hard it was. People warned me but I just didn’t believe until now.” That was pretty much my experience as a writer covering the tour. Nobody can prepare you for the madness. You have to learn the rhythms, the choreography of the events, what’s possible, not possible, what you can control and what you can’t.
It’s a little like going into combat for the first time and the most essential skills are flexibility, resourcefulness and optimism and quick-drying underwear. Because no matter how many Tours you’ve done as a journalist — and there are guys who’ve covered twenty — things will go terribly wrong at some point. No matter how tight your plans, the tour will throw you a few disasters every day.
I recovered from my near nervous breakdown a day later and again, all rider analogies apply. There will be good days when everything flows and it’s a joy and bad days when everything goes haywire and you wonder what you’re doing. That maybe you should be home watching the thing on Versus from the safety and comfort of the couch.
I got better, I learned a few ropes, that Tour rhythm, the way the game is played, the rights and wrongs and how to begin to wrap your head around a race this massive. I probably won’t make the same mistakes twice and I’ll know how to handle the new ones better. And I go in knowing that’s the whole deal and you roll with it.
When I stood on the Champs Elysees that final day in Paris, I had only one thought in my head, aided by several glasses of terrific free champagne: I couldn’t wait to come back.
There’s no better show in sports, the richness of the event in unsurpassed, the riders are amazing, the mountains are mind-boggling, France is beautiful from one end to the other, it’s a rolling wine and cheese party, a shocking torturefest, a test of man, machine, physical strength, mental force and you should have your laptop is a bomb proof case.
Since that day in Paris the idea of NOT being at the Tour de France every year for the rest of my like is unacceptable. Our as the French would say, enunciating each syllable: Un-Su-Por-Table! Twisted Spoke is missing the start this year but we’re on a plane July 10th and I can’t wait to hit the French ground running.
Look out, Haribo man.